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Offseason Preview: Lower Tier Gems

MNUFC has gotten strong contributions from some of their NASL holdovers, who else could be worth a look?

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-New England Revolution at Carolina RailHawks Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Ramirez, Brent Kallman, and Ibson have been three of the biggest contributors this season. All of them were holdovers from last year’s NASL squad. While the team could stand to add some big name Designated Players, why not look to the USL and NASL for some more overlooked talent? The question is . . . who? I went digging to try and answer that question.

I did not limit myself to looking solely for domestic players, so this list comes with the assumption that MNUFC will open some international player slots in the offseason. (I also am not suggesting that all of these players be signed longterm, but some could be worth a look for preseason at the very least.)

Let’s take a look.

Disclaimer: I am writing this with little to no regard to the pending claim against the United States Soccer Federation filed by some NASL teams. If that goes through, that could have an effect on any of the NASL players named, but I do not think this is the right forum to dive deep into that problem.

Nazmi Albadawi - North Carolina FC

Soccer: Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
#10 in this picture
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The captain of North Carolina FC (sorry, the Railhawks. . . they will always be the Railhawks to me) is likely going to be a hot commodity come the offseason. As early as May of this year, Jeff Rueter wrote about Albadawi for FourFourTwo. The North Carolina native plays a true #10 position for NCFC, and if you have kept up with my writing this season, you’ll know that is what I am crossing my fingers for. The Loons could easily bring in Albadawi either as a younger replacement for Ibson, or as an alternative to Collin Martin allowing Martin to leave on loan next year for some more consistent playing time.

The problem will be price with Albadawi. The midfielder scored again in NCFC’s record-setting home win this past weekend, and as Rueter pointed out he is not exactly a hidden gem. NCFC knows what they have in their #10, so this would not be one of my training camp/preseason adds - this would be a contract addition. NCFC is likely to hold out on a pretty high agreement before letting Albadawi join MLS.

But I mean, just watch this goal and hope.

Stefano Pinho - Miami FC

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Atlanta United FC at Miami FC Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

This will not be the only Miami FC player to make an appearance.

Stefano Pinho made himself known to the country with his hat trick against Orlando City SC in the US Open Cup this year, but we’ve known about the Brazillian forward and former NASL Golden Ball Winner for a while.

Forward is not necessarily an immediate need in the Starting XI with Ramirez taking the majority of starts and Abu Danladi coming on strong of late brining his goal tally to 8, but depth is an issue. Johan Venegas may no longer be a viable option off the bench, and Brandon Allen’s loan has been pretty fruitless. Bringing in Pinho as a third forward on the roster gives us a great option for 2018 Open Cup games and to keep legs fresh throughout the regular season.

Like Albadawi, Pinho may raise an issue of cost in signing. Pinho is currently leading the NASL with 13 goals and after he made himself know to the country, MNUFC may not be the only team looking at him for depth. Even our friends at The Mane Land have floated his name around as a possible backup to Cyle Larin.

Darrius Barnes - New York Cosmos

MLS: D.C. United at New England Revolution Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The former New England Revolution centerback joined the Cosmos this season, but I think the MLS vet could still provide some depth for the Loons. Barnes made 129 appearances over 7 years for the Revs. That is a great resume for a player that is only 30 years old.

A little older than my other suggestions, I don’t see the former Blue Devil as a consistent starter, but I think Barnes could slot in a rotation that could include Kallman, Jermaine Taylor, and Michael Boxall.

I recommend reading a profile that The Bent Musket wrote about Barnes. It was a really good piece about a player that became a fan favorite. You can find that article here.

Kwadwo Poku - Miami FC

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-FC Cincinnati vs Miami FC Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

If you don’t love Kwadwo Poku like I do . . . we can’t be friends.

I will address the biggest issue first. Poku transferred from New York City FC to Miami FC for more than $500,000, and he is on the allocation list. MNUFC current sits at #2 on the list behind New England, which means to get to Poku . . . The Loons are going to have to spend.

But, now let’s look at the good! Poku is 25 years old, and like Pinho he announced himself to the country during Miami’s Open Cup run. Poku scored late against Atlanta United this season, and he also led the Atlanta Silverbacks to a quarterfinal run in 2014. Poku can play up top, as an attacking midfielder, or in the center. Poku plays hard and his pace can change a game

The Ghanaian scored 7 goals for NYCFC during their inaugural season, but when Jason Kreis was fired, he did not fit into Patrick Viera’s plans. I say NYCFC’s loss should be our gain.

James Kiffe - Sacramento Republic FC

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Sacramento Republic at Los Angeles Galaxy Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

This one could be problematic depending on expansion updates. If Sacramento is announced as one of the next expansion teams, it is possible that they will be given rights to their USL contracts. But, Kiffe will be 30 years old by the time Sacramento joins the league in 2019.

James Kiffe is a defender and has been slotted in mostly at fullback this season. His stats this season have been pretty impressive. He has 53 clearances and 62 interceptions on the defensive side of the ball while adding 59 key passes, 34 successful crosses, and 5 assists on the offensive side of the ball.

These are just a few of the many lower tier players that could contribute at the MLS level. What do you think? Do you have more that you have seen? Let us know below!