The offseason kicked off fast and hard with the ever-exciting Waiver Draft, which saw fan-favorite Micheal Azira pack his bags to the tropical clime of Colorado. Friday brings on the always popular Re-Entry Draft 1, with RED2 coming next week. When will the excitement end? It won't, friends, especially since, for the first time in MLS history, Free Agency is upon us. So many free agents to choose from, who will go where?
Earlier this week the list of players eligible for Free Agency was released and everybody took a look, picked their favorites, and hoped. All said there are 27 players who are the very first MLS Free Agents, and if you don't remember the rules, in order to qualify a player must be at least 28 years old and have a minimum of 8 years playing experience in the league. Salary comes into play too, since MLS is a single-entity league and pays for the salaries of the players, so it doesn't want two teams starting a bidding war. As a refresher, players who made less than $100k in 2015 are entitled to a maximum 25% salary increase, between $100k-200k sees that increase at 20%, while players who made greater than $200k can only see an increase of 15%.
I've made for you a ranking of all the Free Agents from best to worst. All salaries have been pulled from the MLSPU, so take from that what you will. Also keep in mind that just because there is a maximum a contract can reach does not mean that's what a player will end up with as a salary. We could potentially end up seeing contracts less than what they were playing with in 2015.
Free Agents Rankings
1. Justin Mapp - Midfielder - 31 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $199,225
Mapp is a one-footed winger type who's got speed and skill and ingenuity. He tirelessly worked away in relative obscurity for the Montreal Impact. He can create from the outside or cut inside and create havoc for opposing teams. But his 2015 campaign was hampered by an early elbow injury that sidelined him most of the season. He's one of the few free agents available that has skill and then some. He'd be a quality addition to any team.
2. Ned Grabavoy - Midfielder - 32 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $215,000
Grabavoy was an every game starter at the end of his tenure with Real Salt Lake before joining the now unemployed Jason Kreis in New York City FC through the expansion draft. He played on the same youth squad as Sounders GM Garth Lagerway, so might a reunion be in order? I dunno, that doesn't matter. What matters is he's a solid box-to-box midfielder, whether he's playing for a team of suck or a perennial contender. However, his salary might prohibit teams that aren't looking at him as a starter.
3. Ricardo Clark - Midfielder - 32 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $337,750
Clark is a solid contributor in the middle of the field, having been a regular starter for Houston Dynamo since they stole the original Earthquakes from San Jose. He costs a pretty penny, but he's one of the few who's worth his salary. But don't get your hopes up, he's tweeted that he's already resigned with Houston.
4. Mike Magee - Forward - 31 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $467,500
Magee is a former MLS MVP back in 2013. Then he missed most of 2014 from injuries and most of 2015 with, again, injuries. He's still a goal-threatening player, but hip surgery, pulled hamstrings, all those things add up over time. Who knows what 2016 will bring for the former MVP, but you can sure bet it won't be at his old salary.
5. Corey Ashe - Fullback - 29 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $189,750
Ashe has the speed that you want in a fullback, but that's about it. A few years ago he was on the shortlist for best MLS fullbacks, but this past season he barely played for an expansion side that leaked goals like a busted sieve. Any team that signs him around his most recent contract would be doing so hoping he could regain his former glory, but that's not likely to happen. Instead he'll sign for a lesser deal and the team who owns his rights would hope for the best but expect decline in an aging player whose game relies on speed. If he's able to somehow able to regain his former abilities that have been missing the past few years, Ashe could be a steal no matter his contract, and a starting contributor for a contending side.
6. Drew Moor - Centerback - 31 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $270,500
Moor has been one of the best players for the Colorado Rapids for quite some time, and his price tag indicates that. He's had a few injuries the past few seasons, but Moor is still a solid player who could start for most teams in this league. He might be one of the few players to actually warrant a bidding war, and while you're asking yourself why the Rapids let him go, well, the Rapids might be doing a youth movement in their central defense with Moor being deemed an unfortunate, yet expensive casualty.
7. Alan Gordon - Forward - 34 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $175,000
Gordon is the type of forward you bring into the game when you're down a goal, the other defense is exhausted, and they're not protecting themselves from kidney punches or elbows to the head. He can sometimes still score goals. He can also sometimes miss open sitters. He uses his big body well, albeit aggressively and illegally, and is a viable late-game offensive sub. Gone, however, are the days where he should be an every game starter.
8. Paulo Nagamura - Midfielder - 32 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $230,000
Nagamura is a box-to-box midfielder who's started a little more than half of Sporting Kansas City's games over the past four years. He's a solid player, though his salary might not be commensurate with his ability. He'd be a quality starter for most teams in the league, at the very least a good rotational player in the midfield.
9. Michael Harrington - Fullback - 29 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $130,000
Harrington is a solid if unspectacular fullback. He is a defense first full-back who doesn't join the attack all too often, but he does defend well enough to be relied upon every week. While he's not the fastest guy in the field, that hasn't stopped him from being a productive contributor. He's starter quality for bad to middling teams, fringe player for playoff caliber teams.
10. Troy Perkins - Goalkeeper - 34 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $136,663
Perkins played for the Seattle Sounders this past year, logging minutes in four MLS games, including three straight 1-0 losses. He's still a high quality goalkeeper who could start for many teams in the league but is a pretty expensive backup for a team with championship aspirations.
11. Nick LaBrocca - Midfielder - 31 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $180,000
What is there to say about LaBrocca that hasn't already been said? Oh, nothing's been said about him? Right. Exactly. He won the golden boot for Chivas in 2011, which is more of an indictment than anything else. He's a box-to-box midfielder who works hard and relies more on effort than overwhelming skill.
12. Nathan Sturgis - Midfielder - 28 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $75,375
Sturgis has already played for seven MLS teams, but he's only logged over 1,000 minutes four times in his career, including this most recent season. Sturgis is the epitome of an solid, yet unspectacular player. He'd a good depth piece for a playoff caliber team, able to start in a pinch and be serviceable. He has the quality to start for most of the teams in the league.
13. Jeff Larentowicz - Midfielder/Defender - 32 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $271,000
Joffrey Larentowicz, otherwise known as kissy-faced no-talent skin-kicker, used to be a regular fixture in the Colorado Rapids midfield, then he moved to Chicago Fire where they converted him into a centerback. That's a feather in nobody's cap. No matter where he plays though, he's still an asshole. Larentowicz: 30 rats wearing a human suit. Larentowicz: the epitome of updog. Larentowicz: Fuck this guy.
14. Kenny Cooper - Forward - 31 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $285,625
Cooper is a big bodied forward who plays like a slow, small bodied forward. That is to say he uses his feet well and isn't that good in the air. But he's coming off a pretty serious knee injury that cost him all of 2015 with Montreal. He's a player who scores 10+ goals in every even year, so some team's gonna strike it rich with his signing. If he stays healthy.
15. Khari Stephenson - Midfielder - 34 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $71,646
If Stephenson is logging minutes for your team, you're either rooting for a bad team, you've got Frank Yallop as your coach, or both. Stephenson will be 35 when the season starts and he's just not good enough anymore. Shouldn't be on any contending team's roster, but might find himself on a poorly assembled squad. So pretty much he'll sign for NYCFC.
16. Eric Avila - Midfielder - 28 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $77,000
Avila started 2015 as a regular XI for Orlando City SC, but by the end of the season he rode the bench. He was a mainstay in Chivas USA's midfield during the final two years of the franchise but that's not exactly ringing praise. Eric Avila, everybody.
17. Brian Carroll - Midfielder - 34 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $150,000
Carroll has been a mainstay in Philadelphia Union's defensive midfield for the past five years. He's tireless and tenacious and oh my goodness he'd old for a midfielder. The past two seasons have seen his minutes decrease as he only starts about half the games any more. He cannot be relied upon to be an every game starter, so if your team is hoping he'll fill that role, well, good luck.
18. Conor Casey - Forward - 34 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $180,000
Casey is a classic example of a try-hard player. His soft, doughy body has been through the ringer over the years and as a result, he can't be relied upon to play more than 30 minutes at a time, and for good reason. However, he can use his soft, doughy body well and still score some goals, though to be fair, in the last four MLS games he's scored, three have been against Toronto, so take that for what it's worth.
19. Bobby Burling - Centerback - 31 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $140,000
Burling is a big dude standing at 6'5", he's just pretty slow and not that skillful. If he's starting for your team, you've got a bad team. However, he's serviceable and he uses his body well against weaker opponents. He's a good guy to have on your team if you've got one of those referees that doesn't like to call fouls, otherwise he should be a backup who you hopes doesn't play more than 1,000 minutes.
20. Jon Busch - Goalkeeper - 39 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $90,000
Busch played in 12 games for the Chicago Fire this past season, only recording one shutout. He's best known 'round these parts for Busch Face, for which we are eternally grateful. His skills have deteriorated and he'd make a serviceable backup goalkeeper for a good to middling team, or a bad goalkeeper for a bad team, like Chicago.
21. Chad Barrett - Forward - 30 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $100,000
Barrett has spent the past two seasons in Seattle where he's scored an MLS goal every 131 minutes (12 total). We all know what he can do. We all painfully know what he can't do. As an option off the bench, he's more than capable of being an offensive threat. As a starter, well, oops. He also sweats a lot. Like, a lot. He probably smells a lot like pickles too.
22. Kyle Reynish - Goalkeeper - 32 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $90,317
Reynish spent many seasons as the backup to Nick Rimando at Real Salt Lake before becoming NASL's Golden Glove winner in 2013 with the New York Cosmos. After spending 2014 with Chicago and playing in one game, he played in zero games for New York City FC this past season. Apparently he's not starter quality for good or bad teams.
23. Edson Buddle - Forward - 34 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $106,250
Buddle doesn't start anymore. Buddle shouldn't start anymore. Buddle shouldn't even come off the bench anymore. Not even Bruce Arena could squeeze out an ounce of productivity from this aging forward this past season. His days of glory are behind him, but I wouldn't be surprised if he popped up on the roster of a team who didn't know what they were doing, so like Chicago or San Jose.
24. James Riley - Fullback - 33 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $83,750
Riley is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, but he's just not good at soccer any longer. He's a decent backup option at fullback if you want your team to suck. If you don't want your team to suck, you'd be better off using the roster space on someone you actually would want to play for you some day.
25. Ty Harden - Centerback - 31 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $75,075
Harden is a former Washington Husky. He also plays soccer. That's about all I know about him. Only twice in the past eight years has he logged more than 1,000 minutes, so any team that does is either desperate or stupid or both. At this stage in his career he's a depth signing, nothing more.
26. Andrew Weber - Goalkeeper - 32 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $60,000
Weber is a career backup, having logged stops in DC, Seattle, San Jose, and most recently Portland. He's only been a part of two MLS victories in his career, which has only included 10 starts in 8 years. The former Sounders player is a good guy off the field, but on the field his skills do not translate into points earned.
27. Stephen Keel - Centerback - 32 Years Old - 2015 Salary: $60,000
Keel used to play for the Sounders, back in 2006, did you know that? If Keel is playing for you, you've done a bad job with roster construction. Being bitten by the injury bug isn't an excuse either, as Keel is just a bad player nowadays.
So who should the Sounders target?
I'll give you three names: Justin Mapp, Ned Grabavoy, and Michael Harrington. Combined these three players made around $550,000 last season, so if the Sounders get involved in a bidding war, this number could increase by another $100,000. That's a lot to pay for three players, so how do they fit in?
Justin Mapp fits that outside midfielder role that Sigi Schmid loves to play. He can stay out wide on the right or the left and whip in dangerous crosses or cut inside where he has a very deadly left foot. Does he sound similar to Marco Pappa? It's because he is, except Mapp is probably the better defender and might be more of an attacking threat than the Guatemalan. If the Sounders stay in the 4-4-2 empty bucket, Mapp would be an outside midfielder, rotating in with Andreas Ivanschitz and Nelson Haedo Valdez, keeping the players fresh. If the Sounders move to a 4-3-3 Mapp could play as the forward who morphs back on defense, but pushes up high on offense. I expect that most teams would be high on Mapp, but with the Sounders the winger would be able to be surrounded by a high level of talent and wouldn't be relied upon to be the sole creative force on the field.
Grabavoy is a box-to-box player who doesn't do anything particularly spectacular but instead does everything else. He could be one of the two midfielders in the 4-4-2 pivot or he could be any of the three midfielders in the 4-3-3. With RSL he generally played on the outside of the midfield in their 4-4-2 diamond, pushing back on defense and also being a viable distributor in transitions. He has a similar style to Eric Friberg but is a few years older. Were he on the squad, he'd be in a rotation with Friberg, Cristian Roldan, and Andy Rose (should the Englishman rejoin the team after his training stint with Coventry City). I wouldn't expect the Sounders to be interested if a bidding war breaks out for Grabavoy, but don't be surprised if he's not linked with us here in Seattle more throughout this offseason.
Michael Harrington would be a serviceable left back for Seattle. It's not the sexy choice, as Corey Ashe is a flashier player with speed and the ability to do interesting things on offense, but Harrington is a better defender than Ashe. He would be more reliable than Dylan Remick or Oniel Fisher as things currently stand, and I doubt the Sounders would ask Harrington to get forward too much on offense. He'd be a defense first left back, much in the vein of Leo Gonzalez. His cost wouldn't be too prohibitive either to where you feel like you're wasting money if he's on the bench, should one of Remick or Fisher take the next step in development and earn the starting spot.
There are other players who could do good with the Sounders, such as Drew Moor, Ricardo Clark, or even Alan Gordon, but their costs would be prohibitive and aren't an immediate upgrade over the players currently on the Sounders roster.