Goalkeeper Ben Lundt, defender Noah Powder and midfielder Matt LaGrassa could all be good free agent options for Championship clubs looking to raise their talent level this offseason.
Teams across the USL Championship have already been active in free agency this offseason, but as the new week begins a new collection of potential additions are now on the market following last Thursday’s completion of the MLS Re-Entry Process, and the release of numerous players – some with strong Championship pedigrees – onto the free agent market.
Among the players on this list last season were players like goalkeeper Connor Sparrow, who helped lead Miami FC to the postseason with 97 saves and or midfielder Luis Felipe Fernandes, who had a sterling campaign for Sacramento Republic FC and is part of the core set to return to a re-tooled lineup next season. There was also Wan Kuzain, who helped Rio Grande Valley FC make its first postseason berth since the 2016 campaign.
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.
As mightily as FC Cincinnati continued to struggle in the past year, it remained surprising that 2020 USL Championship Goalkeeper of the Year Ben Lundt – who also posted four shutouts and 23 saves in nine starts on loan with Phoenix Rising FC this year – never got a chance at breaking into the First Team after his recall from Rising FC. The 26-year-old Berlin, Germany native didn’t register an official MLS appearance for FCC but his departure from the club could provide a major boost for a USL Championship club looking to upgrade between the sticks. Lundt has posted 15 shutouts in 36 regular-season games overall in the league and a 0.89 goals-against average with a 71.9 save percentage, while for his career he has posted a goals conceded vs. expected goals conceded mark of -9.13.
There’s a very good case Sierra Leone international Augustine Williams will find a place at another Major League Soccer club in 2022 as was the case with Kekuta Manneh – who joined Austin FC after appearing on this list last year – but a club looking for a potential high-impact striker in the Championship should still be making inquiries as to the potential for the 24-year-old to join them. Williams has recorded 37 goals and 11 assists overall in the Championship but has come to the fore over the past two seasons in which he earned Championship All-League First Team honors in 2020 for the LA Galaxy II and recorded 19 goals and five assists in 34 regular season appearances, including a loan stint with San Diego Loyal SC. That rates at an average of 0.82 G+A per 90 minutes, and with his combination of creativity and sharpness in the penalty area, Williams is a player most clubs should covet having in their squad.
After three seasons in the Championship to start his professional career, Matt LaGrassa earned his place on Nashville SC’s inaugural Major League Soccer roster in 2020 and recorded 20 appearances for this season’s Eastern Conference Semifinalist in the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs across two campaigns. After having his option declined this offseason, though, the 28-year-old could make for a very strong addition in the center of the part for a Championship side. LaGrassa has made 110 regular season appearances overall in the league previously, having helped Reno 1868 FC to a standout regular season in 2017 before joining Nashville SC. In his last season in the Championship, LaGrassa posted a +5.74 Goals Added mark – sixth-best among central midfielders according to American Soccer Analysis in the 2019 regular season – and his combination of ball-winning and distribution and ability to contribute in the final third with seven goals and eight assists should be a valuable asset to the right club.
San Jose Earthquakes
Eric Calvillo’s top-lying numbers on loan with Orange County SC this past season weren’t that eye-catching – he recorded two goals and four assists in 2,495 minutes across 29 appearances – but the impact the midfielder had on the side was undeniable as he grew into his role as the season continues. The 23-year-old California native recorded the third-most passes on the side with 1,446 and posted an 87.9 passing accuracy rate and a 79.9 percent passing accuracy rate in the attacking half. Calvillo’s ability to win and maintain possession saw him become a key cog in OCSC’s midfield, and it’s likely the 2021 Championship title winner could pursue the now-El Salvador international for a permanent deal. There could be suitors for Calvillo elsewhere, however, as he begins to move into his prime after a strong campaign.
Houston Dynamo FC
Prior to signing with Houston Dynamo FC for the 2021 Major League Soccer season, Kyle Morton had earned a strong level of respect across the Championship’s goalkeeping ranks. In both the 2019 and 2020 seasons at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and Saint Louis FC, Morton earned nomination for the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award after playing notable roles in each side reaching the postseason. After a loan stint at 901 FC this past season, Morton is back on the market this offseason and offers another fine goalkeeping option with a proven track record in the Championship. The 27-year-old has posted a 0.97 goals-against average across 46 appearances in his career and a save percentage of 73.3 percent. Additionally, Morton has proven capable of making the big save in the big moment, with his Expected Goals Against mark according to Opta sitting at -12 having conceded 44 goals against a mark of 56 expected goals conceded in his career.
Portland Timbers FC
Entering his second professional season on loan at Louisville City FC from Portland Timbers FC, the challenge for Jorge Gonzalez was whether he would be able to make his mark in a Championship title-contender after having shone individually for the Portland Timbers 2 in the 2020 campaign. Earning starts in each of LouCity’s postseason contests, including scoring the winner in the side’s 1-0 victory against Miami FC in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the 23-year-old progressed solidly throughout the campaign. That wasn’t enough to see Gonzalez retained by the Timbers, but it should produce parties interested in his services for the 2022 campaign. With 12 goals and one assist – on 3.53xA, belying a lack of good fortune on the other end of his creativity – and 28 chances created in 31 appearances in the Championship across the regular season and playoffs, the attacking midfielder could now look to make the next step in his professional career next spring.
Sporting Kansas City
Things couldn’t have looked brighter for Wilson Harris at the end of the 2020 campaign. Newly-crowned the Championship’s Young Player of the Year at Sporting Kansas City II, the California native had signed a Homegrown deal with SKC for the 2021 season in October and was looking to take the next step in his career. Then, nothing seemed to go quite right. Harris was unable to find the net in nine MLS appearances, and while competing on loan for SKC II he recorded only two goals in 10 appearances despite an Expected Goals mark of 5.72xG according to Opta. Now a free agent, the 22-year-old should still get plenty of attention this offseason. Harris was the youngest player to reach 20 goals in the league’s history, and overall has scored 25 goals at a strike rate of 160.4 minutes per goal across 66 league appearances even with last season’s disappointment. A change of scene and boost of confidence could deliver a major attacking dividend as Harris looks to re-establish his path in the professional ranks.
Real Salt Lake
It’s been a solid journey since 17-year-old Noah Powder made his debut as a USL Academy signing for the New York Red Bulls II during the club’s title-winning season in 2016, but the Trinidad and Tobago international has become a solid full back or wingback option on the right side after his breakthrough campaign for Real Monarchs SLC in the 2019 campaign that saw him among the scorers in the club’s Championship Final victory against Louisville City FC. Powder made his debut in the top flight this past season for RSL, recording seven appearances overall, but is now available and could provide an option that has both the experience of 96 regular-season appearances in the league at 23 years old combined with the potential to take a next step forward as Powder looks to progress his international career with the Soca Warriors in the coming years.
Minnesota United FC
If there’s a theme for this year’s offseason free agents, it’s the number of goalkeepers with proven Championship resumes available. Adrian Zendejas is the third on our list after his option was declined by Minnesota United FC at the end of the season having bounced from Sporting Kansas City to Nashville SC to Minnesota over the past three years. Zendejas has only made one top-flight appearance for SKC in the 2019 season, but this year’s short loan stint with El Paso Locomotive FC showed once again what the 6-foot-5 California native is capable of as he recorded three consecutive shutouts on an Expected Goals Against mark of 2.01xGA. Overall, the 26-year-old has recorded 19 shutouts in 50 regular-season appearances in the Championship and reached the 2017 Championship Final with SKC II in his breakout season. That experience could be an asset moving forward.
Just as with the first player on this list, Florian Valot didn’t see much opportunity at FC Cincinnati after it acquired him in a mid-season transfer from the New York Red Bulls, but now the 28-year-old French midfielder could offer a potential veteran presence that has earned success at the Championship level in the past for clubs in the league. Valot’s first professional season ended with him starting for the New York Red Bulls II side that lifted the title in 2016 and he continued to contribute over the next two years before breaking into the lineup for the Red Bulls in MLS. There are injury concerns – Valot has come back twice from torn ACLs in both knees – but has made 48 appearances in the top flight while recording five goals and nine assists, and in the Championship has recorded 11 goals and 12 assists in 49 appearances. There’s good potential value there for a player who can be a difference-maker.