The Seattle Sounders became the first MLS team to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy earlier this year, and they likely wouldn’t have done it without Albert Rusnak.
The central midfielder was the jewel of last year’s MLS free agency class, and the Sounders smartly snagged him away from Real Salt Lake, signing the designated player in a move they believed could push their roster over the top as they pushed to make history.
It worked out just as they envisioned it.
Like Rusnak last year, there is another crown jewel in the free agency class this year. But this year’s class is also deeper than the last, with plenty of players who can be starters and add depth to teams across MLS.
On Wednesday, the MLS Players Association released the list of upcoming free agents at the end of the 2022 season. One of the most important advancements of the last two collective bargaining was the introduction of the league’s version of free agency, and then the loosening of restrictions on player agreements eligibility. As a greater percentage of players becomes eligible for the free agent market — you currently have to be 24 years old with five years of MLS service, but more will hit that mark considering the number of homegrown players who entered the league at a younger age — this list is going to become even more impactful.
The list of players who are eligible for free agency entering the 2022-2023 offseason is now available.
There are currently 130 free-agency eligible players across MLS.
➡️Full list: https://t.co/V2hz7w1I6M pic.twitter.com/YV2L1XtLP7
—MLSPA (@MLSPA) July 20, 2022
The list includes players who are on option years, which complicates the picture. Many of those players will have those options triggered and won’t hit the free agency market. With that in mind, here’s a look at 10 free agents who could draw plenty of buzz when the market opens up at the end of the season.
- Aaron Long— The 29-year-old US national team center back already has plenty of teams buzzing as they see him as a potential prize of this free agency pool. The issue? He’s going to want to be a designated player and will be seeking to match the $2.5 million per year paid out to his USMNT teammate, Walker Zimmerman, by Nashville SC. A few league observers think he will find a team willing to pay. A strong World Cup, though, could bring out some European suitors. Long has been a go-to starter in MLS since moving up from Red Bull II in 2017. He’ll turn 30 in October, but you’re going to get an athletic center back capable of defending in space and leading the back line.
- Alex Callens— The 30-year-old Peruvian center back has started 155 games for NYCFC since joining MLS in 2017, including 19 games this season. A sturdy presence in the back line, the left-footed defender should be a high priority for teams at one of the most difficult positions to recruit in MLS. Callens makes a base salary of $750,000 in 2022, according to the MLSPA release. That number makes sense for his production and I would imagine he gets a bump up above $1 million when the market opens.
- Daniel Salloi At 26 years old, Sporting KC’s Hungarian homegrown forward is going to be an interesting case study in free agency. Before last season’s breakout 16-goal, eight-assists campaign, Salloi had managed just one goal and one assist in his previous 35 appearances. He had an 11-goal, seven-assist season in 2018. This year, he has just four goals and one assist in 17 games for a bad Sporting side. Still, considering that he’s shown he can be a double-digit goal-scorer in MLS, you have to think teams will be pitching him this offseason. Sallói makes $450,000 in base salary this season with Sporting KC.
- Sean Johnson— The US men’s national team goalkeeper has matured into one of the stronger and steadier netminders in MLS. Johnson, 33, is fourth in MLS in goals added this season and is one of the most reliable performers in the league. He’s started at least 21 games every season since 2011. Johnson makes $550,000 in base salary, per the MLSPA.
- Jonathan Osorio— The 30-year-old just played his 300th game for Toronto FC and it’s hard to picture him playing somewhere else. He’s having a fantastic season, statistically, with five goals and six assists in just over 1,100 minutes, his best numbers in both categories since putting up 10 and seven, respectively, in 2018. Those numbers well outpace his expected goals and expected assists (4.28 xG+xA, per American Soccer Analysis), but Osorio’s MLS experience and steady production will make him an interesting free agent to consider for many MLS teams. Osorio would count as an international for any teams outside of Canada, which might limit his value a bit, but, if anything, he might be ranked too low on this list.
- Anton Tinnerholm — The 31-year-old right back only recently made his return from a ruptured Achilles last October and has played just two games this year, but he has shown his quality in MLS over four very good seasons for NYCFC. If he has a strong back half of 2022, there will be teams interested in adding the veteran on their back line. Tinnerholm makes a healthy $750,000 in salary this season. That makes him one of the higher paid fullbacks in MLS, but won’t deter teams from targeting him.
- Gyasi Zardes — Over the last four seasons, Zardes averaged 0.55 goals per 90 minutes, essentially a goal every other game, which is a fantastic production rate. This season, we’ve seen that production dip as Zardes was traded from Columbus to Colorado, with just four goals in 1,136 minutes. Despite that drop-off, Zardes will turn 31 in August, so he’s still got some legs left and he should be useful to teams as a striker who can start or come off the bench. His price point will be the limitation, though. Zardes is making $1.5 million this year. That number will have to come down if his production doesn’t go back up in the back end of the season.
- Bill Hamid— The DC United goalkeeper has been a stalwart at his hometown club since signing as a homegrown player way back in 2008. The 31-year-old keeper has been a bit inconsistent in his playing time — he has only started more than 25 games in a season twice since 2011 (though he played consistently after returning to DC United from Midtjylland in the back half of 2018) — and has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, including this year. Still, considering his shot-stopping ability, Hamid will draw interest from teams in MLS.
- Derrick Etienne— The Columbus winger picked a good year to have a career season. Etienne had scored more than one goal in a season just once in his career, when he racked up five in 2018. So far this year, he already has five goals and five assists for the Crew. He’s outperforming his expected goals plus expected assists by a decent margin — American Soccer Analysis has him at 5.86 xG+xA — but Etienne is the type of addition that can help any MLS team. He is just 25 years old and entering his prime, and has eight years of MLS experience. These are the types of players every MLS team should be looking for to strengthen their roster. Etienne will have suitors, but he will also be seeking a raise. He is on just $175,000, per the MLSPA.
- Ola Kamara — The Norwegian striker isn’t the sexiest player in MLS, but the reality is that he’s consistently productive in this league. Kamara is going to be 33 in October, so it’s going to come down to what kind of price he’s looking for — he is on $1.5 million this year — but here is what Kamara’s goal production looks like in MLS: 16, 18, 14, 3 (in five games), 4, 19 and 7 so far this season. Outside of that unproductive 2020 season, Kamara has put the ball in the back of the net in MLS. DC has been seeking trade partners, but no team has wanted to take on that salary. It’ll be interesting to see how much that changes when there isn’t a trade price involved, and especially if Kamara is willing to take a pay cut.
Others who will draw interest
Alex Bono is probably the biggest snub on this list. He’s a 28-year-old goalkeeper who currently ranks sixth in MLS in goals added at his position, per American Soccer Analysis. Bono is on $525,000 this year, is American and has more than 110 starts in MLS. He’s going to draw some interest in the free agency market.
Ryan Hollingshead, 31, has been a very consistent performer over the past four seasons. On around $400,000 per year, Hollingshead isn’t a cheap option at right back, but he’s around the right price point for his consistency and he’s the type of MLS veteran that will immediately make a team better when he’s in the locker room.
Marcelo Silva turned 33 in March, but he’s been a very strong center back and leader for Real Salt Lake, and could find a team willing to add him on a one- or two-year deal to try to shore up defensive problems and bet that he won ‘t drop off a cliff.
Joao Moutinho hasn’t had his best season in Orlando and has been linked with a move back to Europe, which dropped him off this list. If he doesn’t go overseas, teams in MLS will definitely be in on the bidding.
Ema Twumasi has been in a battle for the starting right back spot at FC Dallas and is 25 years old. He’ll have value in the MLS market.
Alejandro Bedoya, 35, is such an important player in Philadelphia, it would be surprising if he went anywhere else. Maybe he could be a Sacha Kljestan-type signing for a team that wants to add a leader in the locker room and on the field, but doesn’t have to depend on him for heavy minutes considering his age.
Andreu Fontas has slowed down this season, but could find a suitor on a one-year deal who wants a veteran option at the third-choice center back spot.
Franco Escobar will likely draw interest in the league, too, but is making north of $550,000 and at 27 years old probably will seek similar money.
(Photo: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)