The MLS offseason means MLS draft coverage—and there is plenty of it in the month of December with the Waiver and Re-Entry Drafts. But with another expansion franchise starting up competition in 2018 in the form of Los Angeles FC, December will once again include an Expansion Draft, meaning existing clubs must once again write up their lists of eleven players to protect from selection. A trio of TBT writers—Eric Atcheson, Mike Kuhn, and Chad Smith—took the time to discuss the players they would protect in the upcoming draft, while TBT site manager Thad Bell chimed in with his own list. Here is how we ended up deliberating our picks together:
Eric Atcheson (EA): There are a couple of roster categories that need to be addressed initially, but both can be dispensed with relatively easily and quickly: Homegrown Players and international players. Homegrown Players are automatically protected from selection in the expansion draft, and clubs are required to protect a certain number of international players based on the amount of international slots taken up on their roster. Based on our reading of the rules, Sporting Kansas City must protect three international players, which creates an awkward circumstance that we’ll get to in just a bit.
Mike Kuhn (MK): KC has four homegrown players on their roster in the 2017 season (Jaylin Lindsey's contract starts in 2018 so he wouldn't have to be protected even if he was available), Gianluca Busio, Kevin Ellis, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Daniel Salloi.
EA: There’s something seriously ironic about Ellis and EPB being auto-protected when the latter is already gone and the former is all but gone.
MK: Ellis is still listed on the MLS rosters as a HGP, though.
EA: So he’s protected. Alright, how about international players?
MK: KC's five internationals are Cristian Lobato, James Musa, Soni Mustivar, Kevin Oliveira, and Tyler Pasher and Sporting are required to protect three of those players. That means that with the news about options being declined on Mustivar, Oliveira, and Pasher and Latif Blessing getting his green card, that KC will have to protect one of the three players whose option they declined.
Chad Smith (CS): Yeah, I literally don't know how I can pick three international players. As Thad laid out, Salloi is already protected as a Homegrown. Oliveira, Pasher, and Mustivar were released. Protecting them feels like a jerk move to stop them from going to a new team. I'm going to just protect 10 (outside of Homegrown players). Though it wouldn’t surprise me if Oliveira is protected since his agent was pretty upset.
MK: Yeah, you could pretty much flip a coin to decide the third international, so I did, and Pasher is my third international protected.
EA: I have one far-fetched scenario: Soni Mustivar was drawing starter-level wages, and I’m holding out hope (however remote it may be) that there may be a “We want you back, just not at $250,000/year, it’s not personal, just business” sentiment behind his contract option not being picked up. So, Soni takes the third protect spot required for international players. What about the other eight slots, though? There should be several players we all agree on protecting.
Indeed, Tim Melia, Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi, Jimmy Medranda, and Ilie Sanchez are unanimously protected by our trio, as well as by TBT site manager Thad Bell, who also submitted a list. This takes all of our protected lists up to nine players, leaving two available slots...
CS: For as disappointed as some were with Diego Rubio, he still is a good young attacking player that isn't too expensive. He's not been the starter for a full year but he's basically the only CF on the roster, even if Heineman has promised to sign another #9.
EA: I think that’s a fair consideration. The trouble is, there are five or six players to protect with just these two spots. The you-must-protect-X-many-internationals rule really sort of punishes Sporting KC for being as good as they are at securing green cards for their players, because internationals like Gerso Fernandes, Latif Blessing, and Jimmy Medranda make far more sense for SKC to protect than Musa and Lobato.
MK: For me those last two spots come down to three players, Designated Players Rogers Espinoza and Gerso Fernandes, and Benny Feilhaber. Even with Feilhaber's poor performance in 2017, you have to hope for and expect some type of bounce back from him in 2018. Plus, he's also a very known quantity to LAFC coach, Bob Bradley. Leaving him exposed is asking Bradley to take him, even with his salary and the fact that he turns 33 in January
CS: Or Gerso? He played really well at the beginning of the season then fell off. I'm hoping that's because he was exhausted and not that he's hit his ceiling as an attacker.
EA: I have to agree about Gerso. Of Mike’s trio, Gerso is both the youngest and the player on the lowest base salary. It makes the most sense to me to protect him, even though I agree that it basically dares Bob Bradley to select Benny, whom Bradley will know well from Benny’s time playing for him with the USMNT. But if Bradley wants to use one of his draft picks on a 33-year-old midfielder coming off a down year making $600,000 and going into the last year of his current deal, well, bless him. There’s one slot left...who do you think gets it?
MK: Chad’s right, Fernandes faded badly down the stretch over the second half of the season. On the other hand, you can make an argument to protect Fernandes over Espinoza because Espinoza's salary makes him an unlikely option to take, but for me, of the two, Espinoza is the harder to replace.
EA: I think it is precisely because of Espinoza’s salary that he is unlikely to be selected, whereas I look at someone like Latif Blessing, who is young, dynamic, and inexpensive, and I see potential expansion draft selection written all over him. I’ll be the odd duck out and protect him, even though that leaves Diego Rubio out in the cold, and despite his up-and-down 2017 campaign, I would have liked to protect him.
After the dust settled, all four of us concurred on protecting the following players: Tim Melia, Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi, Jimmy Medranda, and Ilie Sanchez, plus Cristian Lobato and James Musa as international players. Here is how those final two available slots ultimately broke down:
Eric Atcheson: Gerso Fernandes, Latif Blessing
Thad Bell: Benny Feilhaber, Roger Espinoza
Mike Kuhn: Benny Feilhaber, Roger Espinoza
Chad Smith: Gerso Fernandes, Diego Rubio
The 2017 edition of the MLS Expansion Draft is scheduled for Tuesday, December 12. Who would you protect on Sporting Kansas City’s roster, and who do you think is most vulnerable to being selected?
We submitted our protected list to our sister blog, Angels on Parade. All the other MLS blogs did the same and Alicia Rodriguez and her staff took a stab at picking the five players she’d like LAFC to have. No SKC players were selected. Will Sporting be this lucky at the real draft? With cheap, quality players like Saad Abdul-Salaam, Latif Blessing or others likely to be unprotected, it may not work out.