Suárez, Forsberg headline MLS’ most exciting 2024 arrivals

Compared to the summer of 2023, which saw Lionel Messi don the pink jersey of Inter Miami — and what may be coming this summer as MLS continues to be a player in the international transfer market — the 2024 winter transfer window in Major League Soccer was relatively quiet. Many teams have decided, effectively, to run it back with only minor tweaks to teams that made the playoffs in 2023.

There are, however, notable exceptions with new faces for MLS fans to learn or familiar ones they’ll see in the North American league for the first time. Here are the five most exciting new arrivals in MLS ahead of the 2024 campaign kicking off next week.

After scoring 27 goals for Gent in the 2022-23 season and adding six through 20 league matches in the current year, plus 10 in the UEFA Europa Conference League, it’s clear you can brand Cuypers a “proven scorer.” So, it’s definitely worth Fire fans getting excited that their team fended off other clubs and secured the services of the 27-year-old Belgian.

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The last time Chicago had a 15-goal scorer was 2018, with the leading scorers in the past two seasons registering six and eight goals, respectively. Cuypers’s constant movement and willingness to drop deep to find or even win back the ball should make it all the easier for him to reach and surpass the double-digit goal total, especially with the addition of Kellyn Acosta in midfield and Xherdan Shaqiri still in the fold.

If reports of a $12 million fee are accurate, the Fire have spent more on a player than any MLS team in history outside of Atlanta United’s swoops for Thiago Almada, Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco. Expectations come with that sort of ambition and cash outlay. We’ll wait to watch how Cuypers copes.

The Sweden international and RB Leipzig vet arrives in MLS at age 32 — not exactly in his prime, but far from washed-up. That’s good news, considering his contract with the Red Bulls runs through 2026.

Forsberg closed out his Bundesliga career with starting five and playing in 14 contests of the 2023-24 season, scoring in his final UEFA Champions League contest and in his penultimate German league game.

Obviously well-seasoned in the Red Bull system, he seems like the right kind of player to both jell with new manager Sandro Schwarz and to provide new energy to a Red Bulls team that has talent but ran out of gas last season. Preseason is never the best barometer, but the early returns indicate he’s confident and ready to contribute to a resurgence.

You know Luis Suárez. You probably watched him at Barcelona, at Liverpool, maybe even at Ajax (you football hipster) or the past 18 months in South America. But do any of us know what this version of Suárez will look like? After a much-publicized radio interview in which Suárez mused that his knees hardly were healthy enough to play with his kids, will he be able to play with Messi?

The results from the topsy-turvy preseason tour weren’t encouraging, with Inter winning just one match abroad, and that tour, the earliest MLS opener and a slot in the Concacaf Champions Cup, mean the 37-year-old is going to have to manage his body and fitness expertly to be able to contribute to Inter Miami during the season.

Yet, there’s still something about it that you can’t look away from: The memories of his partnership with Messi at Camp Nou, the fact that he is coming off being named the top player in Brazil after a 26-goal stint with Gremio, and the sheer determination of Suárez, ever the fighter, to give it one more go.

While it’s becoming more and more frequent, it’s still notable when a World Cup winner shows up in Major League Soccer. Former France No. 1 Lloris fits the bill and arrives at LAFC on something of a discount deal, not occupying a designated player spot and under contract for this season with a pair of option years.

What he did with France and during years-long spells with Tottenham Hotspur and Lyon speaks for itself. He racked up honors, made highlight-reel saves and put up advanced metrics that put him middle of the pack or better in most Premier League seasons. Overall, he’s a known quantity coming to MLS with plenty to contribute beyond his honors in the past.

Yet Lloris’s arrival brings a level of risk for LAFC, as well. The SoCal club is moving on from not one but two shot-stoppers who showed they are capable MLS starters in John McCarthy (now with the LA Galaxy) and Maxime Crépeau (who joined the Portland Timbers). His career and reputation certainly indicate Lloris should be up to the job, but missteps will be closely scrutinized.

The youngest player on the list, Barajas won’t turn 18 until April. But the new RSL attacking midfielder already has an impressive résumé, having spent two seasons with the Charleston Battery in the United Soccer League Championship.

The Northern California native also has been a standout in the Mexico youth national team setup, leading El Tri into the U17 World Cup in November 2023. That capped a year that also saw the left-footer register 11 assists with the Battery in addition to five goals, be named the USL Championship Young Player of the Year and land on the second team of the all-league squads.

The fact that RSL continues to scout the USLC, with Barajas joining Diego Luna and Kevon Lambert as standout alumni of the second division, is interesting. Should that trio enjoy strong seasons in 2024, it could position RSL as a trendsetter. But Barajas has a chance to show that his level is even higher, learning from RSL teammates and the coaching staff to better harness his already-prolific talents.

Also receiving consideration: Pedro de la Vega (Seattle Sounders), Petar Musa (FC Dallas), Djordje Mihailovic (Colorado Rapids), Gabriel Pec (LA Galaxy), Agustín Ojeda (New York City FC), Luis Muriel (Orlando City SC), Stian Gregersen (Atlanta United).

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