Could Carlos Vela switch from LAFC to LA Galaxy? (2:37)Sebastian Salazar and Herculez Gomez discuss Carlos Vela's cryptic post-match comments following LAFC's MLS Cup defeat. (2:37)
Another MLS season is in the books, which means free agency is officially here as well. MLS officially announced the free agent list for 2024 today, and there's some serious talent included that will surely turn some front-office heads as teams gear up for next year.
Of course, there are sure to be several players in the free agent list that aren't quite free agents behind the scenes as they work with clubs, or are looking to move away from the league. But success in MLS is built upon finding good talent and value from MLS lifers, players that some fans might not pay close attention to simply because they're not going to go play in Europe someday.
Just look at newly crowned MLS Cup champs Columbus Crew. The Crew's charge to winning MLS Cup was fueled by several players that have spent major portions of their respective careers in MLS: Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel, Christian Ramírez, and even Kevin Molino managed to make it back to the field and played a vital role in beating FC Cincinnati in the Eastern Conference final.
Free agents in MLS are important, and choosing the right one for your team can be the difference between being a mediocre squad and making a run at some silverware. That said, let's take a look at what a current free agent Best XI might look like, and see if you can spot any solutions for your team's needs.
A star name at LAFC, Carlos Vela will be one of the big free agents in the market next year. (Photo by Melinda Meijer/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Goalkeeper: Maxime Crépeau
Still only 29, Crepeau came back from the leg break in the 2022 MLS Cup final to tend the net once more for LAFC for their run to the final this year. His performance against Seattle in the Western Conference semifinal particularly stands out, as the Canadian international made several vital saves to preserve the clean sheet and 1-0 victory for LAFC. Crepeau has plenty of experience in this league and can help out many teams.
Defender: Kai Wagner
This one comes with a heavy caveat: Wagner is currently in the middle of a three-game suspension which will be fulfilled at the beginning of next year, provided he remains in MLS. Why? He allegedly directed a racial slur at Bobby Wood. In their press release announcing the suspension, MLS noted Wagner's "immediate acceptance of responsibility" for his actions. Wagner is the best left-back in the free agent pool this offseason, as his play speaks for itself. It's all the aforementioned stuff that teams will need to weigh when giving him a look.
Defender: Diego Palacios
An alternative to Wagner, Palacios is even younger, and as such is another player that any MLS team will probably have to work to keep away from a European squad swooping in and claiming him. He doesn't have Wagner's offensive production, but he's a very good defender and can lock down the left side of the field.
Defender: Miles Robinson
It's long been rumored that Robinson is trying to go to Europe, and this free agency period is likely his best chance to do so. But if he does end up staying in MLS, Robinson is the type of guy you want to build a defense around in this league. The difference between Atlanta's defense with him on the field this year as compared to him off it was night and day, and any team that can convince him to stay Stateside will be getting one of the best center-backs in the league at just 26 years old.
Miles Robinson continues to stake his claim as one of the best defenders in MLS. (Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images)
The Julian Gressel Position: Julian Gressel
Is he a defender, a wingback, or a midfielder? It doesn't matter; he still should be playing for your favorite team. Gressel enjoyed arguably his best season in the league this year, and certainly his best since the Tata Martino glory days at Atlanta United. Even when manager Wilfried Nancy decided to replace him in the starting XI with Mohamed Farsi for the Crew's playoff run, Gressel's penchant for making things happen in the final third still carried the Crew to victory in the Eastern Conference finals. He's a mover, a shaker, and he's the hottest free agent commodity this offseason.
Important in helping the Crew win MLS Cup, Julian Gressel remains one of the more versatile players in the league today. (Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images)
Midfielder: Kellyn Acosta
Settled into an MLS side, Acosta is simply one of those guys you want to have in your team. A well-rounded midfielder that's unafraid to get stuck in and stir the pot, he's succeeded on three different teams with incredibly different expectations: FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids, and LAFC. He might be some USMNT fans' favorite scapegoat whenever he takes the field for the national team, but is there much downside to any MLS team signing a player that will more than likely be a captain for them at some point to patrol their midfield?
Midfielder: Nicolás Lodeiro
In a league that still rewards playmaking midfielders where many other leagues have moved on from the bygone central 10, Lodeiro is a prime candidate to bolster an MLS attack. He's older now, sure. But he's still one of the best Seattle Sounders players of all time. He's most likely no longer going to be the focal point of a big-time attack, but if you have other players drawing away defender attention from him in the midfield? He will make defenses pay.
Regarded as one of the greatest Seattle Sounders players ever, Nico Lodeiro is still a crucial player for any team's attack. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Midfielder: Dax McCarty
Dax might just be the ultimate MLS-free agent. He'll be looking for his sixth MLS club this offseason after moving on from Nashville SC, where he formed a formidable defensive midfield core. He's the oldest member of this list at the age of 36, and he might not be the big holding midfield signing that some MLS fans want to see. But he's an instant on-field and locker-room leader. Wherever he signs, he'll likely do the same thing he's done everywhere he's played: quietly make that team better.
Forward: Carlos Vela
Want a less quiet signing? There's always Vela. LAFC's poster boy might a bit past his prime at 34, but he still scored 14 goals and added 11 assists in all competitions this year, and very few players make defenders dance like him. The main sticking point will likely be his salary, as he's been one of the highest-paid players in MLS and he's probably no longer going to produce "Mega Designated Player" numbers. But if your team has the scratch and wants to make a splash, there are few better options than Vela.
Forward: Gustavo Bou
Sign Bou if you want to have fun. The forward's penchant for the preposterous has been his calling card in MLS, and we'd be interested in seeing more of it. It helps that he's been productive over his time with the New England Revolution as well. He's a little bit of an oddball forward, often liking to drop deeper and unleash strikes from beyond the box, but teams looking for attacking power at significantly less cost than Vela could certainly do worse.
Forward: Corey Baird
Stop your snickering: Baird claimed Houston's starting striker role and tallied 14 goals and eight assists across all competitions last year. That's a sentence I'd never thought I'd say but it's true. Baird, a journeyman forward/winger throughout his career with only one other season where he scored more than five goals, was one of the biggest winners of Ben Olsen's revolution in Houston this season. At 27, there are certainly teams that could use Baird's skillset not only in scoring goals but also in getting involved in the passing game and facilitating attacks for the players around him.
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