Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Where could players land? 2021 MLS Free Agency matchmaker

Ring the bell. Free agency in Major League Soccer opens today (Wednesday, Dec. 15) at 1 pm ET, and it’s bigger than ever before.

We’ve got an MLS Cup-winning (and Cup-losing) No. 10. We’ve got a double-double attacker in his prime. We’ve got one-club legends I can’t imagine anywhere else. Mostly, we’ve got a lot of MLS veteran spot-starters/quality depth pieces. Winning teams have those.

The most important thing to remember here is free agents can potentially make the most money by staying with their current team, who aren't subject to the same pay-raise caps that outside suitors must abide by. The second most important thing to remember is you should follow Tom Bogert for all offseason transfer news in MLS.

With that in mind, here are some names to watch from the eligible player list

The important thing to remember is what? That Blanco could make the most by staying in Portland, where he knows he’s valued and understands exactly what to expect from the club and the manager.

Negotiations were tracking well before MLS Cup and there’s no reason to think the 33-year-old won’t be back pulling the strings and finding the top corner for the Timbers in 2022.

Campeon. It’s either NYCFC or Racing Club, in my opinion. The man wore the scarf of his boyhood club well into the night while celebrating the MLS Cup triumph.

Maybe down the line. It seems Maxi, like Blanco, is destined to stay put once both parties get the details sorted out. What he did in the playoffs is timeless, and a productive old head is a good influence to have around the young group coming up. Though Moralez will turn 35 when the 2022 season starts in February, he’s got some serious Diego Chara vibes. Just put him on the field and let him do his thing.

Locking down Rusnak has to be priority No. 1 in Sandy. He’s 27 years old, started 34 matches in 2021 while putting up 11g/11a and has spent the past five years getting to know the city, club and league. Any relative replacement would require a large transfer fee. Any replacement might change the chemistry in a locker room that blew expectations out of the water.

Real Salt Lake need to re-sign Albert Rusnak. It’s as simple as that.

It might not be so simple for Albert Rusnak, depending on what you read. The Daily Mail reports Rusnak is “open to a return to England” and Southampton and Newcastle are interested. Take that for what you will!

I’m lumping them together because it’s truly hard to imagine either leaving Kansas City. Zusi and Espinoza started 24 games for one of the league’s best teams last season. They are both one-club men in MLS. Then again, so was former SKC captain Matt Besler before he spent 2021 with Austin FC. I’ll be shocked if they don’t return to Children’s Mercy Park on more friendly cap numbers.

Sean Davis

Davis played every single minute for a playoff team in 2021. Given the thing we’re remembering most, that probably means he re-signs for New York. They couldn’t take him off the field, and they could pay him the most. Davis is also a New Jersey guy and, along with the returning Aaron Long, the 28-year-old is the elder statesman of a young, potentially rising team.

Then again, elder statesman wearing the captain's armband is not historically a comfortable position to be in at Red Bull Arena (think Dax McCarty, Luis Robles). Charlotte FC need MLS know-how (as do many teams). Davis went to Duke and the cap hit would be very reasonable if he could be convinced to leave.

He’s a 28-year-old domestic center back who played nearly 2,000 minutes for one of the best teams in the league. I was a little shocked the Sounders didn’t bring him back, but just about every team could use O’Neill as a third CB/flex starter.

Kelyn Rowe

It’s hard to see Rowe leaving hometown Seattle after just one season (24 starts), but there’s always value in a guy who can play four positions (DM, CM, RB, RW) and knows what it takes to win in MLS.

Think Tyler Miller, a former Sounders backup turned starter. Cleveland got 15 games between the posts for Seattle in Stefan Frei’s absence. More than a few teams need a starting goalkeeper. Just about all of them could use a backup of his quality.

I think it’s time for a Toronto FC return. Bob Bradley leaned on Edwards down the stretch at LAFC. Why not continue the career resurgence with someone who believes in you?

Meram can still change a game: two goals, six assists in 1,520 minutes this year. He seems to have carved out a good niche in Utah. Here’s hoping both sides keep a good thing going, but if they don’t then someone else is going to get the modern-day Ilsinho.

Other than that stint in Nashville, Badji has always scored goals. Here are his non-Nashville seasons in MLS…

  • 2015 COL: 2 G in 812 minutes
  • 2016 COL: 6 G, 4 A in 1,571 minutes
  • 2017 COL: 9 G, 6 A in 2,540 minutes
  • 2018 COL/DAL: 9 G, 3 A in 1,963 minutes
  • 2019 DAL: 6 G, 3 A in 2,040 minutes
  • 2021 COL: 5 G in 319 minutes

I think he belongs in Colorado, personally. It just feels right.

Most xG models I peruse really liked Clark’s 2021. He was a top-five goalkeeper in the league when it came to Goals minus Expected Goals (G-xG). In other words, he was really good at allowing fewer goals than the model expected to be scored.

Yes, he probably could have done better on Taty's goal in MLS Cup … but he’s very pretty darn reliable and often spectacular for Portland. There are a lot of clubs that could do (and have done) a whole lot worse.