This week The Blue Testament crew got together to discuss the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft where Inter Miami and Nashville SC will both be selecting five players from 19 MLS teams (Vancouver Whitecaps, FC Dallas, New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and Houston Dynamo are exempt due to having players taken by FC Cincinnati last year). Here’s a look who each of us are protecting.
Mike Kuhn: Okay before we get started, the quick version of the rules, you’re allowed to protect 12 players. For Kansas City with seven internationals the club has to protect at least three international players. All Homegrown Players are automatically protected so Gianluca Busio, Cameron Duke, Tyler Freeman, Felipe Hernandez, Wan Kuzain, Jaylin Lindsey, and Daniel Salloi are all automatically protected.
MK: First off, does anyone want to argue against the first two names on any list being Felipe Gutierrez and Johnny Russell? Because I think we should really just get those two out of the way and onto the protected list first.
Ben Gartland: Nope.
Stacy Fulk: No sounds good.
Thad Bell: They would have been my lead off as well.
Chad Smith: The best two players on the team. You’ve got to keep them.
Cody Bradley: No-brainer here.
MK: With that settled for the first two, let’s go ahead and finish off the three internationals that KC has to protect. I actually have four internationals on my list, my third international (and last required) is Luis Martins. I’m also protecting Botond Barath, so he’s number four on my list. Who does everyone else have as their third international?
TB: Same, Martins and Barath. While not everything went right with them on the field they do look like they can be starters.
SF: My third is Martins but I also had Barath on the list. I think they both have the possibility of being regular starters. Both showed improvement through their time this past season.
BG: I have Martins as my third and I’m protecting Barath as well for my fourth. They’re both capable and reliable and, more importantly, I could see either one of them getting picked up in an expansion draft.
CB: I have both Martins and Barath as well, Martins was thrown into the ring of fire this past season but did well. He should become an important part of the team in his second year.
CS: Barath to me is a perfect back-up center back and I had him as my third international. I was more torn on Luis Martins but, as you’ll soon see, there just aren’t better players to protect and he needs time to settle in with the team.
TB: Not a lot of argument so far.
MK: Nope, this could be really boring. Thad you want to give us your 5th pick see if we’re all in agreement again?
TB: Ilie. Got to have someone to play center back.
MK: No disagreement from me, Ilie was on my list as well.
CS: I have him too. Down year (who didn’t?) but he is still a pretty easy choice to keep.
BG & CB: Same.
SF: Boringly I agree.
MK: I will be interested to see how his play is this year, KC looked more successful defensively with Gutierrez back there, though I prefer Gutierrez further up field.
TB: Let’s just pick up three more Gutierrez’s. One as a forward and two mids.
CS: Or just let his clones play all three midfield spots.
MK: I’m totally game with three more Gutierrez’s, sounds like an almost perfect offseason. Ben you want to give us your 6th pick?
BG: Matt Besler. Still one of the better center backs in the league and having that stability is so important.
MK: Boringly, he’s on my list as well, I’m not sure if he still has the no trade clause from his DP contract or not (if he does we’d have to have him in our 12), but even if he doesn’t he’s still on my list.
TB: As the backup to Ilie? (Just kidding) I also protected Besler
SF: I agree he needs to be on the list.
CB: I also have Besler protected.
CS: Isn’t Fontas the new Besler? Oh that’s right, he’s hurt. I agree Besler stays.
MK: Stacy, who’s next for you?
SF: Roger Espinoza. While he is aging and won’t probably get as many minutes I think is ferocity, fire, leadership, etc is important.
BG: Still in agreement for me
CB: I still see a role for Espinoza next season so he’s on my list as well.
MK: Same with me, I think a big part of it for me is also the fact that we don’t have a ready made replacement for him. People like to talk about Jimmy Medranda playing there, and while he has the engine he doesn’t have the intangibles that Espinoza does. I think his eventual replacement has to absolutely be on our radar, but without a replacement there you have to protect him. KC just looks so much better when he’s on the field.
TB: I struggled a little bit with him and hope that he does not need to play half the games but yes, protect (but listen to trade offers). Guti, Medranda (if ever healthy), Hernandez are the most like for like.
CS: Like Thad, I struggled a bit too, but until someone emerges in that role, I’d keep him. And again, with seven auto-protected Homegrowns, it’s slim pickings.
SF: I’m with Mike. The matches he wasn’t available SKC just didn’t seem to have it together. Not that they had it together most of the time even if he was available. The big question is that with him not able to play as much who fills that role?
TB: One of the other three Guti’s we sign.
MK: Let’s call that one Destroyer Guti. Chad you want to give us your 8th player on your list?
CS: This isn’t flashy, but I’ll say Tim Melia. Neither of the other keepers look ready, so protect Timmy.
TB: In another agreement, Melia.
SF: For sure.
BG: Yup, gotta save him.
MK: Yawn... yes, he’s on my list, despite a down year (and how much is that on him, how much of that is on the defense?) he’s still a top tier goalkeeper in the league and should still have a few years left even with his age.
BG: I imagine the bottom four will get more exciting.
TB: Even if he is just middle tier, we still need to keep him.
MK: I tend to agree, the top 8 were easy for me, now I feel we’ll start to have some disagreement, so start us off Ben, who’s 9th on your list?
BG: Graham Zusi. I’d be willing to take the wager on this year being just a down year for him (especially given how fast he fell) and still think he can be productive next year. Plus, I’m not ready to fully trust Lindsey in that position yet.
CB: I felt like there were nine no-brainers, but the first 11 choices were all obvious to me. I had four players for my final selection, Gedion Zelalem, Graham Smith, Adrian Zendejas, and Zusi. Graham Zusi has been at the center of my fandom for this club since he was in a Wizards jersey. But I do feel like some tough choices need to be made and I thought perhaps he was going to be my first man out, the high salary being a big part of that. But in the end I decided to protect him because of his familiarity with the system and I believe he will be great for filling in when/where the team needs it. I hope to see Jaylin Lindsey takeover the starting job, but Zusi can play at right-back as well as other positions. The guy just knows what it takes to be successful in MLS.
SF: I also have Zusi on the list. I wasn’t 100% behind that choice because he angered me so much last season but have hopes that he can show that was just a fluke and not a downhill trend. I trust Lindsay but would like to ease him into that role.
TB: Of the three old vets they re-signed last year he is the one I struggle with the most. I do not have him on my protected list but waiver back and forth on him.
MK: Disagreement! YAY! Zusi is one I’d like to see getting less time this year with Lindsey being the likely beneficiary of that, but he’s also on my list. Not only because I’m not sure Lindsey is ready for the 34 game grind, but also because I feel he has more trade value to KC than the $50K in GAM KC would get if he was taken.
TB: The trade value is why I waiver so hard. Would Inter Ft Lauderdale want him for the homegrown aspect and since they have cash to splash?
CS: I’m with Thad in that I wavered too, but he dropped off a cliff so quick and he’s making a lot of money for his lack of production. I’m just not sure who would trade for him. For a name, he could get drafted, but I can’t see someone paying much for him. I left him off my list as he was in contention for my 12th and final spot.
SF: I agree that I wouldn’t be opposed to getting a decent trade offer but think he’s worth more than letting him get grabbed for practically nothing.
BG: I’m not sure if there would be a homegrown aspect considering Longwood is more of a suburb of Orlando. It would be like Brad Davis “coming home” to Kansas City.
MK: And that went over with fans like a ton of bricks
TB: It is all one humid, mosquito infested, tourist trap of a state anyway. Local-ish then. Hell even Inter Miami is not local to Miami
Back to Agreement
MK: Stacy who’s next on your list?
SF: I’ve got Jimmy Medranda. I know that he is pretty injury prone but his versatility and ability to slide in so many different positions is helpful. I’m just not sure what his “regular” spot will end up being.
CS: I protected him as well. He is just so cheap and such a good utility option. He’s exactly the kind of MLS player that would get chosen in the draft because he counts as domestic, he’s cheap and he plays a lot of spots.
TB: I protected Jimmy as well. So much depends on if his performance when he returned last year is the new normal or if an off season of training and a preseason will get him back in shape and speedy again.
BG: I have him protected as well. Too versatile and still very young.
CB: I’m protecting Jimmy because of the things he makes me feel. He’s been one of my favorites since he arrived and I can’t imagine having to see him play for another MLS team. With that versatility, he’ll come very useful the next few years and he’d be picked up in no time if he’s not protected.
MK: I’ve convinced myself to add Medranda to my list because of his versatility and his relative inexpensive contract ($155K per the players union). He’d be able to slot in anywhere on any of the lines for either team. That said I’m not sure what his future is, he turns 26 before the season starts and seems good at a number of positions but not a locked in starter in any in my opinion.
TB: Cheap utility guy that can fill in anywhere is worth it.
MK: Oh absolutely. I’d argue he’d be the first taken because of his cheap utility value by either team.
SF: I agree. I don’t see where he will regularly beat out someone for a starting spot but is easy to sub in for practically anyone if needed.
TB: If he returned to form he could compete for LB or Roger’s spot.
MK: I could see him battle Martins, but as I’ve stated before he’s a modern day Jack Jewsbury, a jack of all trades, good in multiple places, but not great in one. Okay Thad, we all have 10 players protected, you and Chad have 9, who’s next on your list?
TB: Gerso... Can’t teach speed and if SKC had a center forward last year he would have had a dozen more assists
BG: I’ve also got Gerso
SF: I have Gerso protected also. No one on this team angers me in a game than he does but he is so fast and could be good. If he could just stop doing Gerso-like things!
MK: I’m surprised it took us this long to get to him, but he’s on my list as well, I’d want to see some improvement on his xG-G this season (along with Salloi obviously), but when he’s on him and Russell are big threats on both wings.
CS: I have Gerso too. Speed and the fact that the team really only has three wingers it’ll play (poor Tyler Freeman needs another year or more in the USL).
CB: As I said, I felt like there were 11 easy choices, Gerso was another one of the easy ones.
TB: I would love to see some competition for him (perhaps Guti clone #3). But he got stronger, harder to dispossess, if he was like that in 2018 he would have been a potent option, instead he is really good in 2019 and nobody else can make the connection.
SF: If Salloi is back in form then wouldn’t he provide that competition? If he’s not....than that’s a problem.
MK: That’s a great point Stacy, Salloi should in theory be Gerso’s competition (he was in 2018).
TB: Good point Stacy, he better be competition but we also want competition for the Scot as well.
The Final Picks and More Disagreements
MK: Okay Ben, you have 11 protected by my count, who’s your 12th?
BG: Adrian Zendejas. I still like him as the future keeper for SKC and, honestly, I really cannot find someone else that I have a burning desire to protect left on the roster that’s not already protected.
TB: I have AZ as well. Between AZ and Dick is a toss-up.
BG: My instinct was to protect Dick but looking at the other options I had to leave him exposed
MK: Zendejas isn’t on my list, I like him, I think he’s the clear number 2 of the goalkeepers, but I’m not so sure he’s irreplaceable at that spot. That said I’m not against protecting him, and could certainly be convinced to make him my 12th player because I struggled with my last one as well.
CB: As I said earlier, Zendejas was one of four players I debated for my 12th selection, but he missed out. I’d really like to keep Zendejas around but I’ve made my feelings about keepers well known (Editor: #Trees). I would not be surprised if someone takes him in the draft but I’ll get over it quickly because keepers are keepers and Eric Dick will likely still be around.
CS: I wavered hard here. This was my 12th spot and I frankly considered AZ, Graham Smith (cheap, 4th-5th CB), Gedion Zelalem (I wish I knew what his raise was going to be) and I even toyed with Krisztian Nemeth (though he makes quite a bit and fell hard out of favor). I decided on Zendejas because I just don’t trust Eric Dick if Melia were to get hurt. I’m not sure he’s a long-term solution, but back-up keepers (see Tyler Miller and weirdly Alec Kann) are candidates to be picked.
SF: I have Zendejas as my 12th as well. Really only because there was no one else left that I felt should be there instead. Watching Eric Dick in Dallas didn’t make me have a lot of confidence there so I’ll go with AZ. I thought about protecting Seth but realized it was only for emotional reasons with no other really good reason to protect him. He’s just so likable!
BG: Seth was my first man out.
MK: I didn’t have Seth anywhere near my list personally; I think his threats to retire when Montreal drafted him will keep teams from selecting him
TB: Threat to retire and age should keep him from being selected.
CS: I agree on Seth. No one is picking him (SKC may be included, we’ll see if they pick up his option).
MK: Okay Thad, Stacy and Ben have their 12 so they’re done, who’s your 12th?
TB: Well... that is difficult. I just kinda want to put on record that I came very close to protecting Guti, Russell, (some other international) and maybe Tim. Saying screw it. None of the rest of you were good enough. I say that sends a message. Mike says it sends the wrong message.... So I waiver between Zusi and Smith. Yes, burned by Zlatan Smith. A cheap depth back that should not be playing a lot of games in MLS at this point but that is not his fault.
MK: Smith was a consideration for the 12th spot on my list as well, but he seems to suffer from the same issues that Kevin Ellis did, good as a short term stop gap, but gets exposed more when forced to be a regular starter. Is he going to ever develop into more than a 3rd to 4th string CB? And if not is it worth protecting him over potentially signing Kaveh Rad?
CS: I’m a fan of Rad but I’m not sure they’ll sign him yet (though they could if Smith is chosen). I really considered Smith too just because he’s a cheap, domestic center back who hopefully hasn’t hit his ceiling. And Zlatan Ibrahimovic is gone from MLS, so he doesn’t have to worry about that reoccurring nightmare. I did pick AZ above, but this was a heavy consideration.
SF: I don’t know about Smith. I think he’s worth trying to keep but should spend most of his time with SKC II. He was so bad sometimes but showed a few moments of being decent. Maybe it’s just his inexperience and he needs more time to be ready.
CB: “We’ve gone too far to turn back,” is basically how I feel about Smith. The last two seasons have been so up and down for him but I think he can still be useful for the team. He’s so cheap I’d like to get him back, but he didn’t make my cut.
TB: Sign Rad would be my preference also Mike. Heck, sign Mo Abualnadi. But if I have to do 12. Who is your 12th?
MK: My 12th I went a different way. I protected Erik Hurtado. The reason is mainly because he’s a PV type forward who works hard and does the “dirty” stuff as a forward that PV appreciates. I don’t expect Nemeth to be back with the team in 2020, and I don’t think that PV wants to start from scratch if Hurtado happens to be taken. So without a really good option to protect with my 12th I went with Hurtado.
TB: Fair point. I think I was just not worried about him being taken. At least not by Inter Florida somethings.
CB: I think Mike makes a great point about Hurtado. With the expected departure of Nemeth, PV would be left with nothing if Hurtado was taken. He proved to be a serviceable MLS backup striker and he has those hard-nose qualities you want on your team.
CS: I actually protected Hurtado much further up my “list” because he’s cheap, plays like Vermes wants and seems like a good depth candidate to get taken. Those big contracts are much less likely to be picked.
SF: I think that is a reasonable choice. He plays quite a bit like Khiry Shelton and that proved to be helpful in goal scoring.
Does Anyone Get Taken?
MK: Okay, before we end this, of the players you didn’t protect, do you think any of them will be taken?
BG: Maybe Hurtado. I don’t see anyone else. Maybe if Zelalem wasn’t due a raise, but I also would be wary of using a pick on him as a new team.
TB: I do not see a lot that I would take. Dick for depth in the goal. Zusi for star power (sells lots of jerseys).
MK: Personally I’m not really sure who will be taken, if anyone, but if I had to guess the team it’ll be Mike Jacobs and Nashville. Jacobs knows the team and knows how they are in practice so he’ll know inside details on a number of players and what they’re like outside game situations. But really I don’t think there’s a lot to be taken from this team.
TB: This is probably the least SKC has had to offer in a long time.
SF: I don’t know. I don’t see anyone that would be a obvious smart choice to take. I guess I could maybe see someone grabbing Nico Halser. He looks like quality depth for a team with a decent history of success.
CS: As Mike mentioned, with Jacobs picking, I’d say SKC are likely to lose someone. Zusi would be a marquee name to sell new Nashville jerseys (and a TAM guy in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale). Smith would be an experienced MLS guy to provide cheap depth. Zelalem has a big name, but that unknown raise lingers.
MK: Hasler is definitely a candidate with his versatility, but his international spot will scare Miami off, I could see Nashville grabbing him though.
MK: Thanks to everyone for your insight and contributions to the discussion, we’ll see who ends up on Vermes’ protection list ahead of Tuesday’s expansion draft.
Too Long; Didn’t Read. Who Are You Protecting?
Below is a list of each player and how many of the six of us protected each player.
Johnny Russell (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Felipe Gutierrez (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Luis Martins (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Botond Barath (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Ilie Sanchez (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Matt Besler (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Tim Melia (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Roger Espinoza (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Gerso Fernandes (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Jimmy Medranda (6): Mike, Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad, Cody
Graham Zusi (4): Mike, Stacy, Ben, Cody
Adrian Zendejas (4): Thad, Stacy, Ben, Chad
Erik Hurtado (3): Mike, Chad, Cody
Graham Smith (1): Thad