Postcard from Europe: Potential targets for MLS
AMSTERDAM — The first silly season of the year is well underway for MLS shoppers, who would do quite well to scan the rolls of players heading out of contract this year before filling out their wish lists.
Of course, most of the potential goodies available to Major League Soccer teams will not become free agents until summer — but in this game, it pays to be prepared in advance.
Just to be clear, these are purely suggestions. There are no hidden transfer hints to decode, but all players that have previously been linked to MLS clubs in some manner or spoken of a desire to play in America are marked with an asterisk.
American teams are so rarely hard up for netminders, but we'd be remiss to ignore that there are a few intriguing backstops for the picking.
One such guy is French free agent Simon Pouplin, who is currently working out with the reserves of second-flight Nantes. Still only 26, he has nearly 120 Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and UEFA cup games to his experience.
Of course, any USMNT crazy could probably tell you that Everton back-up Marcus Hahnemann* (right) will be available in summer. What even the die-hards may not realize is that Évian's Quentin Westberg also runs out of contract at season's end.
Hahnemann has made no secret of wanting to play in the Pacific Northwest, while Westberg has little first team experience and has never played outside his native France. That Westberg wants to work his way into the US set-up could be the hook to draw him across the Atlantic.
To be frank, it's not the best year for finding Euro-freebies at the back. Nevertheless, a handful of names do pop out for various reasons.
Hannover 96 captain Steve Cherundolo* is struggling to keep his starting job with a contract winding down. Staying in CONCACAF, Bolton's Jamaica left back Ricardo Gardner is in a similar boat with far less playing time.
A few silky veterans should be there for the taking, including erstwhile Ajax defensive handyman Oleguer, once a Barcelona teammate of New York's Rafa Márquez. Fulham's highly-skilled Zdenek Grygera can play inside or wide right (just ask the 2006 US World Cup team). The catch here is he won't be recovered from a knee injury until spring.
Finally, for the team aiming to add real star quality in defense, dashing AC Milan wingback extraordinaire Gianluca Zambrotta* is finally a free agent at age 35.
A good portion of the midfielders set to run free are rather young, if not also quite heralded. In other words, this summer's selection is also slim on this market aisle.
Aside from an obvious choice like Michael Ballack* that may not pay expected dividends, there will still be some veteran park rangers to choose from. Four years younger, Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky plays a lot more like a DP signing circa 2012.
AS Roma's Simone Perrotta* is also heading out of contract this summer, but represents risk with his injury history at age 34. Someone lesser-known like 29-year-old Goran Lovre might better fit an MLS bill; the midfielder with an eye for goal is free now and more often than not held down central places at Anderlecht, Barnsley and Groningen.
Unlike the last two topics, there is no shortage of offense set for the market. The likes of Didier Drogba* (above) and Raúl* have already filled volumes of transfer gossip concerning MLS moves.
While both would be great additions on the field and at the gate, there are attackers of all possible salary levels turning ripe.
Already a free agent, Scotland forward Kris Boyd* (right) is currently being linked with the Houston Dynamo. Similarly scrappy international strikers David Healy and Andy Johnson* will go free in July, as will the supreme physical toolbox of Sevilla outcast Arouna Koné* and crafty Bolton winger Martin Petrov*.
Thinking closer to home, Vancouver should be sprinting toward free agent Canada winger Josh Simpson, who hails from nearby Burnaby, B.C. Former Aalborg strike prospect Marcus Tracy* plans to finally regain fitness soon, followed directly by an MLS job hunt.
And for the club eager for the challenge of striking another blow in the border transfer war, exciting Chivas playmaker Omar Arellano* will be a free agent at the end of June. Still only 24, the Mexico international has gotten a little lost in the Guadalajara shuffle since a monster 2009 season.