Every season MLS teams wheel and deal in hopes of getting a squad ready for the playoffs come season's end. Some signings work out, others not so much. Nonetheless, team GM’s are always looking for that big signing that can take their team to the next level.
While David Beckham and Landon Donovan come to mind as signings that were huge in leading not only the league, but their teams to greater things, other signings drop under the radar, but are equally as important. Javier Morales to Real Salt Lake comes to mind as a signing that not only elevated RSL, but also began a culture of excellence at the club.
While we could do a list of 100 signings like this, we have narrowed it down to five key signings of significance. Each player signing will tell a story of just how that signing changed the fortune of the club. While not a ranking, here are 5 MLS signings that changed the course of those teams!
Cuauhtémoc Blanco to Chicago Fire
Cuauhtémoc Blanco’s arrival to the Chicago Fire at the dawn of the DP era was yet another big-name Mexican signing to MLS. MLS has a history of flop Mexican National team signings and Blanco wanted to change that perception. He did, Blanco was sensational for the Fire. Upon signing he was greeted by 5,000 fans, in 2007 he was a finalist for newcomer and MLS MVP, but only won goal of the year. On the field, Blanco lived up to the hype, 16 goals in 62 games, he was everything Rafa Marquez wasn’t, he carried the MLS flag and was proud of it. For the Fire, Blanco was really the last major game changing signing, the team failed to make the playoffs in 8 of the last 10 seasons since Blanco left.
Nicolás Lodeiro to Seattle Sounders
Some might raise an eyebrow and say “really?” but hear us out. The Seattle Sounders were already a team on the cusp of achieving an MLS Cup. Since the Sounders entered the league in 2009 the club had won 4 U.S. Open Cups and qualified for the playoffs in every season. Then the Uruguayan midfielder signed with the team in 2016 and slowly began inserting himself in the midfield and becoming a team leader. The end result has been 2 MLS Cups trophies and 4 MLS Cup appearances in 5 years since Lodeiro’s arrival.
Christian Gómez to D.C. United
Before the age of the DP, MLS teams looked for free transfers and crossed their fingers, Christian Gómez was a late season addition that propelled a 2004 D.C United team to the MLS Cup final. Gómez would lead the team to their fourth MLS Cup and would later be the centerpiece of an era which saw United qualify to the playoffs in each of his four seasons with the club. Gomito became a huge fan favorite and fans were mad when he was traded to make way for Marcelo Gallardo in 2008. When Gómez left, United began a downward spiral that saw them miss the playoffs four seasons in a row. Despite returning in 2009 for only 1 season, United has since failed to truly field a week in and week out competitive and dominating team.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto to Columbus Crew
Late in his career and without a place in the Boca Juniors lineup, Guillermo Barros Schelotto took a chance and signed with the Columbus Crew of MLS. It was a match made in heaven. GBS, as he was later called by fans, found a second home and revitalized his career in MLS. Schelotto won 1 MLS Cup and MLS MVP award during his four years in Ohio. Schelotto’s signing began an era in MLS of Argentine imports and a style of play that has involved an Argentine midfielder as the centerpiece in Columbus since.
Robbie Keane to L.A. Galaxy
This one might seem too easy, but it isn’t, the David Beckham era in L.A. needed an MLS Cup to truly come full circle. The Galaxy made a signing intended to do just that, they signed Irish striker Robbie Keane. Keane was more than just an ace in the hole, he became a club legend and at points was even more important on the field than the other two big stars in L.A., Beckham and Donovan. Winner of three MLS Cups, and 83 goals, the Galaxy has yet to replace the electric Keane.