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DC United 2009 expansion protection list

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With MLS Cup 2009 now behind us, the league turns immediately to 2010. While congratulations are due to Real Salt Lake, with a nod in particular to two of my favorite non-DC players Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman, the celebration won't last long for that club, because they are likely to be losing a player just three days later. Each MLS team will submit a list of 11 players today and the Philadelphia Union will be selecting 10 players in the expansion draft on Wednesday. Generation Adidas players (Rodney Wallace) and homegrown players (Bill Hamid) are excluded.

I've been thinking a lot over the past few months about which players DC United should place on their protection list. My conclusion was that I was thinking too much. There are really only two questions that should be asked about each player on our roster:

1. Is he likely to play an important role for us in 2010?
2. Is he likely to be an attractive pick for Philadelphia?

If the answer to both of these questions is YES, then that player needs to be protected. If the answer to both questions is NO, then the player should not be protected. That much seems very simple.

I answer YES to both questions for: Bryan Namoff, Dejan Jakovic, Clyde Simms, Santino Quaranta, Chris Pontius, Julius James, and Jaime Moreno. Any surprises there? I don't think anyone is going to disagree with me on the first five. Others have left James off of the "Must-protect" list, but I think he has proved to be a valuable member of our team and could also be seen as attractive to PU. Moreno is the only guy I've seen missing from some other lists, but he is definitely still an important player for this team. Even if he doesn't start every match, he raises our level of play when on the field. And despite his advanced age, you're crazy if you don't think Piotr Nowak would strongly consider taking the MLS all-time leading scorer who was at his best when playing in Nowak's system.

I answer NO to both questions for: Josh Wicks, Milos Kocic, Avery John, David Habarugira, Greg Janicki, John DiRaimondo, Ely Allen, Tiyi Shipalane, Brandon Barklage, Boyzzz Khumalo, and Ange N'Silu. Any disagreement? Some have mentioned Wicks because of his shot-stopping or Kocic because of his age, but I don't think United is sold on either one being our #1 GK next season, and I don't think either is likely to be selected by PU for the same reason. Habarugira may have a lot of upside, but he's years away from being a regular starter, and I don't think the Union are going to take a flyer on him when other proven defenders will be available. How about Khumalo? He is sometimes important to our team as a reserve forward, but hasn't made enough of an impact in MLS yet to be considered a building block for a new team.

So then we are left with 4 slots remaining to be awarded among the following 8 players: Lawson Vaughn, Marc Burch, Devon McTavish, Danny Szetela, Andrew Jacobson, Fred, Christian Gomez, and Luciano Emilio. Let's look at each player a little closer.

Of the three defenders, Marc Burch has been the most valuable to the club over the past three years, due mostly to the extreme lack of quality left backs in MLS. Surely DC United will hope to upgrade at that position in the offseason, but I question our chances of finding a more skilled replacement. If the team is able to upgrade though, then Burch would be relegated to defensive depth, putting him in the exact same category as Vaughn and McTavish. McTavish was drafted by Nowak in 2006, so there might be a little bit of sentimentality there, but probably not. The good news is, if we happened to decide to leave all three unprotected, we're only going to lose one at most.

The competition for starting holding midfielder for DC United just got a little bit more intense with Olsen's retirement, and so we have to consider whether Danny Szetela or Andrew Jacobson is more vital to the team's future plans. Both have shown good promise at times for us in 2009, but neither has fully established himself as a capable starter. So without really knowing which one is more likely to win a starting job in 2010, we're just left to question which one would look more attractive to PU. Got to give the nod to Szetela there.

Lumping Fred, Gomez, and Emilio all together, we have a few very serious unresolved questions. And while others have disagreed with me, this is where I'd really hoped that we would have a new head coach in place prior to the expansion draft. Deciding between keeping Burch, Vaughn, and McTavish might not be a critical decision that will have a huge impact on our season, but deciding between keeping Fred, Gomez, and Emilio is. All three have been great players for DC United at some point in the past, and any one of them might be great for us again in the future. It's just hard to say which. So again, without having further insight into the mind of Dave Kasper to determine if any of these players is even going to be offered a contract for 2010, we're left to look only at what value Philadelphia might place on each player when starting from scrach. Could Fred be deemed as an important building block and allowed to play in his most natural position with the new club? Probably. Gomez had 14 goals and 11 assists and was named the league MVP when playing for Nowak in 2006, but is the coach likely to select a player that has so obviously lost a step (or two)? Probably not. And then there's Emilio. No one knows yet if he'll be back in MLS next season, or what salary he will command if he is back. But if he is left exposed, he will undoubtedly be the only 2009 10-goal scorer exposed.

I honestly didn't have a list in mind when I started writing this, but the right choices are starting to become more clear to me. I'm set on 10 out of 11 players: Namoff, Jakovic, James, Simms, Quaranta, Pontius, Moreno, Szetela, Fred, and Emilio. And finally, an argument could be made for either Jacobson or Burch, but this just wouldn't be the DCUMD blog if I didn't settle on Marc Burch in the end.