Potential free agent fits for Nashville

The Major League offseason is in full swing. After Charlotte selected five players in yesterday’s expansion draft, free agency opens today with the conclusion of the waiver draft.

After MLS and the MLS Players Association agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement, expanding the eligibility for free agency. Now, any player 24 years old or above with at least five years in MLS who is either out of contract or has had their contract options declined is a free agent, and are able to negotiate a new contract within or outside MLS.

Nashville SC have a couple clear needs this offseason, and with a horde of salary budget flexibility at their disposal, as well as a history of targeting players from within MLS, they should be active in the free agent market.

These types of lists are almost always speculative, but hey… it’s the offseason and we’re going for it. So here are several free agents that would improve Nashville’s roster.

1. Sean Davis – New York Red Bulls | center midfielder

Davis should be at the top of any MLS GM’s list this free agency. He’s in his prime at 28 years old and is insanely durable. He played every minute for the Red Bulls in 2021, and he’s played a whopping 12,935 minutes since the 2017 season. He ticks every box that Nashville look for in their “NSC DNA”.

American Soccer Analysis listed Davis as the eighth-ranked center midfielder last season according to their Goals Added model. He is a high-caliber starter in MLS, and would immediately vie for starting minutes, providing some much needed competition in midfield.

Nashville have previously traded for Alex Muyl from Red Bulls, and have a prior relationship with the club.

Davis came through the Red Bulls academy and has been in their organization for more than a decade. He’s been the club captain for the last two seasons. It’s highly likely that he re-signs with New York, but if Nashville were somehow able to pry him away, it would be one of the signings of the offseason.

2. Andy Rose – Vancouver Whitecaps | center back

Rose is a former midfielder turned center back, and just played a solid 1,907 minutes for Vancouver this season. American Soccer Analysis rated him as slightly above average among center backs this season, and while he’s not an every match starter, he’s capable of playing meaningful minutes.

At $132,000 guaranteed compensation, he’d be less of a budget hit than Jalil Anibaba, but capable of playing a very similar role. Of course, there’s always the possibility that he joins his father-in-law Bob Bradley in Toronto, but he could be an under-the-radar pickup for several teams around the league, Nashville included.

3. Shane O’Neill – Seattle Sounders | center back

Gary Smith is already familiar with O’Neill, who was in the Colorado Rapids academy during Smith’s tenure. He’s played seven seasons in MLS in addition to a stint abroad in the middle, and at 28 he’s in his prime.

O’Neill played just north of 2,000 minutes for Seattle this season, largely filling in for an injured Xavier Arreaga. Those minutes likely wouldn’t be available in Nashville, but in the three prior seasons he averaged 1,295 minutes a season, a more typical reserve role.

He also made $115,000 in 2021, more in line with the type of depth Nashville would look for. He’ll have plenty of suitors around MLS, but would be a solid addition to Nashville.

4. Darwin Cerén – Houston Dynamo | center midfielder

Cerén is 31, just a year younger than Nashville’s Aníbal Godoy, but the midfielder played 1,346 minutes for Houston this season. Captain of the El Salvador national team, Cerén has played in MLS since 2015 and fits the veteran profile Nashville have looked for in the past.

He’s durable, missing just 13 matches to injury since he joined the league. He made $245,000 in 2021, and while it’s not a budget-breaking salary, Nashville could likely negotiate a slightly reduced rate to bring him to Music City. While he’s not the same level of contributor as Sean Davis, he’d be a solid addition and provide reliable depth.

5. Kelvin Leerdam – Inter Miami CF | right back

Another 31 year old, Leerdam is a right back who can also fill in as a central midfielder or even as a left back. After coming through the famed Feyenoord academy in the Netherlands, Leerdam made north of 200 appearances over nine seasons in the Eredivisie before joining Seattle Sounders.

Leerdam was a vital part of Seattle’s success from 2017-2020, including scoring the opening goal of the 2019 MLS Cup. He joined Miami ahead of the 2021 season, playing nearly 1,900 minutes for a wretched defensive unit in south Florida.

Leerdam was slightly below average in 2021, according to ASA‘s G+ model, but he’s an experienced MLS veteran who provides depth at several positions. On $297,625 guaranteed salary, he’s on the high end of this list and would require significant negotiation, but is a proven entity capable of playing meaningful minutes.

6. Albert Rusnak – Real Salt Lake | attacking midfield

I’m going to throw water on this from the start. Rusnak is a Designated Player attacking midfielder coming off an 11 goal, 11 assist season. He’s publicly stated that he would like to return to Real Salt Lake, but he’s also reported to be on the watchlist for several clubs around Europe.

He’s not a buy low option. He’d take up a DP slot unless Nashville could negotiate him into a significantly reduced salary, but at 27 years old coming off a Best XI caliber season, that won’t happen. It’s a long shot at best, and realistically it won’t happen.

But if it did… Nashville would add an every-match starter who can play anywhere in a front four with a proven track record of production. They’d get the added bonus of Rusnak’s performances for Slovakia at the international level, bringing more overseas visibility to the club. It would be a home run signing that any club in MLS would love to make.

Rusnak won’t sign with Nashville, but these are the types of moves that make silly season so fun.

Other names to watch for: Kelyn Rowe, Seattle Sounders | Raheem Edwards, LAFC | Francisco Calvo, Chicago Fire | Ethan Finlay, Minnesota United | Justin Meram, Real Salt Lake | Ozzie Alonso, Minnesota United |

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