Major League Soccer is growing. That little league that was the punchline of so many jokes for so long is changing. It's getting better. There's real quality in (most) each and every of the sixteen teams in the league.
In 2011, that number of sixteen will jump to eighteen, nearly filling out a full 20 like all the "elite" leagues in the world. The Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps will enter into MLS next year, but will not do so without pillaging the rosters of the league's current teams.
Every league does this when a new and/or "expansion" team is ushered into the league: the expansion draft. Every team gets to protect a certain number of select players from their roster, under certain guidelines, that they feel they can not stand to lose.
For any team coming into the league in 2011 and beyond, they must feel like they are piecing a team together during the "Golden Age" of talent within the league. Each team has more combined talent than ever before, so the choices for an expansion team to choose from are greater than ever. You can certainly find some real gems in the expansion draft (see: Sebastian Le Toux) to build a squad around.
The 2010 version, which will supply our newest foes for the 2011 season, will take place on November 24 at 1 p.m. CT.
Do the Wizards have any guys that could get snatched up? Do they have too many quality players that they can't protect them all? We'll see...
Note: The SB Nation version of the expansion draft will take place sometime this week, behind closed doors, but when it has been concluded and results posted, I will pass that along to everyone. Benjamin Massey of Eighty Six Forever will construct the Whitecaps roster, while I imagine a Portland fan or blogger outside the network will do the same for the Timbers.
The official rules and restrictions from MLS can be found here. It's all pretty straightforward.
Currently on the roster: Jimmy Nielsen, Eric Kronberg, Jon Kempin
After failing to re-sign former keeper Kevin Hartman last offseason, (don't you think he's thrilled about that now?) Nielsen was signed, and much to the chagrin of fans, for more than Hartman had played for in 2009. From the start, Jimmy didn't have the public opinion on his side, but he certainly didn't let that bother him. All he did was win a total of six NAPA MLS Save of the Week awards in 2010 and start 29 of 30 league games.
The rules that you must protect at least three international players does help Nielsen's case for being protected. Mike from Down The Byline does not believe that Nielsen should be protected because Hartman was left exposed in previous drafts, but was untouched. While I see the logic in that, I have to disagree.
For one, Nielsen is three years younger than Hartman (33 to 36, respectively) and is easily in far better condition for the long run. Hartman's body is falling apart, while Nielsen looked to be as fit as could be this year. Also, when you look around the league at other team's keeper situations, the upper echelon of keepers, which Jimmy is just on the cusp of, will be protected. Guys like Donovan Ricketts, Nick Rimando and Bouna Condoul will almost certainly be protected. Outside of those two or three, Nielsen has to be considered the best left. If he is unprotected, he will get snatched up. Getting a keeper in the expansion draft is fairly important, because you get a guy that knows the league a bit.
Jimmy would be gone.
Kempin is exempt from the expansion draft, due to his homegrown player status, so there's no need to even discuss that.
Kronberg is slightly more interesting, but there's no way they protect two keepers, especially one that has started one league game in his five year career. If anything, this could be Kronberg's chance to jump town and earn himself a starting job somewhere. In his half against Manchester United and his lone start against San Jose Earthquakes this year, he looked like he could be a starter in MLS. For all his hard work, I hope he gets a chance sometime, somewhere.
Protected: Nielsen (1), Kempin (exempt) - Unprotected: Kronberg
Currently on the roster: Michael Harrington, Jonathan Leathers, Jimmy Conrad, Shavar Thomas, Matt Besler, Nikos Kounenakis, Aaron Holbein, Roger Espinoza, Korede Aiyegbusi
First of all, Harrington and Espinoza aren't even up for consideration to be left unprotected. They are the league's best fullback duo, both only 24 years old, relatively cheap and Espinoza fills one of the three mandatory international slots. Boom. Two more protected.
Thomas is 29, lacking in pace and would occupy an international slot on the regular roster. He's in little danger of being selected, in my opinion. I would imagine the exact same could be said of Kounenakis, except for the fact that we are yet to see him play. There's less than a zero percent chance he gets selected.
Besler is young, full of potential and pretty athletic. He could legitimately be selected by a team that is looking for a second starting center defender, or a quality back up. I hooted and hollered all summer for him to start along with Conrad. Instead, we traded for Thomas and Besler sat. I'd love to keep him for sure, but there's more important players in the midfield and up top that are more vital to moving forward. Especially considering that, on an MLS budget, it's far easier to find a competent replacement in defense than at the center forward or attacking midfield spot.
Conrad is so on the bubble it's not even funny. Do you go the way of loyalty with the horse that brung you, or do you focus solely on the future? For me, a 33 year old centerback isn't the first thing a team is going to take to build around. There's enough quality on this team that if/when someone from Kansas City is selected, it won't be Conrad. I would then invoke the additional protection slot and keep the original Jimmy around. He's still got it, man.
Protected: Harrington (2), Espinoza (3), Conrad (situational) - Unprotected - Leathers, Thomas, Besler, Kounenakis, Holbein, Aiyegbusi
Currently on the roster: Davy Arnaud, Graham Zusi, Stephane Auvray, Craig Rocastle, Jack Jewsbury, Birahim Diop, Chance Myers
Davy is the captain and would be snatched up in a heartbeat. Must protect him. Auvray would also likely be taken quickly, so he gets held back, too. While he was out for two months in May and June, not only could the team not score, but opponents waltzed through the midfield and into defense with ease, scoring cheap goals. That holding mid spot is vital.
If that was the real Craig Rocastle the second half of the season, I want that guy back next year. Even at 29, he's big, strong and is not one bit afraid to play the "enforcer" role. We can't be getting pushed around, especially in the center of the field. He, along with Auvray, counts towards the three internationals, so we don't have to worry about that anymore. We're at four. He's protected.
Zusi is another player, much like Besler, that I called for more of all season, but wasn't quite fulfilled on. His speed is something that neither Rocastle or Arnaud possess, and he doesn't always play the conventional ball. That is something this team needed far more of for half the season. He's back next year.
Jewsbury likely will not be touched, and Myers is exempt due to his Generation adidas status.
Protected: Arnaud (4), Auvray (5), Rocastle (6), Zusi (7), Myers (exempt) - Unprotected: Jewsbury, Diop
Currently on the roster: Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, Ryan Smith, Josh Wolff, Sunil Chhetri, Zoltan Hercegfalvi, Omar Bravo
First of all, that's a lot of forwards. With Zoltan out all year and Bravo coming in before next year, I guess I never realized there were that many options.
Locks to be protected: Kamara and Smith. Leading goal scorer (10) and leading assist man (7), respectively. Bunbury is exempt due to Generation adidas. Those three formed a nice little strike triumverate late in the season. All they were missing was a fourth forward that could change the game from the starting XI or the bench.
Enter: Bravo. If they sign Bravo as a designated player, then go and leave him unprotected in the expansion draft and he is selected, that's an all-time epic fail on the coaching staff. That won't happen. He's getting protected.
So, there's one spot left. For me, it came down to Chhetri and Leathers. Obviously Leathers was left off up top, so the spot goes to Chhetri. Going to play with India all fall and winter was undoubtedly the best move for him. He's been out of late, but he got lots of first team football for India, so he's assuredly progressing. At 5'7", Chhetri is more of a quick forward, so he could be a real asset coming off the bench with one of the four above forwards between minutes 60 and 70.
Josh Wolff, if someone wants you, I hope you can reincarnate your glory days. I really do.
Protected: Kamara (8), Smith (9), Bravo (10), Chhetri (11), Bunbury (exempt) - Unprotected: Wolff, Zoltan