Nashville SC: Potential free agent signings

We’re heading into a busy part of the MLS offseason. After tonight’s Expansion Draft, the End-of-Year Waivers process will take place on December 16 (more on that in a minute).

Immediately after the waiver process has finished, free agency opens. Players are eligible if they’re at least 24 years old, have played in MLS for five years, and are either out of contract or have had their options declined. Clubs aren’t limited in how many free agents they can sign.

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MLS released the full list of free agents yesterday, and there are a few interesting names on the list.

Kevin Molino

30 years old | Winger/Attacking midfielder |
2020: 1647 minutes, 13 goal, 2 assist, 9.41 xG+xG, 4.55 goals added above replacement

We’re starting off with an unlikely one. Molino was one of the best attackers in MLS this season, making a goal contribution every 110 minutes. He was a major part of Minnesota’s success this season, scoring six goals in their final five matches of the season, including in their 3-0 route over Sporting KC in the playoffs.

There are two main issues with Molino from a Nashville perspective: age and money. Molino is 30 years old and he’s asking for Designated Player money. Most MLS teams prefer to use their DP slots on players from outside the league, and Nashville has stuck to that strategy so far. While Molino wouldn’t be a long-term signing, and would have little to no sell-on value, is it worth taking a shot on a proven MLS player? My gut says they won’t, but they’d be foolish to not at least kick the tires. That goes for every team in MLS.

Lee Nguyen

34 years old | Attacking midfielder |
2020: 970 minutes, 1 goal, 1 assist, 4.53 xG+xG, 1.88 goals added above replacement

At 34, Nguyen is one of the older available players, but he’s still one of the best in the league at breaking down a packed defense and finding space in the final third. After joining New England mid-season, he was an important part of their run to the Eastern Conference finals.

He’d be a fairly expensive player (he made $530k in 2019), but would be a solid player to have after Hany Mukhtar missed a handful of matches with injury. And with Randall Leal likely to miss time on international duty, having a player of Nguyen’s quality in reserve is an appealing prospect.

Marlon Hairston

26 years old | Winger/right-back |
2020: 550 minutes, 0.31 xG+xG, 0.54 goals added above replacement

Hairston is an interesting option for a Nashville team that currently has just one right back on the roster. Alistair Johnston should have the position locked down going into 2021, and they’re still in negotiations with Eric Miller to return for a second season.

Hairston is a decent player who’s able to play several roles. Able to play anywhere on the flank as well as in midfield in a pinch, he’s a low budget option that could provide depth at a number of positions for Nashville.

CJ Sapong

31 years old | Striker |
2020: 542 minutes, 2 goal, 2.43 xG+xG, 0.70 goals added above replacement

Sapong saw his playing time decrease this season in Chicago, but he was still really effective even in limited minutes. In a Nashville team that’s struggled to finish chances, having a player like Sapong off the bench could prove to be useful, especially in the scenario that Dom Badji is selected in the Expansion Draft or is traded before the season begins.

Matt Besler

33 years old | Center-back |
2020: 900 minutes, 2.35 goals added above replacement

There’s a bit of a lazy narrative here, but there’s an obvious connection to be made between Besler and Nashville’s Mike Jacobs. Beyond their shared time at Sporting, Besler’s performance was actually pretty solid this season, especially in the first half.

He lost his place in the Sporting XI after the MLS is Back Tournament, and Nashville isn’t exactly lacking for center-backs. But with Walker Zimmerman likely to miss time with international duty, Besler could be an interesting (if unlikely) option for Nashville to sign.

Bradley Wright-Phillips

35 years old | Forward |
2020: 1205 minutes, 8 goal, 3 assist, 7.59 xG+xG, 2.96 goals added above replacement

Ok, so this one is a long shot, but wouldn’t it be fun? BWP was named Comeback Player of the Year after a really successful season with LAFC, scoring eight goals in just over 1,200 minutes. I’m pretty surprised that LA didn’t bring him back.

At 35, he’s definitely towards the end of his playing career, but proved that he still has the legs to contribute at a high level. With Nashville still looking for a proven goalscorer (or rather for one of Jhonder Cádiz or Daniel Ríos to get on a hot streak), Wright-Phillips would be a major asset.

After his 2020 season, though, he’ll have plenty of options around the league. Nashville is pretty unlikely, but never say never.

Diego Fagúndez

25 years old | Winger |
2020: 1076 minutes, 18 goal, 4.14 xG+xG, 1.87 goals added above replacement

Diego Fagúndez is only 25 years old. That’s surprising, given that he’s been in the league for 10 seasons and has 264 MLS appearances to his name already. Fagúndez was once one of the best young prospects in the league, and although he hasn’t quite lived up to the early hype, he’s still a reliable player, making 19 appearances in New England this season.

Fagúndez is one of the younger free agents on the market, and while he couldn’t come to terms with New England over an increased contract, he’s not going to break the bank either (he made $205k in 2019). He’s another player who should have plenty of interest, but may be worth taking a flier on.

Chris Wondolowski

37 years old | Striker|
2020: 1517 minutes, 8 goals, 1 assist, 8.57 xG+xG, 1.87 goals added above replacement

The top scorer in MLS history announced he’ll play another year, after previously planning to retire after 2020. He’s been with the San Jose Earthquakes since 2009, but has expressed a desire to play for a team that will challenge for MLS Cup. Nashville’s certainly a dark horse in this race, but similar to others on this list, he’s worth looking into at the very least.

Jimmy Medranda

26 years old | Winger |
2020: 54 minutes, 0.08 xG+xA, 0.11 goals added above replacement

Medranda is clearly a player Nashville rate: they selected him in the expansion draft as part of a package deal with Adrián Zendejas. Injuries meant he only played 14 minutes for Nashville before being dealt to Seattle midseason, but now that he’s a free agent does Mike Jacobs take another look? It would be an impressive coup to use Medranda to acquire Handwalla Bwana, only to turn around and bring Medranda back for free two months later.

Before free agency officially kicks off, the End-of-Year waiver draft will take place. Starting at 12PM central on December 16, this draft consists of young players whose options were not exercised. The draft order is determined by the reverse order of the final 2020 standings, so Nashville will draft 13th.

The main name available in this draft is Andrew Carleton, who was one of the more talented players in the league, but struggled to break into the Atlanta United first team, making just 11 appearances over four years. Carleton impressed on loan with Indy Eleven last year in the USL Championship, and we’ve seen Nashville’s proclivity for taking a chance on players from USL. If Carleton is still available by the time Nashville select, they could take a chance on him, but with just 5 roster spots available, they don’t have a ton of room for reclamation projects.

The other interesting name in the waiver draft is Ben Mines. Just 20 years old, Mines has 53 appearances for New York Red Bulls and their USL side. He’s a talented winger who has had his path to the first team largely blocked by more talented players (sound familiar?), but he’s not necessarily an upgrade to Nashville’s current roster. Might be one where they claim him and loan him out, but he probably doesn’t come in and improve the first team off the bat.

Which players do you think Nashville should look at? Take a look at the full list here and let us know in the comments.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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