A week from tomorrow, MLS will host another one of their drafts. This one the expansion draft for the league's two new teams, New York City FC and Orlando City SC. A couple weeks ago I tried breaking down the rules so that it would be easier for people to understand who could be protected, who would be automatically protected, and other information on the rules. With the draft a week away, and Sporting KC making announcements on the players they've exercised options on, declined options on, and are out of contract, I figured it was time to take a look at who I thought Sporting KC should protect.
First the auto-protected players. Sporting will have four players automatically protected in this year's expansion draft. Three Homegrown Players and one player still on a Generation Adidas contract.
Kevin Ellis (HGP)
Jon Kempin (HGP)
Mikey Lopez (GA)
Erik Palmer-Brown (HGP)
With that out of the way, Sporting KC gets to protect 11 players currently on their roster. To reiterate what I said in my post on the rules, Designated Players are NOT automatically protected, and if protected, DO count against your 11 players. You are only forced to protect a designated player if that player has a no-trade clause. With that said, number one on the list is:
1. Matt Besler - Besler has a no-trade clause that he signed when he became a designated player, therefore Sporting KC's captain is number one on the list of protected players. Even if he didn't have a no-trade clause he'd still likely be number one on the list.
From there, you have players that are the core of the team right now, and players that are definitely under contract heading into the 2015 season.
2. Graham Zusi - KC's second of three designated players, Zusi is too valuable to the club not to protect. The USMNT player would be a no brainer for the number one spot if KC were to expose him.
3. Dom Dwyer - The team's club record goal scorer is another that's part of KC's core heading into 2015. And like Zusi his ties to Orlando would make him a no brainer for OCSC at the number one spot if KC exposed him. It's funny cause a year ago I was ready to set up a trade with Orlando to give them Dwyer and keep them from taking any more of our players. Now, it's not something I would consider at all.
4. Benny Feilhaber - Was Kansas City's MVP for much of the season, even with Dwyer's goal scoring. With the sale or Oriol Rosell his play started to diminish the rest of the way as he was forced to drop deeper and deeper in the midfield to become the outlet for the center backs and be the distributor that Lawrence Olum could not be in KC's system. Still, Feilhaber is an important part of Vermes' current system and needs to be protected.
5. Seth Sinovic - I'm not sure if the guy is fully human any more. No one has played more for KC over the last two years than Sinovic. Over the last two years, Sporting has played 88 games in all competitions, Sinovic has played in 81 of them. Getting someone to give him a break occasionally would be nice, but even then he's still a key part and shores up the left side of KC's defense.
From here, it becomes about protecting guys that have value not just for Kansas City but would have value within the league as well.
6. Aurelien Collin - Collin may be out of contract, and he may well be on his way out of Kansas City sooner than later. But he has plenty of value to KC right now even if he doesn't re-sign. His trade value at this least is valuable to KC. With Toronto being mentioned as a potential trade partner, KC could get them a decent amount of allocation money and possibly another, earlier first round pick to use in the draft. Vermes has proven to use trades to position himself for the expansion draft already (Teal Bunbury trade) so a trade in the small window ahead of the expansion draft is not out of the question.
7. Ike Opara - Opara should be ready for the start of the 2015 season according to Vermes in end of season interviews. If Collin is gone, Opara becomes that much more important. Because without Collin, Opara becomes the favorite to partner Besler in KC's defense unless they bring in another center back.
8. Paulo Nagamura - I'm not a huge fan of using a protection spot on Nagamura, a 31 year old central midfielder (who will turn 32 early in the 2015 season) with a history of ankle injuries recently that have kept him out for months at a time for KC and is making over $200,000 for KC. I'd debated leaving him off in favor of Chance Myers. But he is a Vermes guy, and if the deal to bring Roger Espinoza to KC doesn't potentially happen until summer, Sporting would need someone for that box-to-box role. And Nagamura should be able to fill that role as a starter for the first half of the season. That said I wouldn't be surprised to see Nagamura exposed in favor of someone like Myers or Soony Saad.
From here the last three spots for Sporting KC have to be filled by internationals on KC's roster. Those internationals are Claudio Bieler, Jorge Claros, Igor Juliao, Jimmy Medranda, and Martin Steuble.
9. Jorge Claros - Despite some of his struggles in the season, I think Claros is a key going forward for KC. He's one of the few midseason signings by Vermes since he took over as manager that was put in play immediately. Usually Vermes likes to bring his midseason acquisitions.
10. Martin Steuble - Steuble is really starting to strike me as the stereotypical Vermes midseason signing. A signing that comes in, plays little in his first season but comes back playing a bigger role in the next season (see Oriol Rosell, Peterson Joseph, Lawrence Olum).
11. Claudio Bieler - I think he falls into a similar category as Collin. A guy that still has some value to someone, either within MLS or outside the league. I still think that Bieler can be a successful striker in this league. I just don't see him ever being overly successful here in KC with the system that Vermes utilizes.
Those 11 will leave some interesting options for Orlando and NYC to take a look at selecting in the draft.
Chance Myers - While I could see him on the list of protected players, I think his injury will keep him from being selected. A ruptured Achilles tendon is difficult to recover from, and many times players aren't the same player they were before the injury. He'd be a good pick up for either team if healthy, but I am not sure I see it with the question marks there.
Soony Saad - Another player I could see protected instead of Nagamura, Saad has shown plenty of skill and has a great shot, but he hasn't settled into the wing position that well. He does fine offensively, but defensively is where he struggles and that's not going to fly in Vermes' system. If he does end up being exposed I could easily see him being taken as he's still relatively young, 22.
CJ Sapong - A player whose stock has fallen over the years. Since he was moved out wide as Vermes tried to convert him into another Kei Kamara, Sapong has struggle. He hasn't taken to the wing position the way that Kamara has, and his playing time has suffered because of it. Like Saad I could see him taken by either team.
Jacob Peterson - Another of Vermes' guys, he doesn't do great things offensively, but he gives the effort Vermes wants from his wing forwards, especially recovering defensively. He's not been successful enough for either of the expansion sides to take him in my opinion.
Igor Juliao - The Brazilian's loan to Kansas City has expired and he is back with Fluminense. At this point if either Orlando or New York took him, they would have to negotiate with them to get the Brazilian to come back to the US. That could certainly cause both teams pause when thinking if they should take him or not.
Jimmy Medranda - The Colombian is KC's other international available. Like Saad, his age, 20, makes him an intriguing option for either club. If either team wants a project that could turn out quite good for them I could see them taking a chance on him.
Christian Duke - Academy product that Sporting drafted a couple years ago, has yet to play a game for the club. His selection seems unlikely.
Of course this whole thought process could change if Vermes decides to make some moves in the half day trade window on December 8th before the protected lists are due.