St Louis CITY SC continues its roster construction ahead of life in MLS and Bradley Carnell’s squad will feature yet another standout from its inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign. 

Akil Watts signed a one-year contract with the first team on Thursday, which includes three option years through 2026. The 22-year-old midfielder made 24 appearances for CITY2 in MLS NEXT Pro this season, leading the team with seven assists and finishing tied for second with six goals.

“It makes me proud to see a player like Akil who worked hard with CITY2, earn a spot on the MLS roster,” club sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said. “Over the course of the MLS NEXT Pro season, he has proven that he has what it takes to compete at the next level, and so we look forward to seeing how he contributes to the first team.”

A former U.S. Under-17 men’s national team standout under current CITY2 head coach John Hackworth, Watts made 17 international appearances for his country.

North Texas SC loanee Jose Mulato joins FC Dallas on permanent deal 

Jose Mulato excelled in MLS NEXT Pro with North Texas SC in 2022 and now will have his first chance to make an MLS roster in 2023. 

Mulato has joined FC Dallas on a permanent deal from Colombian side Deportivo Cali, the club announced Thursday. The 19-year-old’s contract will officially begin on Jan. 1, 2023 and will run through 2025.

Mulato scored nine goals and registered three assists in 21 appearances with North Texas SC this past season. He previously came up through the Deportivo Cali ranks before training with German Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich in October 2021.

Mulato has appeared for both the Colombian Under-19 and Under-20 men’s national teams. He has scored one goal in six appearances for the U-20 side.

Paxten Aaronson transferred to Eintracht Frankfurt

Like his older brother Brenden, Paxten Aaronson's European dream came true at age 19. 

The Philadelphia Union confirmed on Thursday that Aaronson is set to join Frankfurt of the German Bundesliga for a fee reported to be around $4 million. Aaronson was largely a Union first-team player in 2022 but did make 10 Union II appearances in MLS NEXT Pro that yielded five goals and three assists.  

“Paxten has accomplished so much in a short amount of time," said Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner. "He has worked incredibly hard, and he has taken advantage of every opportunity with the first team, Union II, and the U-20 National Team. There has been interest in him for a long time, and we feel this is the right move for the club and the player, putting him in a good situation to continue developing in one the best leagues in the world. It is another great example of our development philosophy, and we are very proud of Paxten and wish him all the best at Frankfurt.”

St Louis CITY exercises contract option for Célio Pompeu

Akil Watts wasn't the only CITY2 player who had good news to share on Thursday. 

Winger Célio Pompeu's contract option got picked up by the St. Louis first team ahead of its MLS maiden voyage next season. In MLS NEXT Pro play, Pompeu was good for five goals and assists each, and led the league in successful dribbles in 2022.

FC Cincinnati 2 signs defender Bret Halsey

FC Cincinnati 2 made its first signing of the offseason on Wednesday with the acquisition of 22-year-old defender Bret Halsey.

Halsey, a University of Virginia product, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the 2021 MLS Superdraft and has appeared for Real Monarchs 22 times plus four loan appearances with the Colorado Switchbacks in USL play.

“Célio has made incredible strides as a player since arriving in St. Louis,” said Sporting Director Lutz Pfannenstiel. “His passion and quality on the field are attributes that we want to continue adding to this club. He has adapted well to our principles, and we are excited to see how he continues to develop over the next year.”

Tacoma Defiance midfielder Sota Kitahara earns first-team contract with Seattle Sounders

Sota Kitahara has been a star in the making in the Sounders youth ranks since 2014 and can now call himself a first-teamer. In all, he made 40 appearances with the Defiance across the last three years and even spent some of 2021 in Austria on loan with FC Pinzgau Saalfelden 

“We are excited to have Sota sign with the First Team,” said Senior Vice President of Soccer Operations & Sporting Director Craig Waibel. “Since joining the Sounders Discovery Program in 2014, he has shown continued improvement every year at all levels of our development pathway. I believe he will be an excellent addition to an already talented midfield.”