In just a few days, the MLS Cup match-up will be decided. Seattle is already in and will face either Toronto or Montreal, with everyone else already in full off-season mode. Just over half of the teams around MLS have released multiple players who are either eligible for the MLS Re-Entry Draft or free agency.
By the middle of December, roughly 50 players will be available to be selected in the first stage of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, which will commence Dec. 16. Meanwhile, a number of other players will be eligible for free agency, which will begin Dec. 13 at 5 p.m., after the MLS Expansion Draft.
As of right now, there is a healthy list of talented veteran players that currently are either out of contract or have been released by their clubs. Let’s take a look at who is currently available to possibly come to Orlando for 2017.
1. Michael Parkhurst, Defender (Re-Entry)
The 32-year-old center back just misses out on free agency by one year (must have spent eight years in MLS to be eligible), but is a tantalizing target for a team like Orlando, with a need for solid, veteran defenders. Despite the Columbus Crew’s down year last year, Parkhurst was a mainstay for a team that went to the MLS Cup Final in 2015 and he was, more importantly, the Crew captain for the last few years. If Orlando needs two things this off-season, it’s a solid veteran defender and a team leader. Parkhurst seems to fit the bill for both needs and although the Crew have offered the former USMNT defender a new contract, the Columbus Dispatch reported that both Parkhurst and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter were at an “impasse” on contract negotiations and that the veteran defender would likely try to play elsewhere.
2. Will Johnson, Midfielder (Free Agent)
Probably one of the most intriguing players that will be testing the free agency market is 10-year MLS veteran Will Johnson. Johnson, 29, made a name for himself in 2009 with Real Salt Lake when the club won the MLS Cup Final under then-manager Jason Kreis. Johnson spent five years under Kreis in Utah, starting most of the games for him. He may not be a flashy player, but he will do his job and has great awareness and positioning. If Kreis is indeed going to switch to the diamond formation, he would want to bring in a player he can trust in that formation — someone who knows how to play it like the back of their hand. Johnson would definitely be that guy for Kreis.
3. Paulo Nagamura, Midfielder (Free Agent)
The 13-year MLS veteran is an interesting look for Orlando. Not only is he an accomplished midfielder in MLS with the LA Galaxy, Toronto FC, Chivas USA, and Sporting Kansas City, but he grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He spent his youth with Sao Paulo FC, the same club that Orlando City’s captain Kaká grew up with. In fact, both of them were in the youth program at the same time back in the mid ‘90s. Not only that, but Nagamura already has a house down in Orlando for the off-season. At 33 years old, he could provide solid depth in the midfield or even an occasional start in Head Coach Jason Kreis’ 4-4-2 diamond formation.
4. Chad Barrett, Forward (Free Agent)
Since the release of Julio Baptista, depending on if he is re-signed or not, Orlando may need a veteran striker for next year, and who better to fill that role than the veteran journeyman himself, Chad Barrett. Barrett has played for six different teams since 2005, including the Galaxy, Seattle, Toronto, Chicago, New England, and, most recently, San Jose. He won the U.S. Open Cup with Chicago in 2006, played and scored in the CONCACAF Champions League with Toronto in 2010, and has represented the U.S. in the U-18s, U-20s, U-23s, and the senior team. While he may not be the fastest player on the field, he makes up for it with his awareness and his knack for being a "goal poacher." Barrett would be a great player to have come off the bench, or even occasionally start if Cyle Larin is away on international duty. He fills his role and doesn't try to do too much, and having a stable striker that can put away easy chances is all you can ask for in a veteran.
5. Zach Loyd, Defender (Out of Contract)
One of the longest tenured players on FC Dallas, Loyd has been playing in Frisco, TX, since he was drafted fifth overall back in 2010. A versatile defender that can play either fullback or center back, Loyd missed a chunk of last year with a broken nose and concussion, only appearing in 12 games. In the years prior, however, he had appeared in 24 league games or more per season since he was drafted. Through the years, Loyd has shown his quality passing touch, ability as a hard-nosed defender, capability to read and react to the game quickly, and solid pace tracking down attackers. His teammate, Ryan Hollingshead, called him, “One of the most underrated guys in MLS. He’s a guy that can help out any team. He should be on the national team for sure. He’s that type of caliber.” A solid MLS veteran defender with pace that could provide depth at multiple positions sounds like someone that Orlando should consider this off-season.
As a reminder, this is all just my opinion and there are still many other players to choose from, as well as some teams that have yet to announce their roster moves. Let me know in the comments if there are any other available players I missed that you would like to see in Orlando next year.