AMSTERDAM – With the winter silly season fast approaching, thoughts may turn to a now-annual MLS tradition: receiving free agent goodies from Europe in the new year. The pre-deal market opens in January, so it's time to browse players set to run out of contract overseas that may be of interest to MLS shoppers.
This list is not meant for reporting reveals or starting rumors. It's simply a collection of suggestions, a mere heads-up for Major League Soccer technical directors. Despite this innocent intent, three players out of last year’s catalog peek did turn up with MLS clubs in 2012 (Kris Boyd, Marcus Hahnemann and Marcus Tracy).
The league wields more and more drawing power with each passing season, so let's grab our cart and browse down the different aisles of lure-worthy freebies for summer (or perhaps even earlier, in certain cases).
There's American help of all varieties set to go free at season's end – and we're not even including Tottenham Hotspur netminder Brad Friedel, who could be set to retire in the summer.
Back corridor word in Denmark says that recently benched Brøndby captain Clarence Goodson may be thinking about coming home. No such gossip exists with Carlisle right back Frank Simek, who at 28, may be tired of toiling with a poor League One side.
Mainz 05 midfielder Jared Jeffrey will turn 23 next summer and needs matches, but has yet to make a first-team debut in two European stops. Former RSL forward Robbie Findley, meanwhile, has found it tough sledding under his fourth Nottingham Forest manager in just under two years with the club.
The CONCACAF Homies
Believe it or not, the most tantalizing aisle this year is the one populated by the US national team's regional rivals.
Speedy Antiguan Dexter Blackstock has spent nearly a decade trying to get another shot at the EPL, which he last saw as a teen at Southampton. At 26, could he be up for some place warmer? The same could be asked of Honduras mainstay Maynor Figueroa. Not only would the Wigan man immediately be one of the best left backs in MLS, but he has a rather important Hexagonal to be concerned about next year.
Canadian shoppers will be overjoyed with the selection, which includes Canucks skipper Kevin McKenna of FC Köln. He's an excellent defender, set-piece terror and clubhouse presence. The best CONCACAF brand item, however, is PSV Eindhoven's Atiba Hutchinson (right).
The 29-year-old midfielder says he's ready for a new adventure, preferably in England. If that door won't open for him, there will likely be multiple MLS clubs waiting with a welcome mat.
The Men in Back
Having been linked with the Chicago Fire earlier in the year, the obvious market choice is Manchester United veteran Rio Ferdinand. The center back can be lured by his interest in film and hip-hop production – just maybe get him a driver.
Speaking of the Fire, they snagged an ex-Germany defender in Arne Friedrich last year. This season, shoppers can ponder grabbing unrelated Bayer Leverkusen ace Manuel Friedrich, a similar player.
Any MLS clubs in Cologne to check out McKenna, can also take a gander at capable left back Christian Eichner. In nearby Austria, Red Bull Salzburg defensive handyman David Mendes da Silva has terrific two-way technical skills and quickness.
The early name drop this year has been Chelsea attacker Yossi Benayoun (above), now on loan at West Ham United. Perhaps a better, faster veteran option for the wing plays one flight down in Bolton wheel man Martin Petrov.
Those looking for a younger model might like Sturm Graz winger/forward Rubin Okotie. Stateside fans may remember the 25-year-old for scoring as Austria knocked out the US in the quarterfinals of the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
As it so happens, the man who knocked the Baby Nats out at the quarterfinal stage of the 2003 edition – Villarreal striker Fernando Cavenaghi – will also be free come summer. The textbook No. 9 has a world of talent at 29, but has been on flat form for a few years now and could use a change.
Last but not least, there is Bayern Munich's Timex man, Claudio Pizarro. He just keeps on ticking at 34, with three goals in his four Champions League outings this term.