AMSTERDAM – In recent years, there has been all manner of talk about Americans hopping the pond to play in England; the hurdles, why they flock there, if it's best for their careers, etc., etc. and so on.
There's been so much of this talk, in fact, that few people have noticed that a reverse trend is coming into play.
Though the arrival of English Premier League vets Juan Pablo Ángel and David Beckham in 2007 resulted in stacks of headlines during their time in Major League Soccer, it was also just five years ago that American teams managed to lure just three players out of England over the entire season.
The following year, 2010, saw only four players be loaned or transfer from a club out of one of the country's top three divisions.
Jay DeMerit and Robbie Keane helped bump the number slightly up to five English captures in 2011, but since then players heading west over the Atlantic has become more common. The following two seasons saw 11 and 13 English transplants, respectively (think names like Steven Caldwell, Hendry Thomas, Giles Barnes or Bradley Wright-Phillips). The 2014 MLS campaign has only just begun, but teams have already made five such acquisitions this year.
But we’re not here to discuss the how’s and why’s of this growing trend. The recent improvements of MLS as an overall league – combined with some team owners' willingness to splash some personnel cash – pretty well speaks for itself, as does the fair level of general interest in experiencing North American daily life.
Instead let’s think like general managers, who are paid to plan ahead. Team holes will somehow go unfilled in this transfer window and what seems a covered position today can look different after half a season. Either way you slice it, summer free agents are already available to be signed on pre-deals.
While the current MLS transfer window does not close until May, there are several potential summer freebies worth tracking in England that might make a nifty midseason addition. As usual, the list of guys running out of EPL and Championship contracts covers any field need, with attractive puzzle pieces at all price levels.
A quick note: All names bearing an asterisk have already either been linked with an MLS move or have at one time spoken publicly about a desire to do so.
You need attack?
There is a fine array of veteran players to choose from, all able to bring increased creativity and production over from the EPL.
Looking for a wily striker? There's Chelsea star Samuel Eto'o* (right), who has put up a total of eight goals and six assists in a platoon arrangement. How about a box-raiding midfield finisher? His Blues teammate, Frank Lampard*, could also be a free agent.
If a playmaking spark plug is what you crave, a quick tube ride across London can get you a look at West Ham United's Joe Cole*. In fact, UK tabloids have been widely reporting that he has interest from America for more than a month now.
You want some defense?
Major League Soccer has a long history of finding foreign gems for the backline, but only four of the 29 players signed out of England from January 2012 until now have been defenders.
Luckily, this summer could see some talented under-the-radar guys become available for free. Veteran Fulham left back hammer John Arne Riise* (right) has talked about coming to MLS for years. Those more interested in a right back might consider Nottingham Forest's Gonzalo Jara, a longtime Chile standout that can also slide into midfield.
If a cool-headed center back is what you require, there is Doncaster's Gabriel Tamas, a Romania regular that is equally adept at right back. Of course, there is also a more intense and pricey option to chase for the heart of defense: Chelsea captain/tabloid magnet John Terry*.
Drawn to familiar brands?
There could be plenty of (relatively) local produce at the summer market, with several Americans and Canadians ripe for the picking.
Sheffield Wednesday Oguchi Onyewu* is faring well with his new club, but he’s only signed through the end of the season. With the team striving just to finish mid-table, he could thank the Owls for helping him back into the World Cup roster discussion and finally head home.
Perhaps this could also be the summer someone finally lures Brad Friedel* (right) back to America for a last hurrah (however long that may last). He's drawn MLS offers in recent years and is a big fan of the league.
The three Canadian clubs can also try to add national team names if they wish. After about two years of struggling to find consistent playing time in the EPL and Bundesliga, Simeon Jackson has become a bit player at Millwall. Still only 26, the speedy sniper could find his feet again in MLS.
An enticing wingback option, Burnley's David Edgar, is also set for the shelf. A veteran of more than 140 games in England's top two flights at 26, the energetic Canada international fell out of favor with the promotion chasers earlier this season.