There’s just one more game left in the Major League Soccer season — the MLS Cup on Sunday between the New England Revolution and Los Angeles Galaxy (2 p.m. on ESPN). Which means the full brunt of the offseason is almost upon us.
And the highlight* will be the expansion draft on Dec. 10 when Orlando City and New York City FC will select 10 new players each.
*I guess this depends on your views on the continued growth of the league. I tend to believe expansion drafts are a necessary evil for growth. In previous expansion drafts KC lost Tyson Wahl (Seattle in ’08), Jonathan Leathers (Vancouver in ’10) and Seth Sinovic (Montreal in ’12, before trading Davy Arnaud for him soon after the draft).
The rules for the draft are a bit convoluted (read them in full here) but here is the gist: MLS teams are allowed to protect 11 players, with the unprotected available for selection by Orlando or New York. If a player’s contract is expiring at the end of 2014 (such as Aurelien Collin), he is still considered part of the team’s roster and, thusly, the team will need to decide on whether to protect him or not. (This will come up a bit later.)
Once a team loses a player, the club can move a player from the unprotected to the protected list. A team can only lose a maximum of two players.
Sporting Kansas City made the first step of the club’s evolution this offseason already by declining contract options on several notable players — including Eric Kronberg, Andy Gruenebaum, Antonio Dovale and Sal Zizzo. Those players are no longer counted toward KC’s roster and will not be eligible for the expansion draft. Kansas City’s roster currently has 22 players.
Here is The Full 90’s best guess at who Peter Vermes might place on his protected list of eleven.*
*There is one giant caveat: There is a small half-day trade window on Monday after the MLS Cup. I expect Vermes to be fairly active in that window. This list is based on players on the roster right now and is subject to change if/when Vermes makes moves.
Something to remember: Teams who lose players will be compensated with allocation money. I don’t know if it’s a set amount or an amount commensurate with the player’s salary. While allocation money can be precious in this league, some players would definitely garner more in return than just that. So, I took that into consideration.
These are the four building blocks of the 2015 Sporting KC roster and absolutely won’t be exposed to the expansion process without full-on fan revolt or much better option immediately around the corner — which likely won’t quell the hypothetical fan revolt it caused anyway.
1. Matt Besler
2. Graham Zusi
The team made these two the joint faces of the franchise back in June with designated player contracts that will tie them both to the franchise for nearly the rest of their collective primes. While those DP contracts don’t mean automatic protection, KC wouldn’t have invested so much to keep them just to let Orlando or New York take over.
3. Dom Dwyer
Dwyer’s goal-scoring prowess this year (setting the team record for goals in a season with 22) was one of the biggest bright spots of the season. He recently had his option picked up and I expect an improved contract is right around the corner — which might put an end to his seemingly yearly dalliance with a move to the United Kingdom every offseason.
4. Benny Feilhaber
The anchor of the team’s midfield has proven indispensable. He’s not going anywhere for a while.
The Vermes Guys
The following three players are likely very enticing to the two new expansion teams. All are consummate professionals who bring a lot to the table. They are also very important to KC, as Vermes needs these guys to solidify the team going forward.
5. Seth Sinovic
Didn’t have his best season with KC, but he’s one of the most consistent and reliable left backs in MLS, capable of providing service out wide while also staying true to his defensive responsibilities. A tireless worker to boot. A perfect Vermes fullback actually.
6. Paulo Nagamura
At times, Naga was single-handedly responsible for all of KC’s toughness in 2014. While he has yet to stay healthy for an entire season recently, he is a valuable part of this team as a box-to-box mentor and dirty-work specialist.
7. Ike Opara
A tough injury sidelined the reserve center back for most of 2014, but his return to health will be gigantic for KC with question marks surrounding Collin’s future. It’s easy to forget, but Opara was a major part of Sporting’s MLS Cup run in 2013.
MLS rules require that teams with at least four international players must protect at least three international players. Sporting KC has five on the roster right now. I think Vermes will protect:
8. Claudio Bieler
9. Jorge Claros
10. Igor Juliao
Bieler might be on his way out at some point, I don’t think it will be this way. Claros will have an offseason to learn the position he took over from Oriol Rosell. And Juliao spent the season on loan from Fluminense (which KC will partner with this year) and will almost surely be back again next year.
The only other picks here: Jimmy Medranda (young, but replaceable) and Martin Steuble (still a relative unknown in MLS). My gut says PV protects the three known qualities and roles the dice on the other two.
I could see Vermes leaving Juliao unprotected, with the prospect of trying to construct a deal with Fluminense making Orlando/NYCFC gun shy about selecting him. If he does, Steuble could easily slot into that last place.
MLS rules allow for teams to automatically protect homegrown players and guys with generation adidas contracts. Kansas City has four that fall into this category.
Jon Kempin (Homegrown)
Kevin Ellis (Homegrown)
Erik Palmer-Brown (Homegrown)
Mikey Lopez (Generation adidas)
That’s a huge relief for KC not having to use up a spot on Kempin, Ellis and EPB. I think all three are building blocks for the future.
11. Aurelien Collin
The single most interesting person on this list — not a surprise, given how interesting Collin can often be on and off the field.
He hasn’t signed a new contract yet, but the sides are still talking. As long as those conversations are still going on — and productive — I can’t see Vermes letting him walk without getting back something more than allocation money. I just can’t. Despite his potential salary demands, he’s still the man responsible for two of the most iconic moments in recent club history.
He has a lot of value still as a player in this league. Which is why I could see Vermes making a move in the trade market with Collin. Reports last week said Toronto would be a potential landing spot. This pick could change if KC decides to move him on to TFC. (Though, doesn’t Montreal seem like a way better fit for Collin?)
The Unprotected Seven
There will be seven guaranteed players exposed to the draft. Five senior team members (players who count toward salary cap) and two supplemental players (those who don’t count). According to the MLS rules, if a team selects a supplemental player that player must be offered a senior spot by Orlando or New York — which could be a big deterrent.
Chance Myers: Coming off a tough Achilles injury, Myers wouldn’t likely be an attractive pick if it looks like he can’t play right away. But, if Orlando decides it can wait a while, Myers could be a very solid pick-up. If his injury situation looks positive (say he’s on track for a March return), Vermes would have to make a very difficult decision trying to weasel Myers into his 11 protected players.
Jacob Peterson: While he offers veteran grit and defensive solidity on the wings (and, at the end of the season, as a reserve fullback), he’s a casualty of KC having to protect three internationals. (Without that rule, I would’ve for sure protected The Answer over The Bench DP.)
Soony Saad and C.J. Sapong: Both young attackers have shown tons of promise, but have never managed to grab hold of regular playing time. Saad seems to always stay relatively close to the Vermes dog house; Sapong struggled trying to replicate the role vacated by Kei Kamara. If both are left exposed, it’s almost a guarantee KC would lose one. I think Vermes would accept that and protect the other immediately.
Martin Steuble: A relatively unknown international, which could mean Orlando and New York won’t have a decent read on him and pass.
Christian Duke: An industrious former SKC Academy graduate who hasn’t quite found his footing at the professional level. He needs a few more (healthy) seasons in the USL Pro. If selected, the team would have to make him a senior-roster offer. Which is a lot to invest on an unproven guy.
Jimmy Medranda: An international with some exposure in this league, but he has never really made his way into the team’s plans on a regular basis. After Sapong/Saad, could be the most attractive pick of the bunch.
What will happen to the players that Sporting parted ways with before Thanksgiving? None will be eligible in the expansion draft. Instead, the six will filter out to various other drafts.
MLS vets Kronberg, Gruenebaum and Zizzo will be entered into the Re-Entry Draft. Phase one of the draft (sort of a free agent draft) is on Dec. 12.
Lawrence Olum, who had his contract mutually terminated, is free to consider options outside of MLS — KC will retain his MLS rights making him ineligible for the expansion, re-entry and waiver drafts.
Michael Kafari and Victor Munoz, both also had options declined, will be available in a waiver draft on Dec. 10 following the expansion draft. See, Major League Soccer loooooooves drafts.