A week ago, as part of the lead up to the opening kick of the MLS regular season, we unveiled five candidates to win MLS MVP.
We shift the focus this week from established stars to players who can break through into the limelight this season. This can also double as your MLS Newcomer of the Year candidates.
Enzo Copetti, Charlotte FC
It kind of feels like Charlotte are ready to make a big Year Two bump. They signed veteran midfielder Ashley Westwood on a free transfer from English Championship side Burnley, eliminated the interim tag for coach Christian Lattanzio and made a big splash by bringing in Enzo Copetti from Argentine top flight side Racing Club.
The 27-year-old Argentine forward, who signed as a Designated Player, had 21 goals and six assists in 47 appearances in all competitions for Racing Club in two years and is expected to be the perfect strike partner Karol Swiderski, who featured for Poland at the World Cup.
Charlotte have aspirations of a first MLS Cup Playoffs appearance and Copetti should play a large role if that box is checked by season’s end.
"We’re delighted to complete the permanent signing of Enzo to become our next Designated Player," Charlotte sporting director Zoran Krneta said in a release. "He’s a clinical goals-scorer for one of the biggest clubs in Argentina and we are confident his physical profile and skillset will translate well to Major League Soccer.”
Stipe Biuk, LAFC
The reigning MLS Cup champions have been synonymous with bringing in young promising talent, developing those players and then selling them on for a profit. It’s not an exclusive club, but LAFC have done it well.
Enter Croatian winger Stipe Biuk, a U22 Initiative signing who brought a reported $5 million transfer tag from Croatian club Hajduk Split. Before the move to MLS, the 20-year-old youth international was named to UEFA.com's2022 “40 For The Future,” as one of the most talented players under the age of 21 in Europe and was a finalist for UEFA’s “Golden Boy Award,” that crowns Europe’s best young player of the year and was won by Barcelona’s Gavi.
And because of LAFC’s strength in attack, Biuk, who had six goals and eight assists in 66 matches for Hajduk Split will likely be given the chance to get acclimated to a new league and culture without a ton of pressure, which should further foster his ability to break out this season.
“Stipe is an incredibly talented player with considerable experience for his age who is recognized as one of the top young players in Europe,” LAFC Co-President & general manager John Thorrington said in a statement. “It is exciting to welcome a player of his quality, pedigree, and potential to LAFC, and we are confident he will excite our fans and contribute to our team’s success in the years to come.”
Evander, Portland Timbers
The Portland Timbers addressed a need and broke the bank in doing so by signing Evander from Danish Superliga side FC Midtjylland for a club-record fee reportedly north of $10 million. He’s the playmaker the club never truly had since club legend Diego Valeri left following the 2021 season and at just 24 years old should and could be a foundational piece going forward.
Evander, who occupies a Designated Player spot, was the Europa League leader in assists this season with five in six games. The creative midfielder, who began his career at Brazil's Vasco da Gama, had 50 goals and 38 assists in 167 appearances at Midtjylland.
“We are extremely excited to welcome Evander to Portland. He has proven consistently in the Danish Superliga that he has the quality to be a game changer,” Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese said in a release. “His experience in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League allows us to believe that he will be able to adapt quickly to the MLS competition. I am looking forward to incorporating Evander and start working with him to build a stronger team for the next season.”
Carlos Andres Gomez, Real Salt Lake
Carlos Andres Gomez is another club record signing, joining Real Salt Lake from Colombian juggernaut Millonarios FC for a reported $4 million transfer fee. The 20-year-old Colombian winger, who was a U22 Initiative signing, scored 12 goals in 58 appearances during Millonarios’ last two seasons after making his professional debut in November, 2021.
Millonarios is fertile recruiting ground for MLS clubs. It’s where LAFC star striker Chicho Arango and Inter Miami winger Emerson Rodriguez played.
“This is an exciting day for our club as we bolster a strong returning core with a dynamic attacking addition in Carlos Andres Gómez,” RSL general manager Elliot Fall said in a statement. “Andres is a player that quickly rose to the top of our target list over the last several months and we are very pleased to be able to finalize his acquisition.”
Mateusz Klich, DC United
Of this list, Mateusz Klich is the only player north of 30 years old so it might seem strange to deem him a “breakout star,” but this is about players who can make a big impact in MLS this season and D.C. United are banking the 32-year-old, with nearly 400 club appearances to his name, will do just that.
Klich, who signed as a Designated Player, arrived from Leeds United in the Premier League where he made 14 substitute appearances this season. He has 50 goals and 59 assists in his career and has been capped 41 times by Poland.
“I know the Premier League very well and I think you see by the sendoff which Leeds United gave him, you can see how highly thought of he was at Leeds,” D.C. United head coach Wayne Rooney said at a press conference. “I know that's not easy, because Leeds are a very big club who have had many great players over the years. He's thought of as a great there, for what he's done helping them get out of the Championship and then obviously the last couple of years in the Premier League. I think we've got a player who will be a very big player for us.”