MLS free agency is officially open as of 1 pm ET today (Wednesday, Nov. 16). As the league evolves and matures, free agency has become more robust, particularly with the new CBA.
A quick note: This isn’t an exhaustive list of all players out of contract, just the ones eligible for MLS free agency. MLS free agency requirements stipulate a player must be 24 years old and have at least five seasons in the league.
This year’s class of free agents is deep and really intriguing. There are a number of in-prime players, some big talents. Pretty much all positions except for winger is deep with options.
Let’s run through the best free agents available. I usually like to do things by tiers rather than a hard-and-fast ranking (because we’re splitting hairs for a lot of players here, plus context matters of contract/fit/whatever).
Callens, a Peruvian international center back, has been integral to NYCFC’s period of success over the last half-decade, including winning MLS Cup 2021 and the 2022 Campeones Cup while making the playoffs all five seasons. Now out of contract, the 30-year-old will be perhaps the most coveted free agent on the market.
Callens was already highly thought-of and respected before this season, but while playing with more attacking freedom from a left center back role under manager Nick Cushing, Callens showed yet another layer to his game. He can fit seamlessly in a back four or back three and is an elite central defender in this league, not just the free agent pool.
A former MLS Defender of the Year (2018), Long is a free agent after a long, successful stint with the New York Red Bulls. The center back is currently with the US men’s national team at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Long, 30, is likely to encounter plenty of interest. He made 139 regular-season appearances with the Red Bulls from 2017-21, including 29 this year after recovering from a torn Achilles that kept him out for most of 2021.
The best goalkeeper in a deep field, Sean Johnson has been among the league’s top shot-stoppers for years. His passing has also evolved during his tenure with NYCFC. The 33-year-old is currently with the USMNT at the World Cup.
NYCFC are hopeful to re-sign him, but any team in need of a goalkeeper will consider him. He won’t be cheap.
Canadian international midfielder Jonathan Osorio has been public in his desire to perhaps play in Europe, but if he opts to stay in MLS, he’ll have a lot of clubs interested in signing him.
The 30-year-old has spent 10 professional seasons with Toronto FC, his boyhood club, making a club-record 259 regular-season appearances. Osorio is with Canada at the World Cup in Qatar.
Reports have linked Osorio with numerous teams in England.
Derrick Etienne Jr., who turns 26 later this month, is entering his prime and already has 148 career MLS appearances. He’s also coming off his best-ever season, posting 9g/6a with the Columbus Crew.
The winger is best on the left, but can play across the front line. If his 2022 stat line was more of a new norm rather than a career-best total, Etienne could be among the year’s best free agents.
Etienne was slightly ahead of Ecuador international midfielder Sebastian Mendez and a couple of other strong options for the top five. Again, this class of options is robust.
Sean Johnson was covered above.
Tyler Miller was signed by Minnesota United FC to be a starting goalkeeper. He’d been the starter with LAFC, had shown well and was being paid like a starter.
Miller eventually lost his starting spot to rising Canadian international Dayne St. Clair this year, yet is available again. The 29-year-old has made 100 starts in MLS and is in his prime.
After more than a decade with D.C. United, Bill Hamid is a free agent.
Hamid, who turns 32 later this month, made his MLS debut in 2010. He went on to make 279 regular-season starts with D.C.
What will the market look like for the Black-and-Red homegrown product and former US international?
After an injury to LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, James Pantemis was called into Canada’s World Cup squad. The shot-stopper then had his contract option declined by CF Montréal.
Pantemis, who turns 26 before opening day, has been in and out of MTL’s starting lineup for a couple of years, making 32 starts. He won the starting spot by the end of 2022, but evidently didn’t impress enough to convince the rising Eastern Conference club to keep him around.
Callens and Long are covered above.
Hedges, the FC Dallas club legend and all-time appearances leader (310), has hit free agency after the club declined his option and the sides couldn’t reach an agreement on a new contract.
Hedges, who turns 33 in April, is likely to be of interest to numerous clubs looking for a veteran presence in central defense. He’s surpassed 2,000 minutes in all but one (non-COVID) season, including last year.
The talented center back has been viewed among the league’s best for brief times, but inconsistency marred his last few years in Toronto.
Mavinga, 31, first joined TFC in 2017, the year they won the MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield and Canadian Championship treble. However, the Democratic Republic of Congo international has never played 2,200 minutes or more in a season.
Ibeagha started MLS Cup 2022 for LAFC. He wasn’t supposed to be a first-choice central defender at the club, but has been a highly-respected rotation defender for years during his time with NYCFC and LAFC.
For teams targeting him this winter, what will the price be? What will the playing time expectation be for the center back, who turns 31 in January?
Hollingshead, an MLS Cup-winning right back, is eligible for free agency. He joined LAFC in a trade from FC Dallas last winter and played a key role for the club throughout their double-trophy year.
Hollingshead, 31, has been viewed among the top fullbacks for a few years and can play on either the left or right side. He brings an attacking threat, posting 24g/16a across 223 appearances.
Another player who was with LAFC this year, Escobar hits free agency. The Argentine defender didn’t have as big a role as expected with LAFC but is a proven MLSer.
Escober, who turns 28 in February, joined Atlanta United in 2018 and won MLS Cup with the club that year. He’s made 82 regular-season appearances and another nine in the postseason.
Thompson, a San Jose Earthquakes academy product, becomes a free agent at 27 years old. He’s got nine seasons of MLS experience under his belt, with 5g/11a in 184 games.
Thompson has mostly been a rotation player for the Quakes, playing more than 1,600 minutes in just one season.
FC Cincinnati declined the contract option on Matarrita. He was on a big deal, which played a role in the decision, rather than deciding he wasn’t up to quality.
Matarrita is at the World Cup with Costa Rica. He has 7g/21a across 135 regular-season appearances with NYCFC and Cincy, returning from a long-term ankle injury by the end of the 2022 season.
He’s an above-average left back in the league, particularly in an attack-minded system. There should be a robust market out there.
The Columbus Crew declined Pedro Santos’ contract option and described the decision as a “cap casualty.” The Portuguese winger-turned-fullback is now eligible for free agency.
Santos, now 34, has made 155 MLS appearances (with 23g/34a) and was a key part of the Crew’s MLS Cup 2020 title haul. He didn’t show signs of slowing down last year.
Another attacking left back who was the subject of a recent big-ish trade (like Matarrita), Smith is a free agent. He (like Matarrita) recently suffered a long-term injury, tearing his ACL in July.
That injury context may make for a complicated market, given the Australian international is not likely to be ready to play until at least April (if not later).
Smith, 28, has made 79 MLS appearances across Seattle Sounders FC and D.C. United.
Osorio is covered at length at the top.
Mendez is a 25-year-old Ecuador international who is currently with his country at the World Cup. While he wasn’t a key player for LAFC after a midseason trade from Orlando, he has MLS Cup-winning experience and 81 league appearances. His dynamic midfield presence fits perfectly in the high-tempo league.
This is an easy one… if Mendez decides to stay in MLS. A lot of teams should be calling.
Initially coming to MLS on transfer to Atlanta United, Remedi spent the last two years in San Jose. He’s been a regular starter in the league, amassing 1g/4a across 113 games.
The 27-year-old Argentine midfielder is a free agent thanks to the lowered requirements. At his age and profile, he should have options if he opts to remain in MLS rather than return to Argentina (or elsewhere). He won MLS Cup with Atlanta in 2018.
Rodriguez, a Houston Dynamo FC homegrown midfielder, can play on the wing or centrally. But his best soccer came as a No. 8, so we’ll list him here.
Rodriguez, who turns 27 just after Christmas, has made 136 MLS appearances with the Dynamo. He’s got 17g/14a in the league.
Etienne is covered at length above. I also just combined wingers/center forwards because there is not a deep group of wingers behind Etienne.
Zardes was a tough cut from the top five up top, but he’s pretty much in that high-end tier (like Mendez and perhaps Hedges too).
Zardes’ goal output has gone down every year since his career-best 2018 season with 19 goals, but he’s a proven goal-scorer in this league and won MLS Cup in 2020. Zardes was traded to the Rapids from the Crew this year and had 9g/2a in just over 2,000 minutes at his new (perhaps temporary?) home.
If Colorado re-sign him, they’ll have to send Columbus some GAM as part of the trade agreement.
Another proven, goal-scoring center forward, Kamara has found the net wherever he’s gone. The former Norwegian international has 83g/14a across 175 MLS games.
Now 33, Kamara isn’t quite in the middle of his prime, but he recorded 9g/1a in 1,486 minutes for D.C. United last year. In 2021, he finished tied for the league lead in goals (19) and lost the Golden Boot presented by Audi race to NYCFC’s Taty Castellanos on the assists tiebreaker.
Kamara has spent time with D.C. United, Columbus Crew and the LA Galaxy during his MLS career.
Burke was previously a starting center forward in MLS, but was relegated to a rotation/super-sub role in Philadelphia after the club brought in two DP forwards last winter (Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza).
The 30-year-old Jamaican international played a key role for the Union as they reached MLS Cup, eventually losing on penalty kicks to LAFC.
He’s in talks about a return to Philadelphia, but could a club come in with an offer for a bigger role? What will the market look like?
Burke carved out 7g/5a in 1,177 minutes this year.
Bruin, another center forward who had been a starter but mostly became a rotation/super-sub piece in recent years, is available after playing for Seattle from 2017-22.
Bruin, 33, has 77g/33a in 310 career MLS appearances. He spent 2011-16 with Houston before winning MLS Cup and Concacaf Champions League titles with the Sounders.
Speaking of super-subs, Quintero is leaving the Houston Dynamo. The veteran, unpredictable attacker has been one of the league’s most fun players when playing at his peak.
The 35-year-old Colombian had 8g/5a in 1,776 minutes for the Dynamo this year and the attack generally looked lost without him at times. Quintero has never been a good/diligent defender, so it’s difficult to start him in most systems, but he could be a new version of Ilsinho (ex-Philly super-sub) in the right role.
Quintero originally came to MLS in 2018 with Minnesota and has 39g/37a in 130 games.