Austin FC’s Expansion Draft is this evening, and for D.C. United, it’s a straightforward event: losing a player is bad, not losing one is good. Fortunately, the odds are in the Black-and-Red’s favor, as Austin can only take five players from a group of 16 teams, but it’s nonetheless a possibility that United ends up losing a player and getting just $50,000 in General Allocation money (far less than their market value) in return.
We talked about the protected list yesterday, and you can see the full draft rules here, but this piece is going to focus on the likelihood of United losing a player. After poring over the unprotected players around the league, looking at what Austin has and how they’re building their team, we think we’ve got some idea of how this is going to shake out from a D.C. perspective.
First up, let’s establish a starting point for Austin. Earlier this year, they inked deals with two Paraguayan players, national team striker Cecilio Dominguez and young winger Rodney Redes. On Sunday, during the half-day trade window, they spent a million bucks in allocation money to acquire United utility man Ulises Segura, center back Julio Cascante, fullbacks Nick Lima and Ben Sweat, and attacker Jon Gallagher.
Meanwhile, United’s unprotected list consists of Mohammed Abu, Frederic Brillant, Earl Edwards Jr., Oniel Fisher, Felipe Martins, Yordy Reyna, Gelmin Rivas, Chris Seitz, and Axel Sjöberg.
A first thought with United is that it’s easy to reduce this list down further. Abu was on loan from Stromgodset in Norway, and with no apparent plans to retain him, United could certainly stomach having Austin pick him. However, it would also be a massive mistake from Austin from an MLS 101 perspective. If they want Abu, they can simply wait a couple of weeks and approach Stromgodset directly, and still retain an expansion draft pick.
For marginally similar reasons, Fisher and Sjöberg are probably not going to be picked today either. Both players are eligible for the Re-Entry Draft, and Austin has the first pick there, so taking them today would be wasting resources to such a degree that you’d have to consider firing people over it. We’ve seen Jason Kreis select something he didn’t want to select during an expansion team’s first forays in to MLS, and while using an expansion draft pick on a player you could just pick up on literally this Thursday is not quite that bad...it’d be a massive screw-up from Austin.
So that brings us to Brillant, Edwards, Felipe, Reyna, Rivas, and Seitz. Let’s break down their chances of ending up in black and green, going in alphabetical order:
Why Austin would pick him: 2020 is the first year in Brillant’s MLS career where his team missed the playoffs, which is a decent indicator that he’s been a good center back in the league for years now. The fact that he’s more comfortable on the ball than your average MLS center back is also a factor, with Josh Wolff saying he wants his team to possess the ball.
Why Austin wouldn’t pick him: Brillant turns 36 this summer, and the truth is that his 2020 performance was inconsistent. On top of that, “veteran center back” is maybe the deepest role in this expansion draft pool. Johan Kappelhof, Reto Ziegler, Maynor Figueroa, Kiki Struna, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Rod Fanni, Amro Tarek, Guram Kashia, and Laurent Ciman are all players with more or less the same profile as Brillant, and all of them are available in this expansion draft.
Earl Edwards Jr.
Why Austin would pick him: Edwards has a very solid reputation as a talented goalkeeper who doesn’t come with any off-field baggage. He’s a known “good locker room guy,” which given the MLS experience of Austin’s leadership (including former DCU assistant Nolan Sheldon) feels like it’s going to be important. Plus, Edwards has for years viewed as someone with lots of potential around MLS.
Why Austin won’t pick him: There’s a glut of goalkeepers out there, for one. Luis Robles, Clément Diop, and Ryan Meara were all MLS starters in 2020, and they’re all available today. Edwards has 6 MLS appearances, and in all likelihood this is a position where Austin will value experience.
Why Austin would pick him: Felipe is an established MLS starter who brings technical ability, smarts, and real bite to a midfield. Even though he’s also seen as a villain around the league, every team he’s been on talks about his value on and off the field. For a new team, that sounds like a winning combination.
Why Austin won’t pick him: His ACL tear is a pretty big deterrent. There is also his salary, which we don’t know the exact details of, but it’s high enough that United declined his option before circling back to talk about a new (and presumably less costly) deal. The reality is that in an expansion draft where Austin could select Perry Kitchen or Oriol Rosell, they’re probably not going to take a player that costs as much or more, and that has a major injury right now. We’ll probably be seeing Felipe back at Audi Field in a few months.
Why Austin would pick him: Getting an attacking player of Reyna’s caliber — Peruvian national team, international market value just under $1 million — for free is a thing any MLS team would want to do. Despite playing for some bad Whitecaps teams and the goal-shy version of United this past year, e’s got 20 goals and 18 assists in MLS, including a 6g/11a 2018. Austin’s used a couple of their international roster spots, but it seems like Reyna fits the profile of a player they’d be interested in nonetheless.
Why Austin won’t pick him: They’ve already added several attackers, as we said earlier, and Reyna’s 2019 salary was somewhere in the $700,000 region.
As with Felipe, United is looking to retain Reyna at a lower price. Austin is also most likely looking at bringing in players from abroad for their more expensive attacking spots, and even if they want to take United’s right to negotiate a new deal with Reyna away, they’d still be looking at something potentially in the TAM range (which is to say, expensive).
Note: This piece initially stated in error that United is looking to retain Reyna. United exercised Reyna’s option for 2021 two weeks ago. We apologize for the error.
Why Austin would pick him: Rivas came to MLS, caused defenses trouble, and started to find the back of the net after a short settling-in period. Teams tend to like strikers that score goals, and they could probably use Rivas to push Dominguez in the same way that United needs him to push Ola Kamara.
Why Austin won’t pick him: Rivas turns 32 in March, and the pool of forwards available include either younger target men (Anthony Jackson-Hamel) or players with a longer MLS track record (Juan Agudelo, CJ Sapong, Maxi Urruti). Unless Sheldon is pounding a desk at Austin HQ urging Claudio Reyna and Josh Wolff to take Rivas over the rest of the pool of strikers, it’s probably not gonna happen just based on age and other options.
Why Austin would pick him: A potential MLS Best XI player in the “good guy” category, Seitz is also a solid veteran who can compete as a potential starter in goal, but who would also handle ending up as the back-up in the right way. At 33, Seitz still has plenty of seasons ahead of him, and expansion teams have skewed more towards adding a solid MLS veteran in goal over using an international spot there.
Why Austin won’t pick him: The same reasons that applied to Edwards. Seitz is certainly the more experienced goalkeeper on United’s unprotected list, but Austin has several MLS starters at this same position available to them.