Miguel Ibarra - Minnesota United - March 9, 2019
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Five top players now free agents after MLS Re-Entry process | Charles Boehm

With Juan Agudelo and Saad Abdul-Salaam the only two players selected in Stage 2 of the MLS Re-Entry draft on Tuesday, a list of nearly 50 players are now available to any MLS club on a first-come, first-served basis.

There’s plenty of talent on this list, though some of it may take some coaching to coax back to top form. Here’s five names who look like the most attractive prospective signings.

Note: There are often backstories to the Re-Entry list, with some players making plans to continue their careers elsewhere outside MLS or continue negotiating with their current club.

For example, Cristian Higuita is still just 25 and retains substantial promise, but he’s publicly stated his intent to move abroad, as he has no desire to shift his allegiance to a competitor of his longtime club Orlando City SC, so he’s not on this list. Similarly, Bradley Wright-Phillips removed himself from the Re-Entry process as we wait to see what he does next after parting ways with the New York Red Bulls.

Miguel Ibarra

We start with an absolute no-brainer. I was surprised when Minnesota United cut loose their longtime winger after season’s end, and was nearly as startled to see no one else in the league snag him on Tuesday. It’s understandable that some might be put off by his 2019 salary – guaranteed compensation of $342,318, according to MLS Players Union documents – but Stage 2 allows teams to negotiate on a new number and, at this point, the 29-year-old could become the bargain of the winter.

Ibarra works hard, knows the league, is respected among his peers and can play several wide roles, including right back and wingback. Reports have linked him to the Houston Dynamo, where he could strike up his old Batman-Superman partnership with striker Christian Ramirez, and New York City FC. If Tab Ramos and La Naranja don’t get this done, someone else will.

David Guzman

In 2018, Guzman played in all three of Costa Rica’s matches at the FIFA World Cup and helped the Portland Timbers reach the MLS Cup final, a match he started. Now the central midfielder finds himself without a club after Columbus Crew SC declined his option for 2020 and no one took a flyer on him in the Re-Entry process.

Like Ibarra, the Tico was on a relatively high salary number, but now I suspect he could be had for a very amenable price given his track record and skillset. He too is 29, and according to reports out of Costa Rica he’s expressed a desire to stay in MLS. Whether box-to-box or holding, Guzman offers a crafty presence in the engine room with a nasty, cunning edge and could still do a job for plenty of MLS clubs.

Cody Cropper

Another talent whose stock has dropped quickly and dramatically, Cropper was starting in goal for the New England Revolution and part of the US men’s national team pool a matter of months ago… and making saves like this:

He’s 26, carries ample domestic and overseas experience and may just need a change of scenery and a dose of confidence to kick-start his career.

Joao Plata

These last two candidates likely require a bit more investment – both financially and developmentally – than the rest, but their upside makes them worth some time and effort, and perhaps a larger salary than most MLS restoration projects require.

At his best Plata is pure quicksilver, a slashing, daring dribbler and creator who can provide both service and finishing, and was inches away from a transfer to Liga MX earlier this year. He can connect passes, get out on the run in transition and hits a decent set piece, too. He’s earned a reputation as a moody, mercurial personality and probably needs a nuanced coaching hand to coax him back to form.

Krisztian Nemeth

Again, it’s striking a player can be called into a respectable European national team (Hungary) and find himself unemployed a few months later. Yes, he endured a miserable season with Sporting KC, utterly failing to reward the club’s investment of faith in him as their starting No. 9… but maybe that last part was the problem, rather than Nemeth himself.

The 30-year-old did his best work in MLS as a goal-dangerous winger, not a spearhead, and there are plenty of teams around the league crying out for the former. SKC manager Peter Vermes has raved about his technique and tactical intelligence and those kinds of skills don’t evaporate overnight. If Nemeth can embrace the mental challenge of proving himself all over again in a new setting, he could well be a steal of a signing.

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