The Full 90

Full 90 Mailbag: MLS Expansion Draft preview edition

Sporting Kansas City forward Jacob Peterson was left unprotected ahead of the MLS expansion draft on Wednesday, Dec. 10. His versatility and grit could make him an interesting option for Orlando City or New York City.
Sporting Kansas City forward Jacob Peterson was left unprotected ahead of the MLS expansion draft on Wednesday, Dec. 10. His versatility and grit could make him an interesting option for Orlando City or New York City. Special to the Star

All of the player movement over the last two weeks in Major League Soccer has mostly been geared toward this one single event: The expansion draft.

It’s been a ticking time bomb for the last few months and it’s finally going off on Wednesday at 1 p.m. (you can stream it at MLSsoccer.com) when Orlando City SC and New York City FC will select 10 players each from a pool of more than 200 MLS players left unprotected by the league’s 18 teams*. (For more on Sporting KC’s list, read up on Sam McDowell’s roster movement story from Monday.)

*I won’t re-hash all of the rules here, but the big one: Once a team loses a player, it can move an unprotected player out of the draft. Teams can also only lose a maximum of two players.

For KC, the expansion draft weighed heavily on the trade of C.J. Sapong — Peter Vermes admitted the trade happened because there wasn’t an obvious open spot on the protection list — and the decision to decline contracts on several players.

This has led to some obvious questions and an obvious need for a mailbag to sift through all them all. So, let’s do it.

Kansas City left a few interesting players exposed to Orlando/New York — Claudio Bieler, Jorge Claros, Jacob Peterson, Toni Dovale and Soony Saad are the big ones.

Of that group, I think The Answer (Peterson) and Saad are the most interesting prospects. Peterson has positional flexibility (either wing or fullback) and grit that a franchise like Orlando City is going to need to survive. As for Saad…

Nothing has been officially announced, but it sure seems like Saad’s time with Kansas City is finished. (Reports on Monday had him heading to Thailand.) The reason why is pretty simple: Saad never fully committed to Vermes’ need for his forwards to help apply pressure.* This year, he was purely an offensive substitute.

*Reasonable people can debate the relative merits of having a forward play defense. A forward should score goals, of course. But there’s no room in soccer for someone to play all-time offense, which I feel is what Saad wanted.

Now, why would he be interesting to Orlando or New York? Well, what if the deal with Thailand falls through? Is it worth a punt on a young (he’s only 22) forward with a great shot with a pretty reasonable contract? I think so.

Ah, Jimmy “Shoot First, Shoot Second, Shoot Third and Fourth Too” Medranda. I knew this was coming when I first heard he was on the list. He seems like an odd choice, considering he made just five appearances with KC and spent most of the year on loan to Oklahoma City. I get that.

Here’s the catch: Because of the league rules, Vermes had to protect at least three international players. He chose Igor Juliao (despite his defensive troubles and loan situation, he’s a young fullback with oodles of talent), Bernardo Añor (recently acquired from Columbus) and Medranda.

Looking at the rule and the three players protected, Vermes obviously was leaning toward protecting youth and value. Both Juliao and Medranda are on off-budget and very affordable salaries. Nearly every spot on the roster matters, especially when trying to develop young players. And, since he protected just the minimum number of internationals, Medranda/Juliao weren’t preventing Vermes from protecting the likes of Sapong/Peterson anway. Those two were blocking Bieler/Claros/Steuble.

Leaving Bieler, Claros and Steuble (all senior roster players on relatively high salaries) is a gamble of course, but a gamble worth taking if one leaves to free up some room under the cap in the coming weeks of acquisitions.

Medranda remains an interesting prospect going forward if only because A) he’s 20, B) he doesn’t really have a defined position yet and C) he is one of the few players on KC’s roster with the ability to take a defender on one-v-one.

I’ve already dealt with the first part of this question, but the second part is fascinating enough for it’s own answer.

As I theorized already, I believe that the “future consideration” could be a player drafted by Orlando this afternoon. Since the league doesn’t allow teams to trade expansion picks directly, this could likely be a deal that comes together over the next few days.*

*An alternate theory I suppose is that Orlando selects a Kansas City player and then trades him back after the draft. Which is sort of what happened with Seth Sinovic in 2012.

The fun part now, guessing which player it could be that KC gets from Orlando. Looking over the unprotected list, there are tons of options.

Columbus midfielder Ben Speas fits the Vermes versatility mold. New England’s Patrick Mullins (who helped set up the Revs’ goal in the MLS Cup) would be an excellent prospect to back-up several positions on the front line. Chicago’s Benji Joya could be an exciting player for Benny Feilhaber and Paulo Nagamura to tutor.

There are even a few goalkeepers out there: Dallas’ Raul Fernandez (good), Philly’s Zac MacMath* (talented but sorta risky) and Portland’s Donovan Ricketts (no thanks).

*Honestly, I’m hearing a lot of chatter on the subject and wouldn’t be shocked if KC winds up with MacMath. While he’s been a bit “flappy” with the Union, it’s not like his team ever did anything to help build his confidence. I don’t see the point of MacMath with Jon Kempin around, but it’s hard to ignore the chatter.

I think you’re 75 percent of the way there (when/if Myers returns to full speed). You’re just missing Ike Opara. According to Vermes, Opara is ahead of schedule in his rehab from a nasty foot injury and that should be a massive lift for KC.

His speed and aerial ability made him one of the better center backs statistically in 2013. (WhoScored.com gave him the highest average rating — 7.77 — for every player with at least 15 appearances. He also was fifth in aerial duels won per game, third in interceptions and eighth in clearances. All comparable with Collin by the way.)

Vermes had high hopes for Opara in 2014 — he was to be the bridge during Besler’s World Cup run and the guy pushing Collin. He also would’ve been a huge help when Besler and Collin took turns struggling in August/September.

I think a healthy Opara helps re-settle that defense in front of a new goalkeeper in 2015.

Don’t forget, there’s also young Erik Palmer-Brown. He’s had a full year — and some playing time now — with the first team. He’ll still be a teenager, but Vermes hasn’t shied away from playing kids to this point.

In addition to Opara and EPB, I think Vermes will hit the MLS market hard — either via the re-entry draft, SuperDraft or the waiver list — for more depth at fullback.

He obviously wasn’t happy with the production he was getting in 2014 from that group. Kansas City’s forwards not named Dom Dwyer or Graham Zusi contributed only 10 goals between six players. That has to change. Whether its via the college draft (and KC’s three picks), the re-entry draft or another mechanism, Vermes needs to find an athletic/speed player out wide that can stretch the field and pitch in to help Dwyer score goals.

Of the regular starters at either of the three forward spots, it’s not surprising Vermes only protected Dwyer and Zusi. He declined options on two (Sal Zizzo and Dovale, 1 goal combined), traded one (Sapong, 2 goals) and made three more available to the expansion draft (Bieler, Peterson and Saad, 7 goals combined).

Should Bieler get selected — and Saad actually depart to Thailand — Kansas City will barely have enough forwards under contract to fill out the three spots. (Añor projects as a forward in KC’s system.)

It’s suddenly a growth position. The first priority is out wide, but KC also needs to find another center forward capable of doing what Dwyer can do in terms of coverage and effort. The team was a tragic Dwyer injury from an absolute disaster of a season.

No update at the moment, but the players were due to meet after the MLS Cup to start their end of the discussion. For a very detailed read, I recommend Sports Illustrated’s Brian Strauss’ article on the whole process.

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