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Ten Thoughts on Who Sporting KC Did and Did Not Protect for the Expansion Draft

We’ve got the list and a few hot takes.

SOCCER: AUG 17 MLS - San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting Kansas City Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Earlier today Sporting Kansas City unveiled their protected list for the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft between Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF. As The Blue Testament’s Mike Kuhn pointed out on Twitter, every staff member only got 10 of 12 right. We literally all picked incorrectly on protecting Jimmy Medranda and Botond Barath over a slew of other players. Below are a few additional thoughts on how the process has played out so far.

The Biggest Mistake: Jimmy Medranda

Medranda has been left exposed and I tend to think he’s the most likely to get picked. He only made $155,004.00 in 2019 and if his option is picked up he’ll probably only be given a modest five percent raise. But he plays lots of positions (even if he doesn’t project to start at any of them). He can play winger, left back and both advanced midfield spots. He even very unsuccessfully played center forward against Orlando City.

While he makes more money, the comparison to Latif Blessing is unavoidable. Los Angeles Football Club snapped up Blessing in 2017. He is younger (Blessing was 20, Medranda is currently 25) and cheaper (Blessing made $74,379.00 in 2017). But Medranda feels like the exact type of player at risk to be chosen. The only difference is the injury history as Medranda is coming off a major surgery and he made limited appearances in 2019.

Another Possible Mistake: Botond Barath

While Boti isn’t as cheap as Medranda, he’s a quality CB on a reasonable contract. He made $297,333.41 in 2019 and he made 21 appearances and 20 starts. In 2018, FC Cincinnati made a series of massive trades to acquire CB talent. They gave up massive sums of Garber Bucks Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) and General Allocation Money (GAM) to bring in Kendall Waston and Nick Hagglund.

If Barath gets selected Sporting KC will get just $50,000 in GAM. Yikes! Maybe this is a biggest mistake than Medranda. The biggest issue going against Barath is that he takes up one of a teams eight international spots. Waston and Hagglund (and Ike Opara of course) were domestic.

How do You Protect Graham Smith?

First, I’d like to say I like Graham Smith. I’m all for him being on Sporting KC in 2020. Just not over Medranda or Barath. Sure, he makes $57,225.00 and can provide CB depth. But he’s not ahead of Barath on the depth chart and if all goes well, he won’t play much in 2020 (outside of being on loan with Sporting KC II). And sure, he gained valuable — if not brutal — experience in 2019. But this feels like a mistake.

If Smith gets taken then Sporting KC has options for CB depth. As pointed out in the Expansion Draft Roundtable from The Blue Testament staff, the team could simply sign a young prospect like Kaveh Rad who featured extensively for the Swope Park Rangers in 2019 and played fairly well alongside Smith at that level.

Protecting Zusi is Slightly More Defensible

But not for the reasons the hardcore fans will appreciate. Graham Zusi is a fan favorite. He sells lots of jerseys. He puts butts in seats (something that was a little tougher to do in 2019). From the business side of things, Graham Zusi is good for business. He had a really bad 2019 (but so did lots of people). That means more than many of us would like it to mean.

I remember when I wrote a story in 2017 called “Does Chance Myers have a Future with Sporting KC?” I was universally derided for writing that story. But it drew a lot of attention because the common fan simply doesn’t pay that close of attention. Though all the hardcore fans knew he wasn’t going to come back, the casual fans didn’t. The casual fans would be upset if Zusi were to leave and would struggle to deal with him being taken in this draft.

Why Protecting Zusi is Still Wrong

First, he makes $688,333.41. And he’s due a raise. That’s a lot of money for the (lack of) production he brought to the team in 2019. He’s also guaranteed through 2021. If Miami or Nashville want to take him off SKC’s hands, that’s a lot of salary freed up and Jaylin Lindsey can be thrust into a more prominent role. It’s a risk to roll with a young fullback but FC Dallas did it with Reggie Cannon and that worked out great. Plus Peter Vermes has said new Homegrown midfielder Cameron Duke can play right back as well.

People claim I’m a Zusi hater. I promise, I’m not. I just want what’s best for Sporting KC. And for the record, my daughter has a signed, framed Zusi jersey on her wall that I helped facilitate her getting. We are a pro-Zusi family. But as people are fond of saying, father time is undefeated.

No Trade Clause?

Many fans and pundits were interested in Sporting KC completely blowing things up in the offseason. One step towards that would be taking players with large contracts who are older — Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi — and leaving them unprotected. I personally leaned that way on Zusi’s deal since it’s guaranteed longer (through 2021) than the latter two (just through 2020).

That obviously didn’t happen. However, part of that could be if a player has a no trade clause in their contract. It had been reported in the past that Besler was one such player. It wouldn’t surprise me if Espinoza and Zusi worked in similar clauses when they all re-signed last season. If they (or anyone else) had a no trade clause, then Sporting KC had to protect them. I’m not sure that’s something we’ll ever know.

The Mike Jacobs SKC Connection

Another thing to keep in mind as the draft approaches on Tuesday is if Mike Jacobs, who previously worked for Sporting KC and is now the General Manager of Nashville SC, worked out a deal with Vermes to either take or not take a specific player. PV was oddly quiet during the two-and-a-half-day trade window earlier this week. Maybe some sort of something has been worked out in the background. Usually that sort of thing is done in advance with a trade during the window though.

If no such deal has been worked out, then it feels increasingly likely that Nashville will select a player from SKC. Several of the unprotected players (Seth Sinovic, Benny Feilhaber, Krisztian Nemeth and Medranda) were around when Jacobs was in KC watching lots of practice and all the games. Medranda makes a lot of sense. Even someone like Feilhaber or Nemeth could get selected (and that would hurt less as SKC likely would be looking to replace them anyways). It’s a story line to watch during the draft.

AZ > Dick

The protecting of Adrian Zendejas over Eric Dick makes it pretty clear that the team views Zendejas as the primary backup to Tim Melia. There is no point wasting that spot on him if they plan to decline his 2020 option.

It’s entirely possible that Dick will return in 2020 as well. He has made just one (disastrous) MLS appearance (the 6-0 beat down by FC Dallas on the last day of the season).

However, backup keepers have a way of getting drafted. Last year, no keepers were taken. But in 2017 Tyler Miller was drafted by LAFC 1st overall. In 2016, Atlanta United took Alec Kann from SKC. In 2014 Donovan Ricketts was taken 1st overall by OCSC. Dick and the other backup keepers left exposed are far from safe. Jon Kempin, former Sporting KC Homegrown, was also left unprotected by Columbus Crew SC. And the aforementioned Kann is unprotected by Atlanta too.

Smith Isn’t in the Doghouse After All

Graham Smith, who was one of the surprise players to be protected, hasn’t seen the field for the first team since the 2-7 beating by the the LA Galaxy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic late in the season. He did appear for the Swope Park Rangers after that (including the 8-3 loss to Louisville City SC). Many thought that meant his time in KC would come to an end. Those games appeared to have players in defense that simply quit. Smith was in the doghouse in 2018 for a similarly rough showing in the US Open Cup that eventually saw Emiliano Amor jettisoned.

His being protected almost assures he’ll be back in 2020 (the club has until November 21st to exercise his option). Either that, or the team may have a trade in the works.

I’ve held out hope that Smith could develop into a consistent MLS player. He hasn’t had a lot of time with the first team (13 games played, 12 starts and 1,062 minutes in two seasons). The team holds 2020 and 2021 options on him. It seems he’ll get at least another year to prove his worth.

Vermes Protected Zero Hungarians*

The asterisk is for Daniel Salloi who was automatically protected as a Homegrown so PV didn’t have to protect him. I suspect, despite being in such terrible form, even if he wasn’t a HG he would have gotten protected because he’s cheap and has potential.

Vermes had a chance to protect his other two Hungarians and decided against it. Krisztian Nemeth lit the world on fire at the beginning of the season but his large contract and poor production for a majority of the season made him expendable.

But Botond Barath is another story. He left Honvéd in Hungary where he played from 2012 through 2019 to join Vermes with Sporting KC. If he gets drafted on Tuesday, he’ll join Blessing and Abdul Rwatubyaye as players brought in from overseas who SKC let quickly slip through their fingers. It’s a bad look for future players looking to join from abroad. Especially ones who aren’t “premier players” like Johnny Russell or Felipe Gutierrez.

The Blue Testament will bring you more offseason coverage as the march towards 2020 continues. Next week promises to be action packed with the MLS Expansion Draft and the deadline to pick-up player options falling two days apart. For the full offseason schedule, we’ve got you covered.