Oftentimes, MLS teams look overseas to strengthen their rosters in the build-up for the upcoming season. However, in past years, some really interesting and valuable options have been available in the internal market and teams that knew how to take advantage of them really benefited.
Last Monday, every MLS team that was not competing in the playoffs anymore — all but Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC, Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo — announced their end-of-season moves, making public which players will be available through Free Agency, the Re-Entry Draft, or the Waiver Draft.
The list is extensive and has some heavyweights, such as goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielders Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, and Javier Morales, but these are not the names Orlando City SC should pursue. Instead, the Lions should focus on cheaper and younger options, which could strengthen the team’s depth.
Did you realize that Josh Williams, a starting center back for Crew SC in the Eastern Conference Finals, was acquired in the second stage of the Re-Entry Draft in 2016? Or that Dylan Remick, the left back who scored the goal that made the Dynamo advance to the Western Conference Finals, was picked up through the same mechanism?
These are the kinds of players the Lions should look for and here are a few options:
RJ Allen (Waiver Draft)
The 27-year-old fullback was released from New York City FC after playing 55 matches for the Citizens in the last three years. Allen, who also played in Denmark, had his best year in 2016, when he recorded a career-high six assists — more than any Orlando City player had in 2017.
Capable of playing on both sides of the field, Allen wouldn’t necessarily be a starter, but definitely could be a reliable backup to both Scott Sutter and Donny Toia — something that the talented but oft-injured Rafael Ramos and inconsistent Victor ‘PC’ Giro failed to be last season. His salary in 2017 was around $100,000, which is way less than Kevin Alston made.
Soni Mustivar (Waiver Draft)
After three years with Sporting Kansas City, the Haitian International did not have his contract option picked for 2018. With the departures of Antonio Nocerino and Servando Carrasco, the Lions are shorthanded in the defensive midfielder position and Mustivar could help to fill this gap.
The 27-year-old workhorse, who played in France’s second tier and in Romania, is only two years removed from ranking third in interceptions in the entire league according to WhoScored.com, with five per game back in 2015, and has managed to keep his passing accuracy over the 80% mark since he arrived in MLS. He lost his space in 2017 with the arrival of FC Barcelona Academy product Illie Sanchez, getting only two starts, and his last salary of $200,000 seems a little high, but Mustivar can still be effective in a limited role.
Jose Villarreal (Re-Entry Draft)
One of the most hyped products of LA Galaxy’s youth system, Villarreal ended his six-year tenure as a professional with the club after the 2017 season. Despite his impressive youth background, which includes stints with the U.S. U-18, U-20, and U-23 teams, he never had a decent opportunity with the Galaxy, amassing only 25 starts there. His best year was 2015, when he had two goals and four assists in nine starts.
At 24, Villarreal is still young and a change of scenery could be all he needs to flourish. His ability makes him a versatile offensive player and Orlando could certainly use help up front, especially in the $100,000 salary range he had in 2017.
Mike Grella (Waiver Draft)
At the age of 30, Grella is the oldest player on the list. He joined the New York Red Bulls in 2015 after playing in England and Denmark, and became an important contributor to the team, recording 16 goals and 13 assists in his first two years with the club. His 2017 season was cut short because of a serious knee injury that made the Red Bulls decline his option for 2018.
His price tag is not particularly cheap (around $190,000 in 2017) but few players can provide what Grella can, if healthy, for the same amount. Orlando has struggled to get production from the wings and his creativity and flair could boost the team’s offense if he manages to perform with consistency.
Sean Okoli (Re-Entry Draft)
Okoli’s tenure with New York City FC, his third MLS team, lasted only one season and 440 minutes. Behind David Villa in the rotation, the Seattle Sounders Homegrown product struggled to find playing time and scored only a single goal in 21 matches in 2017 — and made just three starts.
The reasons to sign Okoli are his age (24), his affordable salary (around $53,000 in 2017) and, especially, his amazing performance in 2016, when he scored 16 goals in 29 matches for FC Cincinnati and took home the USL MVP award. The Lions need a backup for Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin and Okoli could be an effective and cheap option.