One thing that MLS expansion teams need to have any chance of being not terrible is at least a few players with considerable MLS experience. These players are counted on not only to play well on the field for their new side, but also to provide instant leadership and show the newbies the ropes in what is in many ways a unique league.
In 2009, the Seattle Sounders picked up Brad Evans and James Riley, two players who played a big role for the team that year and for several after, while this season Atlanta United snagged Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz.
Among the many ways to obtain players, one of the newest in MLS is what is called “MLS Free Agency.” This sounds totally straightforward but isn’t exactly. Technically, as in any other league, a free agent is a player out of contract who is free to sign with anyone. There are literally dozens of those players kicking around every year, waiting to get a shot with a new team.
But MLS Free Agents (notice the caps) are players who are out of contract and who qualify for the new free agency under the CBA by virtue of their seniority and service in the league. If a player is at least 28 years old, has spent eight seasons in the league, and is out of contract, he is eligible for this new version of MLS free agency. The contrast is that in the past teams could effectively own players’ rights indefinitely, and this is one step to get away from that.
There haven’t been many Free Agent signings the past two offseasons, just a handful so far. In that regard, don’t expect many signings, if any, by Los Angeles Football Club (with teams only able to sign two total per offseason). But considering LAFC need players in a way no other team will this offseason, they’ll likely be in the market for a Free Agent or two — if the price is right.
Here is the list of available free agents who will be out of contract at the end of the year (h/t Paul Tenorio):
There are other players who could be included in the Free Agent pool before all is said and done, but in those cases teams will have to reject a team option on their contract to make them Free Agents. We can visit that possibility when we come to that. For now, let’s look at four players from the above list who could be good for LAFC next year.
The winger is 30 and is most likely going to be moving on from the Philadelphia Union after a disappointing year for team and player. The Southern California native has never played close to home in his MLS career.
What works against him? He made a ton of money last year, well over $400,000, and there’s no way any team should be paying him anything close to that amount. Also, he’s had an extremely injury-checkered history, to the point where he usually either misses nearly an entire season or is healthy the whole way.
What’s intriguing is that when Pontius is healthy, he’s a dynamic, smart, productive two-way winger, truly capable of playing at a Best XI level. So if LAFC can get him for around $150,000-200,000/season, and if he can stay healthy, he’d be a worthy risk to start the team with, while understanding that his health is an ongoing concern. Still, it’s a risk I’d be willing to consider.
The Vancouver Whitecaps have been pretty happy with Harvey for many years, and so I don’t necessarily expect him to be available for proper Free Agency. While he’s 33, Harvey remains one of the best left backs around, and goes through spurts where he offers a tertiary scoring option for his team, too. He’s also a Southern California native, so if he declines to re-sign with the Whitecaps and there is a few suitors in the league for him, he could be swayed to come to LAFC if he wants to come home with his family.
Again, at 33 Harvey won’t be a long-term solution even if he has a good 2018 season. But still, what expansion teams need to be decent is players who can lead the way right away, and as long as Harvey can stay healthy, he could be a good pick-up.
Here’s a player for the other side of the field, as Beitashour is one of the most reliable right backs around, to the point where people wonder why on earth the San Jose Earthquakes and then the Whitecaps let him go in the past. The 30-year-old did have a serious injury this season, with his pancreas needing surgery after a nasty, if rather routine, collision with another player this summer.
The good news is that Beitashour appears to have fully recovered from that injury, and could be on his way to helping lead Toronto FC to an unprecedented treble this season in MLS. I would assume that if there’s room in the budget for him for next season, he won’t necessarily want to leave TFC, but suppose they opt not to re-sign him (a distinct possibility considering he makes nearly $300,000, quite a bit for a right back and the team found a replacement, effectively, in the summer window with Nicolas Hasler) then he’ll have to find a new spot. And after playing collegiately for San Diego State, a return to Southern California could be just the destination for a player likely to have several more good seasons ahead of him.
Here’s a free agent who has distinct ties to LAFC coach Bob Bradley. Jacobson played at Stabaek under Bradley in 2014, on a loan stint, so the manager knows his game. Jacobson is 32, has been a regular presence with the Vancouver Whitecaps until the team went on a defensive midfielder spending spree this summer, and is able to play center back, too.
He offers a skill set similar to a poor man’s Larentowicz: Not flashy, versatile, providing leadership and a defend-first mindset with an occasional goal. Jacobson made $175,000 this season, and signing him around that rate for next year would be pretty remarkable, the kind of deal you can make even if he doesn’t become a regular starter and is instead a good locker room guy and depth for the squad. If Bradley wants to sign him, don’t be surprised to see him in black and gold in 2018.
Who would you like to see signed in MLS Free Agency? Leave a comment below!