Shaqiri, Costa, Insigne and more… the new stars to watch in the 2022 MLS season

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The 2022 Major League Soccer season got underway last weekend, with plenty of goals and some huge results across both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

David Beckham’s Inter Miami drew 0-0 against Chicago Fire, while defending champions New York City lost to Los Angeles Galaxy and there was a huge 5-0 win for Austin FC against Cincinnati.

There have been an array of eye-catching signings in the MLS offseason, and here Sportsmail profiles some of the new star names to look out for in 2022.

Javier Hernandez celebrates after scoring the winner for LA Galaxy against New York City

Javier Hernandez celebrates after scoring the winner for LA Galaxy against New York City

MLS Cup holders New York City had a hugely successful 2021 but lost their 2022 opener

MLS Cup holders New York City had a hugely successful 2021 but lost their 2022 opener

XHERDAN SHAQIRI – CHICAGO FIRE

The former Liverpool and Bayern Munich attacker headed Stateside in January after six months with Lyon. Still only 30, the Switzerland international is relishing the opportunity to compete in Major League Soccer and underlined how impressed he was with Chicago Fire sporting director George Heitz’s vision.

‘The league [MLS] is getting better and better,’ Shaqiri said at his unveiling last Monday. ‘I wanted to go away from France and the opportunity came.

‘I was thinking a lot, of course, but George came with a big project and I was really excited. I’m looking forward to working with this club to bring glory back to Chicago. My goal is clear: I want trophies.’

Xherdan Shaqiri has been tipped to shine in Major League Soccer with new club Chicago Fire

Xherdan Shaqiri has been tipped to shine in Major League Soccer with new club Chicago Fire

The former Stoke man (right) made his debut against Phil Neville's Inter Miami at the weekend

The former Stoke man (right) made his debut against Phil Neville’s Inter Miami at the weekend

Shaqiri is the star name in his team and there is plenty of room for improvement on recent seasons. The Fire have failed to qualify for the play-offs in four straight campaigns, prompting them to part ways with head coach Raphael Wicky. Ezra Hendrickson is at the helm this year.

Shaqiri made his debut against Inter Miami on Saturday night – the team formed by David Beckham and managed by Phil Neville – with the match ending in a 0-0 draw.

He played the entire 90 minutes, creating eight chances, but his side could not find the back of the net.

Speaking ahead of the game, his former Stoke team-mate Ryan Shawcross – now a coach with Inter Miami’s second team – told the Stoke Sentinel: ‘It’s quite a slow tempo in this league so he’ll get the ball on the edge of the box and be able to show off his magic. He’ll be a huge star.’

THIAGO ALMADA – ATLANTA UNITED

Manchester United, Arsenal and Leeds have all been linked with a move for Thiago Almada over the course of the last couple of years. 

The 20-year-old is considered one of Argentina’s brightest young prospects and it was a coup for Atlanta to bring him to MLS in an £11.7m move from Velez Sarsfield.

‘Thiago is a talented player who will add quality to our attack in the final third,’ Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. ‘He’s very good at taking on defenders and creating chances for himself and his teammates. 

Thiago Almada, 20, is an exciting addition at Atlanta United, joining from Velez Sarsfield

Thiago Almada, 20, is an exciting addition at Atlanta United, joining from Velez Sarsfield 

‘We’re very happy to welcome him to the club and look forward to integrating him into the team as quickly as possible.’ 

Almada hasn’t played for the senior Argentina team but has made two appearances at Under 23 level and played six times for the Under 20s.

Atlanta hosted – and beat – Sporting Kansas City in their opener at the weekend but the game came too soon for Almada.

DOUGLAS COSTA – LOS ANGELES GALAXY

A real eye-catching signing. The 31-year-old former Juventus and Bayern Munich winger Douglas Costa joined LA Galaxy on an initial six-month loan deal from Brazilian side Gremio before signing a permanent 18-month deal.

Costa is a three-time Bundesliga winner with Bayern Munich and a three-time Serie A winner with Juventus and at 31, arrives with plenty of years ahead of him. 

Galaxy’s new No 10 will form part of an impressive looking attack alongside Javier Hernandez and made his debut on Saturday in the thrilling season-opener against MLS Cup holders New York City after receiving his visa on Monday.

He played 67 minutes, before watching on from the bench as Hernandez snatched a 90th-minute winner to secure three points in their opener. 

Douglas Costa is an eye-catching LA Galaxy signing and can join forces with Javier Hernandez

Douglas Costa is an eye-catching LA Galaxy signing and can join forces with Javier Hernandez

Costa was booked on his debut, but the team went on to win courtesy of a 90th-minute goal

Costa was booked on his debut, but the team went on to win courtesy of a 90th-minute goal

‘I had heard many positive things [about the Galaxy],’ he said after joining. ‘I know that it’s a winning team, but had not been winning for some time now. 

‘I take this as a motivator, to try something different and come here to bring LA Galaxy to the top again.’

For all the excitement around Costa, it is defence where Galaxy must tighten up after shipping 54 goals last season in failing to reach the play-offs. Few would back them not to keep finding the net with Costa and Hernandez up front though, so Galaxy will be a thrilling team to watch, whatever happens,

DAVID AYALA – PORTLAND TIMBERS 

Another Argentina protege in Major League Soccer, the 19-year-old Ayala headed to Portland Timbers from Estudiantes and signed a deal that could run until 2026.

A defensive midfielder, Ayala has played 13 times for Argentina’s Under 17s and is an astute addition to the ranks for the side that were runners-up in last year’s MLS Cup. 

They finished fourth in the Western Conference before making it all the way to the final, where they lost on penalties to New York City.

David Ayala (left) is an astute addition for MLS Cup runners-up Portland Timbers

David Ayala (left) is an astute addition for MLS Cup runners-up Portland Timbers 

We’re incredibly excited to bring David to the Timbers,’ said Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese.

‘He’s a player we’ve had our eyes on, and from constant communication with the people that have helped in his development, there has been great, positive feedback about him. 

‘His talent will strengthen us and make us more competitive. He shows great potential to grow as a player, and we feel Portland will be a great environment for him.’

He was an unused sub in the Timbers’ opening 2-2 draw with New England Revolution, but his time will most certainly come. 

ALAN VELASCO – FC DALLAS

Like Ayala and Almada, Velasco has swapped Argentina for the United States, heading to FC Dallas for a club-record fee from Independiente. The 19-year-old played 71 times for them, scoring 10.

Dallas unveiled his arrival with a post on Twitter saying ‘The biggest signing in the history of the club’. It offsets the departure of striker Ricardo Pepi, a United States international who left for Bundesliga side Augsburg in a deal starting at £15m.

Dallas are believed to have paid £5.1m for Ayala.

Alan Velasco has joined Dallas for a club-record £5.1million fee from Independiente

Alan Velasco has joined Dallas for a club-record £5.1million fee from Independiente

‘Alan is a fantastic player with a lot of talent,’ head coach Nico Estevez said. ‘He wants to improve and likes the idea of coming here to do that. 

‘He feels that this is the right place to become an even better player. He gives us creativity in 1-v-1 situations and an element of unpredictability. He’ll make the fans enjoy the game with one excellent play.

‘But he’s also a hard worker, he wants to improve and wants to help the team. He’s very mature for his age and I think he’s the right fit for our style of play. I think the fans will love the way he plays and I believe he’ll make a big impact in this league.’

LORENZO INSIGNE – TORONTO 

Perhaps the biggest move of the lot sees Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne head to Toronto at the end of his contract with the Serie A giants in July.

The Italy international will earn £9m-a-year in Canada, where he will join up with former USA and Swansea coach Bob Bradley. So far this season he has scored seven goals in 25 games for a Napoli side who are in a title race in Serie A and also competing in the Europa League.

Lorenzo Insigne will join Toronto once his Napoli contract is up at the end of the season

Lorenzo Insigne will join Toronto once his Napoli contract is up at the end of the season 

‘This is a historic and exciting day for our club,’ Toronto FC president Bill Manning said when Insigne’s move was confirmed in early January. 

‘Lorenzo is a world-class attacking player in the prime of his career. He was a European champion with Italy and has performed on the biggest stages during his club career with Napoli. 

‘Lorenzo has the talent to change games. He plays the game with joy and passion, and our fans and supporters are going to love watching him as a member of our team.’

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