Alas, the MLS has confirmed there will be an expansion draft, but they have changed the rules for Minnesota United and Atlanta United. The last time there was an expansion draft (Orlando City and NYCFC two years ago) both teams selected 10 players each. While Sporting Kansas City technically only lost one player (Sal Zizzo, R.I.P. Benny Feilhaber Show co-host -- I mean he's not dead, but the show is), they essentially lost three.
Because the expansion draft was coming, Sporting KC were forced to move on from two players. Aurelien Collin (who was also a bit of a cap casualty but likely would have been drafted) and CJ Sapong were both traded. The Collin trade netted SKC General Allocation Money and future considerations (which ended up being Jalil Anibaba who OCSC actually drafted in the expansion draft). The Sapong trade also brought back the Philadelphia Union's highest pick in the next years MLS SuperDraft, which eventually became Connor Hallisey. It's hard to say Sporting "won" in these trades, but it's better than giving players away for nothing.
If you are thinking to yourself, I'm not too worried about losing anyone you mentioned. The list doesn't stop there. Sporting KC have also lost Seth Sinovic (2011 - though the immediately got him back), Jonathan Leathers (2010), Tyson Wahl (2008), Will Hesmer (2006), Francisco Gomez (2004), Matt Taylor (2004) and Diego Gutierrez (1997). That list probably hasn't convinced you either, but imagine some of our current players (who you are likely quite a bit more attached too).
Let's run through the rules for this draft, since they are a bit different than priors years.
- Each expansion team will make five selections (10 total MLS players will be drafted)
- Each MLS team can protect 11 players
- On top of those 11 players, Homegrown Players and Generation Adidas players are automatically protected.
- If a club has more than three international players they must protect three of them (Sporting KC have six, so they fall into this group).
- Designated Players do not have to be protected, but they can be drafted if they are not protected.
- If a player has a no trade clause they must be protected (like Matt Besler).
- Only one player can be selected off a team, then the rest of the players are safe.
- For the full, super complicated, official rules, MLS has you covered.
First, let's cover who Sporting KC don't have to protect, because they are automatically protected.
- Jon Kempin (GK)
- Erik Palmer-Brown (D)
- Daniel Salloi (F)
Kevin Ellis isn't listed as Homegrown on the SKC website and has graduated from the program. I wouldn't protect him anyways, but the argument could be made at that salary he's worth protecting. As far as Generation Adidas players, there are none currently on the roster. Mikey Lopez was the last guy on a GA contract and he has since moved on to NYCFC.
Now let's go over the players that I believe are most likely to be protected in no particular order. Feel free to let me know how wrong I am. This will probably be worth revisiting as the draft approaches since we'll have a better idea of what players are out of contract and potentially not being brought back. Also, there is the possibility of trades (like in 2014).
Jimmy Medranda (Left Back)
Medranda has been arguably the best player on Sporting KC this year. He was long considered to be a winger in the SKC system but he has emerged at left back and appears to be the solution for years to come.
Saad Abdul-Salaam (Right Back)
Much like Medranda on the left, SAS has emerged on the right side of the defense. He looked to maybe be the worst of the three first round picks from 2015 through last season (Hallisey and Dia) but turned out to be the best (so far).
Roger Espinoza (Midfielder)
He is the highest paid player on the roster and possibly the most important player. He is a destroyer in the midfield and allows people like Benny Feilhaber to move around freely in the attack.
Soni Mustivar (Defensive Midfielder)
If Espinoza isn't the most important player on the field, then Soni Mustivar is. It might not be Mustivar himself, as much as it is the defensive midfielder role in Peter Vermes' 4-3-3 system. Remember how bad things were when Uri Rosell left and Lawrence Olum had to be 'the guy' in that role (please ignore the MLS Cup that was won that year and think of 2014).
Benny Feilhaber (Attacking Midfielder)*
I give this an asterisk because it's rumored that Benny is looking to leave when he is out of contract. If he is not, even though he isn't having as remarkable of a season as last year, he's still quite a good player. There is also zero depth behind Benny at the attacking midfielder role. Realistically Zusi or Davis would probably play that role this year if either of them were every healthy. [Update: Benny re-signed, so he definitely needs protecting.]
Dom Dwyer (Center Forward)
He is the leading goal scorer yet again this season and it's not even close. Diego Rubio looks to be a serviceable backup (who I'd love to see on the field with Dwyer more often). If Dwyer leaves, it will be via a huge transfer fee and not for free.
Diego Rubio (Center Forward)
Rubio was just added on permanent transfer after his loan ran out in the summer. He still has only had limited minutes, but he has shown flashes of brilliance (i.e. the goal against Vancouver in their second meeting during the CONCACAF Champions League).
Matt Besler (Center Back)
Admittedly, Besler has had a down year. I still blame Michael Bradley for the concussion he was so nice to give Besler during USMNT camp at the beginning of the season. Besler seems very capable of bouncing back, he just needs a consistent (and healthy) center back partner.
Ike Opara (Center Back)
Speaking of capable partners, Opara has been shockingly healthy (for him) in 2016. He has already played 21 games (of league play) for Sporting this year. His previous career best was 18 games in 2013. He had a mere nine games over the previous two seasons. If he's healthy, he's a steal at his current salary. If he and Besler are both healthy, they could be the best CB combination in the league.
Jacob Peterson (Winger)
I can hear your screams right now. I'm not a Peterson fan, but he's had a good year. He is good depth and there is literally no one else I want to protect. Not to mention Vermes loves Jake. He will probably never repeat his success of 2016, but Vermes probably wants him until he retires (much like Paulo Nagamura).
Nuno Andre Coelho (Center Back)
Coelho was a stud at the beginning of the season. I had him as the player of the month in March and April. Then he started getting hurt and keeps going back down with injuries. If he can stay healthy, he's fantastic. He hasn't shown that he can. He could very well get drafted and I'd hate to lose him, but he's paid more than Opara and has been less healthy than Ike (that is a weird sentence) this year. That said, I think he stays, but he's on the bubble.
Those Not Protected
Graham Zusi and Brad Davis (Wingers)
They are both vastly overpaid based on their contributions (Zusi more so). I imagine no one will claim them because of the sizes of their contracts. That said, Zusi could fit in Atlanta where he'll be much closer to home (Florida). He is a big name but he's simply not worth the money. Davis' production has fallen off in 2016 (just one assist) and he is 34-years-old. He asked to be traded to SKC to be closer to home (St. Louis) so I imagine no one will want him either because he may just retire rather than move. I would include Justin Mapp here, but he is reportedly on a one-year contract so he'll be gone anyways.
Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers (Full Backs)
Both of them have seen better days. They have both been injured quite a bit over the last two years and have been pushed down the depth chart by younger, more dynamic players. They are "overpaid" based on their production (or lack of production). They both could get selected, but aren't good value picks.
Ever Alvarado (Left Back)
Alvarado has been underwhelming so far. Against Vancouver in the CCL, instead of starting him, Swope Park Ranger winger/full back Tyler Pasher got the start over him. He has been ok in USL and shown sparks of talent, but overall he's seemed reckless and inconsistent. He could develop into something, but I doubt he would get selected as his tie to KC seems to be his Honduras teammate Roger Espinoza. Also, he would take up a precious international roster spot for a team that takes him.
Tim Melia and Alec Kann (Goalkeepers)
Both players have been serviceable this year but neither has been great. I think it's fine to risk losing either one and letting the other compete for the starting job against whoever may be signed in the future or Kempin. Speaking of Kempin, if he weren't a Homegrown player, I would protect him either as he has been disappointing in USL.
Lawrence Olum (Center Back/Defensive Midfielder)
Olum has actually been pretty good as a center back. If he wasn't out there Ellis would have played a lot more, and I'm not for that. That said, he's terrible at defensive midfielder. He is cheap and could get selected. Vermes chose to cut him before (after 2014) so I doubt he gets protected.
Connor Hallisey and Cameron Porter (Wingers)
They are players that could one day have some success, but up until now they haven't. I doubt anyone wants them, but they come on relatively cheap salaries and can be role players with a tiny bit of potential.
Bernardo Anor and Emmanual Appiah (Midfielders)
Bernardo who? He is actually on Minnesota United right now on loan, but he's hurt. They know better than to draft him. I just hope he's out of contract so Sporting aren't stuck with him in 2017. Appiah shows flashes of ball skills, then he promptly turns the ball over. Colorado already cut him this year, if he gets drafted it doesn't look like a big loss.
Paulo Nagamura (Midfielder)
Naga is probably the 4th midfielder on the depth chart (though I'd prefer Zusi or Davis if healthy). That said he is "old" and has lost a step. He's getting paid too much and has been hurt a lot this year. He is a Vermes guy, but he should just retire and become a coach with SKC. I doubt he gets drafted at his salary based on his production/health.
So that concludes the list. Let me know who you think should be protected and let go. We can come back to this as the draft approaches and other roster moves are made. We'll learn the order of the Expansion Draft on October 16th when Atlanta and Minnesota have their priority draft. That will also decide who has first pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft as well as the top spot in the Allocation Rankings (amongst other drafts/rankings). The actual Expansion Draft will go down on December 13th, just three days after MLS Cup. Expect a lot of transactions in that tiny little window.
[Update: This article originally had Kevin Ellis listed as a Homegrown Player that wouldn't need protecting. MLS has since noted that he isn't an active Homegrown Player. Therefore he would need protection to keep him safe from being drafted. He is relatively cheap and plays multiple spots, but I'll take a chance and leave him out there.]