Last Tuesday, Major League Soccer ushered in a new era as the first crop of so called free agents was officially released. These players are over the age of 28 with at least 8 years of league experience and would now have the ability to hire out there skills.
For the first time in the league, veteran players now have the right to choose - to choose where they practice their talent and how they want their new contracts to look. This is a considerable change to the league's modus operandi as the league would previously assigned the rights of players to a single club in hopes of avoiding internal competition as a single entity league. As a result, these free agents could set the tone for a considerable change as they continue to play an important role in the league.
In the midst of rebuilding, Real Salt Lake could definitely benefit in procuring the services of renowned league veterans. But will RSL? Maybe, if the price is right.
Of the 27 players available for negotiation, there are several names that might perk the ears of the Claret-and-Cobalt's coaching staff.
While there are other notable ex-RSLers on the list - namely Kyle Reynish, Nathan Sturgis and Khari Stephenson - the only previous name to play in the Claret-and-Cobalt on the radar would be Ned Grabavoy.
After twelve successful years in the league, Ned is a prime candidate to rejoin RSL - if he is interested of course. And why wouldn't he? Playing some of his best soccer along the Wasatch Front, Grabavoy could easily slip into this new Dutch-style 4-3-3. In a previous article, I addressed RSL's need for a strong box-to-box midfielder this offseason, could Ned be this player? Of course he could.
Corey Ashe could also be a player drawing interest from RSL. Declining the option of Demar Phillips - despite still being in negotiations with the player - the Claret-and-Cobalt might benefit from a veteran fullback. With a salary of under $200,000, Ashe is a reasonably priced player and well in the median league salary range.
Another name that might fill a fullback role for RSL is ex-Portland Timber and Colorado player Michael Harrington. Similar to Ashe, Harrington's salary is well within the limited impact cap hit.
While RSL is in desperate need of a center-back - debatably the most needed acquisition this off-season - free agency does not appear to have an overwhelming solution for this dilemma. While Bobby Burling, Stephen Keel, and Drew Moor have all proven to be more than capable center-backs, they are not what RSL needs at this junction.
In regards to forwards there are options but none really standout and scream, "Pick me!" While RSL could use a target-man, the likes of Chad Barrett, Edson Buddle, Conor Casey, and Kenny Cooper don't really fit into a club that is attempting to go younger.
Alan Gordon and Mike Magee, however, are another matter altogether. Both are top-quality MLS strikers - or at least they were at some time or another - but these veterans have a younger flair to them.
Despite good arguments being made for both of them joining RSL, I do not believe that they are the right fit for the club.
First, Gordon is a prolific goal-scorer - his ability to find the back of the next in the dying moments of a match is uncanny. However, I question his ability to go the entire 90 minutes since it has been a long time since he has done that for the LA Galaxy and his salary cap hit is definitely too high for a small-market team like Salt Lake to keep on the bench.
Second, Magee is a secondary striker playing off another forward. While this is great in a two-striker system, RSL's new 4-3-3 system does not suit his playing style. And Magee on the wings? Who is he going to replace, Plata or Martinez? I highly doubt it. Therefore, like Gordon before him, Magee's contribution to the club will be too small when compared to his paycheck.
So, while free agency opens a whole new realm of possibilities for RSL, I would not expect free agents to be swelling the ranks of the Claret-and-Cobalt - at least not next year. Salt Lake might end up pursuing one or two of these players but RSL will not be the one making a splash in this year's free agent market. I predict that Orlando City SC and the Chicago Fire might benefit the most from this batch of free agents, while RSL rebuilds making foreign and academy signings. But if RSL does test the free agency market I would expect a familiar face to be returning.