Editorial (December 3, 2018) – Except for the teams playing in MLS Cup, every club in Major League Soccer has announced their contract option decisions for the 2019 season. There are a number of serviceable players who had their options declined or are out of contract. Here’s my MLS option declined and out-of-contract Best XI.
MLS Option Declined and Out-of-Contract Best XI
Criteria: Only players who had their 2019 options declined, were waived, or are out of contract are eligible. I neglected players who’s 2018 team has stated they are in negotiations to bring the player back (Ex: Yamil Asad, Michael de Leeuw, Edgar Castillo) or have made bonafide contract offers to (Ex: Walker Zimmerman).
One of my rules for any Best XI I do is that it has to be a group that could play together formationally. Unlike the MLS Best XI most years, I believe fullbacks and holding midfielders exist.
Players who are unlikely to return to MLS due to foreign opportunities or who are older and could be close to retirement (Ex: Jahmir Hyka, DaMarcus Beasley, Dominic Oduro) were avoided. I also shied away from players who were hurt for much of 2018 and might not be ready for the start of the season (Ex: O’neil Fisher, Jonathan Spector, Tony Beltran).
To be clear, every player I’ve selected I believe should have an opportunity on an MLS roster in 2019 of they want it. They all have the ability to contribute to some MLS team positively next year from the start of the season.
Goalkeeper: Clint Irwin
Irwin is the best American goalkeeper on the market going into this off-season. He’s had good moments when starting but it was clear he wasn’t going to be the starter for Toronto FC with Alex Bono there. He’d be the immediate starter for several non-playoff teams and then some.
Defenders: Brek Shea, Adolfo Machado, Kofi Opare, Jordan Harvey
This group’s pretty self-explanatory. All four played regularly in 2018 and contributed to their teams. Machado and Harvey are both well over 30 but looked good and clearly have multiple years of soccer left in them. At least half the teams in MLS could use another option at center back. Leonardo and Opare will have suitors.
Shea will probably need to take a pay cut (he made $745,000 in 2018), but has enough special moments that someone will take a flyer on him. All four should be budget players in MLS next year that regularly in the lineup. Harvey is probably the best budget fullback available this off-season.
Midfielders: Emmanuel Boateng, Ozvaldo Alonso (C), Tommy McNamara, Roland Lamah
I’ll admit this group is Alonso and three question marks that need a change of scenery. Alonso is probably the most sought after midfield free agent this off-season. Not sure he’ll be a DP or get a long contract, but a number of clubs are in need of a veteran holding midfielder who will be a leader and hold teammates accountable to establish a winning culture.
The other three are all players who can do a job but need a different environment. Boateng and McNamara couldn’t get off the bench this year. Lamah was inconsistent but still racked up 8 goals and 6 assists. All three went through a coaching change in 2018. A new manager in a system that fits them (at their 2018 club or elsewhere) should see them thrive.
Forwards: Kei Kamara, Marco Urena
It’s slim pickings this off-season when it comes to strikers who’ve produced in MLS with any regularity. Both of these guys have baggage. Kamara’s been a locker room problem in the past but has scored everywhere he’s gone. He’s eligible for free agency and will probably want a move to a club where he’ll be the man and get paid. Is he worth $1 million to a team in need of a double digit center forward?
Urena couldn’t get playing time after the World Cup for Los Angeles FC. He’s been a better passer than scorer in MLS, which is a deterrent. Still, 5 assists in 1015 minutes is good. He might not be a starter anymore, but plenty of non-playoff clubs could use a depth second forward to feed a partner up top.
Bench/Honorable Mentions: Joe Bendik, Leonardo, Kevin Ellis, Jose Villarreal, Ibson, Juan Agudelo, Adam Jahn
This group is very inconsistent, but they bring something. Several of them will probably have to take a pay or playing time reduction to stay in the league. Bendik is the only other goalkeeper on the market with experience. He could at least be an insurance signing at several clubs.
Like my starting centerbacks, Leonardo and Ellis can be a third center back on a number of teams needing another option at the back. Leonardo’s getting old but was healthier this year.
Ibson and Agudelo are inconsistent but I still think someone will take a flyer on them because of what their peaks could bring. If they’re willing to be middle of road budget players, they’ll land somewhere.
Throw Villarreal in the “needs a new team with a coach who has a specific role in mind” category along with the midfielders listed above.
Adam Jahn’s probably the player I have the least confidence in staying in MLS of this 18 man roster. He’s played less than 400 minutes in league play the last two years. If you’re looking for a substitute No. 9 to play Route 1 soccer with in stoppage time, he’s alright. Not really good at much else. He could very well end up in the USL. If an MLS team is looking for a No. 9 fifth choice striker to fill out their roster, he’s probably the best available.