MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Pavon, Espinoza and more: Ranking the biggest decisions over loan players this MLS offseason

Cristian Pavon - LA Galaxy - Celebrate

This offseason, a number of key players across the league see future in flux. That's normal, part of every offseason and transfer window.

For those on loan in MLS in 2019 but that either have an option to purchase, an option to extend the loan or nothing at all, the future is particularly uncertain. Here are some of the biggest players who were on loan this past year but face varying degrees of uncertainty in 2020, broken down by tier:

Tier I

These are the top dogs, the biggest names who were on loan in 2019 and have yet to have their futures confirmed in 2020.
Cristian Pavon, W, LA Galaxy:

Technically on loan with a huge option to purchase half of his rights, Pavon will continue with the Galaxy next year, according to coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto. It is easy to see why the Galaxy are so keen to keep Pavon around after he had three goals and eight assists in 11 matches in 2019.

Transitioning to Life After Zlatan, Pavon will pick up a leading role with the Galaxy. A 23-year-old Argentinian international, he has the quality and pedigree to make a run at Best XI and possibly more.

Jamiro Monteiro, CM, Philadelphia Union

A revelation for the Union, Monteiro was a key cog in transforming Philly into the high-octane, high-pressing side that sporting director Ernst Tanner envisioned. He, along with Alejandro Bedoya and Brenden Aaronson, covered enough ground in midfield to allow Haris Medunjanin to focus on distribution.

Tanner has spoken multiple times that a deal to bring Monteiro back on a permanent basis may be complicated. It won’t be cheap to get him from FC Metz, currently in the French second division, and fit him into the club's salary cap. But his return is still a possibility. One to watch this offseason, for sure.

Cristian Espinoza, W, San Jose Earthquakes

After rumors that Matias Almeyda might be headed back to Liga MX were put to bed, while legend Chris Wondolowski confirmed he was coming back for one more ride, Espinoza’s future once again is on the main stage for San Jose.

The 24-year-old had two goals and 13 assists performing a lightning rod on the right wing. With almost as many loans (4) as La Liga appearances (6), Espinoza's future likely lies away from his parent club Villarreal. But the Quakes won’t be the only club interested in his services in 2020.

Bill Hamid, GK, D.C. United

After departing D.C. United for a Danish sojourn with FC Midtjylland and only returning to the US capital on loan, Hamid’s future isn’t clear. He said he wants to be back in D.C., but admitted to last month: “I know whatever comes, I’ll be alright.”

For what it’s worth, Hamid put together one of his best seasons in 2019, with 14 shutouts and a number of breathtaking saves.

Vito Mannone, GK, Minnesota United

Named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Mannone was an instant success in Minnesota and helped completely reverse the club’s defensive frailties in their first two MLS seasons.

The former Arsenal goalkeeper, currently on loan from English Championship side Reading, was a TAM player in 2019. What will it take to keep him in 2020?

Tier II

A bunch of really good players and difference makers to focus on this offseason
Brad Smith, LB, Seattle Sounders:

On-loan from Bournemouth, which was originally supposed to expire in the summer but extended through the end of the season, Smith is a tricky one. He, too, won’t be cheap – he’s 25-years-old, an Australia international and helped lead the Sounders to MLS Cup – plus Seattle are well-stocked at left back with Nouhou and Joevin Jones. Back on Australia on internqtional duty, Smith said this week that his first priority will be to see if he has a place in Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe's plans.

Keaton Parks, CM, NYCFC

It took a few months for Parks to break into Dome Torrent’s side, but once he did, he was an invaluable member of the starting XI. And it was easy to see why Benfica snatched him up a few seasons ago.

Parks has European aspirations but was stuck in Benfica’s B team during his time at the club. Can NYCFC, and whoever their new coach will be, keep him or will he cross the Atlantic once again?

Lassi Lappalainen, W, Montreal Impact

Lappalainen settled quickly north of the border. The 21-year-old Finland international scored two braces in his first three starts but cooled off a bit towards the end of the season. 

He was signed with TAM for the end of 2019 and has an option for that loan to be extended through 2020. He's on loan from Montreal's sister club Bologna in Serie A.

Everton Luiz, DM, Real Salt Lake

Quietly a key player out West after being acquired on loan from Serie A side SPAL, Luiz was an integral member of RSL's playoff run in 2019, which ended in the Conference Semifinals against the Sounders. 

Luiz was a wrecking ball in the center of the park, though his last action of the season was a poor tackle resulting in a straight red card against the Sounders. Will that be his last memory in MLS or will he be back in 2020?

Jorge Moreira, RB, Portland Timbers

Moreira, acquired on loan from River Plate with an option to purchase this offseason, had a strong debut season with Portland.

The 29-year-old made 26 appearances as the club's first-choice right back, always looking to get forward and even popped up with a few goals. Though with the futures of both Diego Valeri and Brian Fernandez uncertain, it might be a winter of change in the Pacific Northwest. What will that mean for Moreira? 

Uriel Antuna, W, LA Galaxy

Antuna quickly became a key player for the Galaxy after Designated Player Romain Alessandrini was injured at the beginning of the season and the club were months away from signing Pavon. He started 29 matches in MLS and became an accomplished complementary piece to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with six goals and five assists in a season in which he turned 22. He also broke out with the Mexico national team at the Gold Cup.

But, he's reportedly drawing interest from Benfica and "likes the idea" of joining Chivas in Liga MX. General manager Dennis te Kloese said the Galaxy have a "gentleman's agreement" with Manchester City to match any offer for the player. 

Orji Okwonkwo, W, Montreal Impact

Like Lappalainen, Okwonwko was on loan from Bologna. In from the start of 2019, he scored eight goals and assisting two others to be named the team's MVP. 

Both club and player will have a decision to make regarding his future: Is he best served staying in Montreal or will Bologna want him? 

Emerson Hyndman, CM, Atlanta United

Joining Atlanta on loan from Bournemouth in July, Hyndman was almost immediately placed in the starting lineup. A central midfielder capable of playing in a box-to-box role or as a secondary creator in Atlanta's 3-4-2-1, Hyndman gave Frank de Boer options.

Atlanta have an option to buy the player, and may now be more inclined to do so having just traded central midfielder Darlington Nagbe.

Tier III

Players we'd still like to see more of in 2020.
Nicolas Benezet, W, Toronto FC

Benezet didn't settle in immediately after being acquired from French side Guingamp over the summer, but was a key piece of the club's run to MLS Cup. He even scored a huge goal against Atlanta, right when the game was teetering on getting away from them. He's capable of special moments.

But those moments didn't come consistently enough as he got acclimated to the league. Greg Vanney wanted to play 4-3-3 this year after Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez left, but wasn't always able to do so due to form and fitness. With Michael Bradley expected back on a TAM contract, TFC are likely to have an open DP spot. Will they use it on a winger? 

Michaell Chirinos, W, Vancouver Whitecaps

Signed in August, Chirinos didn't have a lot of time to make an impact on the Whitecaps, only getting 412 minutes on the pitch where he added a goal and an assist. 

Still, the winger showed promise over that limited sample size. Vancouver's attack is due for another significant makeover this offseason, as most players signed before Chirinos underwhelmed, including two DPs. 

Josh Sims, W, New York Red Bulls

Another lightning-quick winger who joined in the summer, Sims didn't have a ton of time to get settled and make an impact. Acquired on loan from Southampton as a Young DP, he played 478 minutes in the regular season then started the team's playoff loss to the Philadelphia Union. Sims scored his first goal with the club — his first career goal in a competitive senior professional match — and looked lively before having to exit due to injury. 

The player wants to return, telling Dylan Butler of ProSoccerUSA "I’d be lying if I say I don’t want to come back because this is probably the most experience I’ve gained so far in my career."

Favio Alvarez, AM, LA Galaxy

Injuries hampered Alvarez's debut campaign in SoCal, but the creative No. 10 impressed nonetheless over 18 appearances, with three goals and five assists. With Jonathan dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget and Joe Corona in the club's midfield, though, the options are crowded.

According to a report, the Galaxy will not pick up the purchase option on Alvarez's loan from Atlético Tucuman this offseason. 

Leo Jara, RB, D.C. United

Jara had an up and down first season in MLS. He started strong, and his attacking prowess was never in question, but his inconsistent defending ultimately led to him being dropped from the starting XI for D.C. United's final five games. The result? United kept five straight clean sheets. 

He joined from Boca Juniors after they fell in the 2018 Copa Libertadores final, under head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but his future is now uncertain.

Zachary Brault-Guillard, RB, Montreal Impact

The promising 20-year-old Canadian, Brault-Guillard made nine starts in MLS in 2019 after joining on loan from French giants Lyon where his limited experience amounted to five UEFA Youth League appearances.

Will he continue his development in MLS or return to France?