The MLS offseason is fast approaching, especially for teams on the brink of playoff elimination like New York City FC.
This week, the league announced all the important dates on its offseason calendar, so we can begin to prepare for what awaits us after NYCFC play the Chicago Fire at Citi Field on Decision Day.
For teams that don’t qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs (looking at you, NYCFC, probably), the offseason officially begins on Sunday, October 22.
Here’s the straightforward list of important dates, then you can read on below for more details on what each step in the process entails, and what NYCFC might or might not do along the way.
- Wednesday, November 22 – Club Deadline to Submit Bona Fide Offers
- Friday, December 1 – Club Deadline to Exercise Options
- Saturday, December 9 – MLS Cup Final
- Monday, December 11 – Trade Window Opens (9 am ET)
- Tuesday, December 12 – End-of-Year Waivers (5 pm ET)
- Wednesday, December 13 – Free Agency Opens (1 pm ET)
- Thursday, December 14 – Re-Entry Process, Stage 1 (1 pm ET)
- Thursday, December 14 -MLS End-of-Year Waivers process closes (5 pm ET)
- Tuesday, December 19 – MLS SuperDraft (3 pm ET)
- Thursday, December 21 – Re-Entry Process, Stage 2 (1 pm ET)
NYCFC ‘keeper decisions loom
Eliminated teams not chasing MLS Cup then have a full month to make decisions on players out of contract or with contract options. The first big MLS offseason date is Wednesday, November 22 when “bona fide offers” are due for players out of contract.
Two NYCFC players, co-starting goalkeepers Luis Barraza and Matt Freese, potentially could become free agents.
The MLS Players Association released the list of pending 2024 free agents back in August and it includes those players who would be eligible for Free Agency but have an option year remaining on their contracts, which applies to both of NYCFC’s 2023 keepers.
Decisions must be made on Barraza and Freese by Friday, December 1, an intriguing situation to follow considering both keepers saw double-digit starts in 2023 (Barraza 24, Freese 12 in all competitions) with neither ever officially “winning” the battle for the team’s official designation as first-choice, No 1 keeper.
Transfer window opens December 11
MLS Cup is on December 9, and then 48 hours later, the league’s three-month roster freeze lifts. Come Monday, December 11 at 9 am ET, MLS clubs are allowed to again make trades with other MLS clubs.
Might NYCFC sporting director David Lee be in the inter-league trade market this winter? He traded Héber to Seattle Sounders late last December and acquired Freese via trade with Philadelphia Union in late January.
The league’s end-of-year waivers process opens on December 12 and runs through to 5 pm ET at December 14, allowing teams to acquire players who meet the following byzantine criteria, per MLS: “players whose options are not exercised, who are not subject to first right of refusal, and who are not eligible for Free Agency or Re-Entry Draft.” You may remember that winger Matías Pellegrini arrived at NYCFC (twice) through waiver moves.
The MLS Free Agency market also opens at 1 pm ET on Wednesday, December 13. NYCFC had a bunch of players eligible for Free Agency last offseason—Sean Johnson, Alexander Callens, Anton Tinnerholm, and Maxi Moralez all qualified, though only Johnson actually signed with a new team in MLS.
NYCFC for its part has yet to really make a splash in the MLS Free Agent market, but that could always change—could anyone interest David Lee in a German left back in his prime who is familiar with the Eastern Conference and could use a raise?
Next on the offseason calendar comes the two-staged “Re-Entry Process,” a uniquely MLS thing that applies to players who are at least 22 years old, have a minimum of one service year, and who are not eligible for Free Agency. “Stage One” takes place on Thursday, December 14 at 1 pm ET, with “Stage Two” occurring exactly one week later, Thursday, December 21 at 1 pm ET.
MLS SuperDraft is the last big event on the calendar, set for Tuesday, December 19. It’s a player acquisition route NYCFC hasn’t leaned too heavily on, though Kevin O’Toole made his way from SuperDraftee to first-team player, and 2022 third-round pick MD Myers was co-winner of the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot this season.
When the NYCFC season (likely) ends on Decision Day, what kind of offseason will the team head into?
Will head coach Nick Cushing retain his position after a first full season in charge in which his team, a young work-in-progress, struggled to score enough goals or win enough games to cross the low hurdle of being one of the 18 teams to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs? What about David Lee, who has been with the team since inception and is wrapping up his fourth campaign in the role of sporting director? Both Cushing and Lee have long histories with City Football Group and it’s unclear what, if any, repercussions they’ll face following the worst season the club has had since 2015.
There could also be other players not eligible for MLS Free Agency who have contract options that need to be exercised or declined, so those decisions may arrive at the end of November along with option calls on Freese and Barraza.
Cufré, Ledezma, Perea loans end
Loans for Richy Ledezma, Braian Cufré, and Andrés Perea will also end this winter. Will any of these players return in 2024? Ledezma and Cufré would seem unlikely based on their current roles in the team, with Cufré supplanted by Kevin O’Toole as starter at left back, and Ledezma used sparingly since the team’s busy summer transfer window. NYCFC does have an option to buy Cufré, but no such option exists with Ledezma’s weird PSV Eindhoven-by-way-of-Real Salt Lake arrangement.
Perea has made a strong case as a potential permanent addition, but is there another deal to be made between Philadelphia and New York City?
When the calendar shifts to January and February, the international transfer market tends to heat up—how active will NYCFC be this winter given how many additions the team made in the summer, one of New York City’s busiest transfer windows to date.
Will any of NYCFC’s young talent be on the move away from the club? Talles Magno was mentioned by The Athletic’s Tom Bogert as one of the members of the latest MLS “22 Under 22” class most likely to make a transfer out of MLS in the next year. NYCFC had one of the youngest teams in the league in 2023, and have a number of promising, international-caliber young players under their umbrella that have the potential to be winter transfer targets.
Any further player sales could prove costly, because there are still roster needs aplenty to address if the team is to improve on its down 2023 season. The work to rebuild New York City into at bare minimum a 2024 playoff team is about to begin in earnest.