Projecting the protecting: Who the Union should shield from the Expansion Draft
First, the Union have 24 rostered players to consider after Monday’s declining of options on five players, the announcement that Brian Carroll’s contract is up and the trade for C.J. Sapong and of Amobi Okugo. Exclude the two remaining Homegrown players (Jimmy McLaughlin and Zach Pfeffer) and Andre Blake, who is a member of Generation Adidas, and that leaves 10 players to be potentially unprotected.
Here are the players the Union likely will end up protecting, in no particular order:
1. Rais M’Bolhi
2. Sheanon Williams
3. Ethan White
4. Carlos Valdes
5. Ray Gaddis
6. Cristian Maidana
7. Vincent Nogueira
8. Sebastien Le Toux
9. Andrew Wenger
10. C.J. Sapong
11. Zac MacMath
M’Bolhi’s salary may be too much for another club (with more sense than the Union) to try to take a stab at, but it’s too much of a risk to float him out there. Ditto Valdes.
Williams and Gaddis are part of the young core of this team. White’s low salary ($80,000) and blend of experience and youth makes him exactly the kind of player expansion teams would want. Though DPs aren’t always protected, Maidana and Nogueira are affordable and young enough to be a steal if left on the market, while Wenger is coming off a breakout year and has a deal that leaves him under organizational control for several years. The argument could be made that Le Toux is only productive in Philadelphia, but he’s too valuable (and affordable) to how Jim Curtin envisions his system working.
Trading for Sapong ensures his protection, while the last spot if very much up for grabs. If the Union believe they have a deal for MacMath with a team other than the expansion clubs (Kansas City has been rumored) that can be struck, they’ll hang onto him.
Those not protected:
Fabinho is a serviceable reserve, but is he worth a protection place? Leo Fernandes has upside, but he only made the bench in three MLS matches under Curtin. Antoine Hoppenot had a late-season return to the lineup thank to Curtin’s increasing desperation for offense. Aaron Wheeler’s last MLS bench appearance came Aug. 1, and you have to wonder how well the ill-fated switch to defense sits with the player. Does anyone know much about Richie Marquez beyond last year’s Combine? Austin Berry never found his way back into the Union squad, and I’d imagine the Union would love to take the allocation money, an extra player protection and the free roster if he’s snapped up.
Not among the protected list, likely, is Maurice Edu. The understanding I’ve gotten from the Union is that any club taking him would assume his current deal, which is through the end of December, and get the first chance at negotiating another loan deal or a permanent transfer from Stoke City. But there’s no guarantee he’d stick around, and I’m given to understand that rights retention with a loanee is different than with an out-of-contract player (like Okugo, who rejected the Union’s bona fide offer, allowing them to trade him). The sense from the Union is that negotiating a new deal with Edu hasn’t been and won’t be easy. That uncertainty, plus his high contract number, means he’s not someone an expansion club likely would want to build around.
If the Union opts not to protect one of the goalies, that leaves three tough decisions:
- Danny Cruz. I’ve heard mixed reviews on Cruz from Union sources. John Hackworth was obviously very high on him, which could be a dark mark. Curtin this offseason hasn’t been shy about wanting to get faster (which Cruz is) and bigger (which Cruz isn’t). He was an ill-fit for Hackworth’s possession-oriented approach, but he works in Curtin’s counter-attacking look, maybe not for 32 starts as in 2013, but as a valuable cog in the rotation. He seems like the kind of player – young but experienced, not to expensive – that an expansion team could fill out a squad with.
- Michael Lahoud. Another guy who is a solid squad player, Lahoud’s value is increased by the departures of Carroll and Okugo. If the Union don’t think they can get anything for MacMath – or have a handshake agreement with Orlando City that he won’t be touched and bet that NYC won’t bite – Lahoud could easily be one of the protected players.
- Pedro Ribeiro. The Union certainly don’t want to lose Ribeiro. But the question is how much teams know about him (Orlando City certainly will from seeing him with Harrisburg), and if either team is interested in young players, I’d expect either Steve Neumann and/or Patrick Mullins to also be floating out there.