Everyone loves a freebie, and flipping the calendar to 2021 presents a world of players who could be snapped up by MLS clubs for a fee-less summer transfer.
In fact, they were all able to sign pre-deals to join new clubs on New Year's Day. As usual, we're here to celebrate the summer freebie market by making prime target suggestions.
This annual listing only covers impending free agents playing in Europe. We don't shy away from the superstar names, but also greatly enjoy finding lesser-known players worth chasing. It's been a good formula since this bit began back in 2010, with at least one player listed (and as many as three) making a free transfer to MLS during the year he was listed.
As always, players who have either played in MLS, publicly stated a willingness to play stateside, or been linked with a league club are sporting an asterisk. As you'd expect, we have a few honorable mentions to get out of the way first: Patrick van Aanholt, Jose Izquierdo, Eliaquim Mangala and Nelson Oliveira.
Though an injury and COVID-19 have limited him to nine appearances this term, I certainly wouldn't bet that Manchester City's all-time leading scorer is washed up. Any MLS club signing him should hear no "retirement destination" jabs. Aguero may be 32, but his goals-per-90 rate from 2019-20 was the second-highest of his career. If that doesn't convince you, listen to Pep Guardiola constantly bemoan how much the team misses him. Meanwhile, various reports have linked "Kun" with a summer MLS move as recently as last week.
When it comes to European players being vocal about a desire to play in MLS, Boateng surely ranks near the top of the list. The Bayern Munich center back has openly expressed a desire to play in America for years, up to and including a mention just a couple of months ago. There would definitely be competition for his signature, but not from Bayern, who have reportedly decided not to extend the 32-year-old's contract. Nevertheless, he remains a steady, no-nonsense backliner who halts incursions and moves the ball out safely.
It kind of gets overlooked at times, but MLS clubs have found decent success at plucking offense producers out of Eastern Europe. Robert Warzycha, Peter Nowak, Joel Lindpere, Borek Dockal, Nemanja Nikolic, Damir Kreilach ... it's a wonder teams aren't shopping over there more often, is what I'm saying. Caktas is a No. 10, but he's much more of a box-raiding finisher than an orchestrator. He only needs a yard and a second, so he makes scoring from traffic look easy, and the 28-year-old never met a through ball he didn't like. That's how he's sitting on back-to-back Golden Boots in the Croatian top flight.
I actually fully scouted Driussi while training to learn how those guys do their job. Suffice it to say, I've watched the Zenit St. Petersburg attacker in person and have a detailed opinion on him. At the time, my take was that he wasn't a good value target for MLS teams (even if Inter Miami reportedly disagreed). Things are very different now, and not just because he won't cost a transfer fee in June. Zenit managers have a tendency to play the Argentine further from goal than he'd prefer, so he's looking for a new adventure. It's not that the 24-year-old isn't solid enough to handle hard work in midfield. He'd just much rather find good finishing spots in the box, playing killer crosses and sparking rushes in space.
I typically make sure to include an American in the bunch, and this winter the obvious choice is the Club Brugge netminder. Just when he became the perennial Jupiler League contenders' starting goalkeeper, the club brought back Simon Mignolet from Liverpool. I can't promise that Horvath is ready to come home (he'll certainly have options overseas), but he'd be a great catch. At 25, the shot-stopper already has 23 games of UEFA competition experience, including a 3-0-1 record with one goal allowed in the Champions League proper. The US men’s national team piece has also worked hard to improve his area command and distribution.
As a key cog on a promotion hopeful, the Holstein Kiel midfielder may start thinking about a next move if they slip out of the race. Simply put, he's been among the best players in the 2. Bundesliga this season. Lee plays the No. 10 spot, but also performs a lot of duties associated with box-to-box players. He's very serious about defensive work and is quite difficult to slip past in central park. He uses this diligence to spring counters with good vision. As a playmaker, the 28-year-old isn't the wizardly type that can pick defenses apart at will, but he makes the offense function and offers supplemental production. Any manager pondering a double-No. 8 set-up should keep the South Korea vet in mind.
Since Galatasaray have put off any imminent return to MLS for DeAndre Yedlin – the Seattle Sounders homegrown product just put pen to paper – perhaps a shrewd shopper can take advantage of the knock-on effect. The Lions currently have an ace right back in Linnes who can be signed away on a pre-deal. The Norway international is an excellent 1-v-1 defender; he's nearly impossible to undress because he always stays under control. The 29-year-old is just as adept at driving play up the flank, even if he’s more of a move-linker than a crosser.
This is not the first time I've suggested the Haiti striker – he's previously expressed a desire to go to Inter Miami – but this time he's available on a freebie. It has taken a while for the scrappy Nazon to put it all together in Europe, but this season has seen him grab six goals in just over 900 minutes for a middling club (he's ex-D.C. United homegrown midfielder Chris Durkin's St. Truiden teammate) in Belgium's top flight. Because he's rangy and plays with an edge, I feel like he could have a Blaise N'Kufo-esque impact with the right MLS side.
The Porto man is a rare breed No. 10 player. Otavio has the handle to draw dangerous free kicks and loves to tee up teammates (he's ranked in the Liga NOS top 10 in assists-per-90 five of the last six seasons). Here's the peculiar thing: He's just as interested in providing defensive resistance. The 25-year-old, who's certainly not afraid to get stuck in, finished second in the league in tackles won last season. The Vancouver Whitecaps have reportedly made a wise pre-contract bid for his services, but they (and any other potential MLS suitors) should expect some lofty competition out of Serie A.
GOAL: Josh Sims hammers Red Bulls to an early lead
Yep, we're talking about the very same winger that the New York Red Bulls had on loan through last summer. Just when it looked as though Sims was getting comfy with MLS life, COVID-19 came along to break his potential stride and then he went back to parent club Southampton. I can think of several clubs that could use a promising action figure like the 23-year-old Sims on the flank.