Traditionally, the United Kingdom has been a consistent source of MLS talent. With its physically robust league and English-speaking players, players from the UK make sense as easily adaptable league commodities. Surprisingly, journeyman Bradley-Wright Phillips headlines an English market that has sent Steven Gerrard, Jermaine Defoe, and Frank Lampard across the pond to various degrees of success. While England and the Premier League have never been confused as the bargain basement of European soccer, there are still potentially deals to be had. In 2017, MLS attention moved north into Scotland as Ryan Jack and Sam Nicholson were heavily linked to the Columbus Crew and Minnesota United, respectively. While only Nicholson ended up moving to the United States, it shows that at least clubs are getting creative in their search for quality English-speaking players in the region.
However, the greatest potential I see for MLS is across the Irish Sea. Traditionally, MLS have tended to sign Irish players past their prime. Despite the declining form of Robbie Keane, Sean St. Juste, and Kevin Doyle, all were able to continue their international careers from the United States, traditionally a block in foreign recruitment towards MLS. Preston has been one of the first clubs to realize the potential of the Irish domestic league. Since 2016, the club has brought in Andrew Doyle, Daryl Horgan, Kevin O’ Connor, and Sean McGuire for nominal fees. McGuire and Horgan have been especially impressive in the Championship with their direct play and ability, begging the question, why did no MLS team give them a look? Cheap, English-speaking, talented, and with the potential to bring out Irish fans in cities like New York, and Chicago, it seems a no-brainer.
So with that foreword, my list…
- Joel Campbell (RW, CF) Estimated market value (Free-$8 million)
–At age 25, Joel Campbell is an international star from a CONCAAF country. Not only that, he’s out of contract in the summer. Campbell would be a fantastic fit at any club with an open DP spot, specifically one with Costa Ricans in the wider urban area (Unfortunately not NYCFC anymore). Campbell to MLS is a move that’s been whispered about for a while, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it eventually happen. Pacey, direct, and a creative threat wherever he plays, Campbell needs stability in his career, and MLS could offer that.
- Juan Mata (AM) Estimated market value (Free)
-Juan Mata is the kind of player every big market MLS team should be looking at. As talented as he is articulate, Mata is the kind of spokesman that every growing league needs. The cards rarely fall for a player like this to end up in MLS, but I think that this is one that could potentially happen. First of all, he’s out of contract this summer. Next, following this summer’s World Cup, I’m honestly not sure if Mata will ever play an integral role in the Spanish national team. At age 29, he seems like the kind of player to seek out a new adventure, and MLS would suit him as an athlete. He’s never been gifted with any sort of athleticism, and would age as one of the league’s best midfielders well into his thirties.
- Mathieu Debuchy (RB, CB) Estimated market value (Free- $2 million)
– If you don’t watch every Arsenal Europa League game (It’s not worth it), it’d be easy to forget that Mathieu Debuchy exists. Observing him last week, I forgot that he’s actually not a bad defender. Even at age 32, Dubuchy could enter the league as one of its best right/center backs. As a French speaker, he could be an interesting signing in Montreal. Even for another MLS club, if they can get Arsenal to drop his remaining contract, Debuchy is a left-field move that could make sense for all parties.
- Emerson Hyndman (CM, CAM) Estimated market value ($500k-$3 million)
-Would be a potentially risky signing. Hyndman has been out injured for what seems like ages, and while he’s impressed at Fulham, and especially Rangers, if Louis Cook can’t get in Eddie Howe’s midfield, I don’t see a place for Hyndman. While he probably will get another chance somewhere in European, could an MLS team throw him a big enough contract to turn his attention back home? Probably not, but its worth a shout.
- Junior Hoilett (LW, RW) Estimated market value (free-$2 million)
– Junior Hoilett is a top-five North American player in terms of pure talent. At times in the Gold Cup, it looked as if he, Alphonso Davies, and Scott Arfield (see below) were playing a completely different game. A tricky winger that can play anywhere behind the front man, Hoilett would walk into MLS as one of its best players (if he feels like it). Available on a free in the summer, he’d be a fantastic signing for one of the Canadian teams, and overall, would be a joy to watch in the league.
- Scott Arfield (RW, CAM, CM) Estimated market value (free-$2 million)
-Scott Arfield was by far one the best players at the Gold Cup. Moved inside from his strict Burnley left-sided role, Arfield was a completely different player as a two-way creative dynamo for the Canadians. Unfortunately for MLS, Burnley is currently in 7th place in the Prem, and while Arfield isn’t a guaranteed starter, as of now, I can’t imagine he’d want to leave a team with European potential. However, since he’s out of contract in June, could a Burnley collapse, big MLS contract, and a starring central-midfield role persuade him to move?
- Aidan McGeady (LW, RW) Estimated market value (free-500k)
-I absolutely love Aidan McGeady as a player. He’s had one of the strangest careers trajectories, but has been an absolute entertainer at every club he’s played for. A fantastic season at Preston last year landed him a three-year contract at Sunderland, but as relegation beckons threatens Chris Coleman’s boys, McGeady could be available for a cut-price fee this summer. Even though he’s approaching age 32, his ambidexterity and creativity could potentially make him a cult hero in a city with Irish demographics.
- Brandon Miele (RM, LM, CAM) Estimated market value (free-$250k)
-To preface this, I can’t even pretend to watch the League of Ireland. But as I talked about in my introduction, I think it is one of the few leagues in the world that produces class players for next-to nothing (Seamus Coleman, James McCartney). So while my first-hand knowledge of the domestic league consists of an eye on games from the many pubs of Galway, this is still a wildcard. Brandon Miele is a 22-year old for Shamrock Rovers, and one of the highest-rated young players in the league. Miele could help to open a new pathway from Ireland to the United States— after all, how many 22-year olds want to live in Preston? More importantly, he could be a cheap, creative signing for a team in need of attacking depth.
- Jamie Walker (RM, LM, CAM) Estimated market value (free-$500k)
-It wouldn’t be fair to make a UK/Ireland list with without a Scottish-based target, and Jamie Walker would be an interesting look for an MLS club. A quick and direct attacker, Walker’s attacking instincts and finishing ability could easily make him a 10+ scorer for a team in need of goals. It’s not impossible that a good season in MLS could get him into the Scottish national side as well, so if Nicholson talks up the league, Walker might be a realistic target on a free this summer.
Written/Scouted- Ryan Huettel