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Top 10 Championship Free Agent Targets from Major League Soccer

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 12/22/20, 2:00PM EST

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Players like Kiesewetter, Ranjitsingh and Carleton could provide boost to Championship clubs


Andrew Carleton, Greg Ranjitsingh and Jerome Kiesewetter are on the free agent market, and could be an impact player for a Championship club in the 2021 season.

Teams across the USL Championship have already been active in free agency this offseason, but on Tuesday a new collection of potential additions opened up with the completion of the MLS Re-Entry Process, and the release of numerous players – some with strong Championship pedigrees – onto the free agent market. 

The potential impact of players coming off Major League Soccer deals was evident last year, notably for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the arrival of goalkeeper Evan Louro, who helped the side earn the Eastern Conference Title with eight clean sheets in the campaign. Others also found success, with Romario Williams finishing in the Top 10 in scoring for Miami FC, while others who have dropped down a tier continued to find success in the likes of Chris Wehan – now at Orange County SC – and Logan Ketterer becoming marquee names at their respective clubs. 

As this year’s group comes available, here are 10 players that should be on the radar of Championship clubs looking to add potential quality to their squads for the 2021 season. 

1

Jerome Kiesewetter

Inter Miami CF

A standout 2019 campaign with El Paso Locomotive FC earned former U.S. Men’s National Team forward Jerome Kiesewetter a deal with Inter Miami CF this year, but after only two appearances in Major League Soccer the road in South Florida quickly ran out for the 27-year-old. Despite that, there should still be a strong market for Kiesewetter, who showed how well he can lead a Championship attack as he helped Locomotive FC reach the Western Conference Final in its inaugural season. Scoring 12 times at an average of 187.9 minutes per goal in 28 appearances, Kiesewetter would be a great addition for most teams.

2

Kekuta Manneh

New England Revolution

A standout for the Austin Aztex when they were part of USL League Two in 2012, Kekuta Manneh has made more than 150 appearances in Major League Soccer over the past eight seasons. After only six appearances and one goal and one assist for the New England Revolution this year following a trade from FC Cincinnati, though, it’s not clear what the Gambian native’s next step might be after being passed over in the Re-Entry Process. But for an ambitious Championship club, this would be a big swing that could pay off handsomely as the speed and finishing Manneh would bring in his first minutes in the Championship could be an absolute handful for opposing defenses.

3

Jimmy McLaughlin

FC Cincinnati

Part of the club’s original squad when it joined the Championship for the 2016 season, Jimmy McLaughlin became a cult hero for fans. They even got one final chance to say thank you in the club’s final game at Nippert Stadium this October when McLaughlin was substituted on for his curtain call at the club. For all the warm feelings McLaughlin brings, he’s also got some serious numbers in the Championship where he helped lead the Harrisburg City Islanders to the 2014 Championship Final while on loan from the Philadelphia Union and won the 2018 Regular Season title with FCC. With 23 goals and 17 assists in 162 appearances, McLaughlin’s creativity in the final third would be a great asset to bring on board.

4

Greg Ranjitsingh

Minnesota United FC

After earning back-to-back USL Championship Final victories with Louisville City FC in 2017 and 2018, Greg Ranjitsingh got his chance to jump to Major League Soccer. Five appearances for Orlando City SC and Minnesota United FC later over the past two years and it looks like a return to the Championship might be the best move for the 27-year-old, who will be wanting to get games under his belt to stake a claim for a return to the Trinidad & Tobago National Team. There certainly should be demand for the Championship’s all-time Playoff Shutouts leader, who recorded 35 shutouts and 188 saves in the regular season and playoffs previously.

5

Kevin Partida

Minnesota United FC

Unlike his former Reno 1868 FC teammates Foster Langsdorf and Sam Gleadle – both of whom saw their contract options extended by MNUFC – Kevin Partida’s time in the Twin Cities was short. But that also means a 2020 Championship All-League selection is now available on the market, one that could play a big role for a new club next year. Partida’s all-around game won plaudits this past season as he played every game of the season and contributed not only four goals in attack but was a strong central pillar for the 1868 FC lineup. The 25-year-old completed 82.9 percent of passes at a rate of 50.3 passes per 90 minutes, and also won 65 percent of tackles, 61 percent of duels and 56 percent of aerials. Partida put himself in the conversation for the best central midfielders in the Championship this past year and would be a very good signing for a lot of clubs.

6

Chris Lema

New York Red Bulls

His name might not jump out at you when it comes to top midfielders in the Championship, but 2019 Championship All-League Second Team selection Chris Lema has accumulated some big numbers while in action for the Red Bulls II since joining the side before the 2018 season. Over that span, he’s tied for fifth in the Championship with 170 Chances Created and has notched six goals and 13 assists in 75 appearances. Part of that – to be sure – is because of New York’s attacking approach, but Lema also tied for 16th with 24 Big Chances Created and showed off his ability to create from set pieces with 72 of his overall Chances Created coming from dead ball situations. Add in that his ability to win possession has trended up season-on-season – winning more than 50 percent of duels and aerials and 60 percent of tackles in 2020 – and there’s a rising player who’s ready to fit into a progressive, attacking side.

7

Andrew Carleton

Atlanta United FC

As Andrew Carleton was helping the United States U-17 Men’s National Team reach the Quarterfinals of the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, the future seemed remarkably bright. Since then, however, nothing seems to have quite gone to plan for the 20-year-old – certainly not in the way it has for some of his fellow contemporaries including Josh Sargent, Tim Weah and Sergino Dest. Last season’s loan to Indy Eleven continued to show Carleton’s promise and ability to find telling passes in the final third, and there’s going to be some pressure to perform and get his young career back on track. For the right club, Carleton could be a difference-maker that could help lead an attack forward in 2021.

8

Wan Kuzain

Sporting Kansas City

Three seasons after signing as a Homegrown Player with Sporting Kansas City, Wan Kuzain wasn’t able to make the breakthrough in the way some of his SKC II contemporaries have, with Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey and Felipe Hernandez all logging at least 750 minutes this season. That said, what Kuzain offers in terms of connecting the dots in midfield for a possession-oriented side shouldn’t be overlooked. The 22-year-old – who was nominated for the Championship’s Young Player of the Year award in 2018 – has completed 89.2 percent of passes (2,446 of 2,742) in his 61 Championship appearances while also recorded 40 Chances Created and could provide a great fulcrum for a side to build around in the center of midfield.

9

Connor Sparrow

Chicago Fire FC

In a similar fashion to Greg Ranjitsingh, Connor Sparrow’s success as a goalkeeper in the Championship didn’t translate to an extended opportunity in Major League Soccer between the sticks at either Real Salt Lake or Chicago Fire FC. Like Ranjitsingh, though, Sparrow’s history indicates he would be a strong No. 1 option for a lot of teams. The primary goalkeeper when Real Monarchs SLC won the Championship’s Regular Season title in 2017 when he made 20 of his 40 appearances in the league, Sparrow has recorded 13 shutouts and sports a 75.2% save percentage for his career in the league. Add in his capability from penalty kicks – he’s saved 4 of 8 faced all-time – and the 26-year-old would be a very good addition.

10

Luis Felipe Fernandes

San Jose Earthquakes

A native of New York, Luis Felipe Fernandes built a stellar reputation in his first two pro seasons, including the 2017 Championship season with Reno 1868 FC, which resulted in his signing with the San Jose Earthquakes the following offseason. After making 11 starts in the 2018 season for the Quakes, however, Fernandes’ playing time gradually reduced, making him available on the market this offseason. The 6-foot-2 central midfield should be a very attractive proposition, though, with his ability to not only finish – he notched five goals in Reno during its 2017 campaign, but also to control possession and tempo. Fernandes completed 85.2 percent of his passes in 40 appearances (1,192 of 1,399) while also recording 65 interceptions and 16 Chances Created.

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