With LAFC taking the field in 2018, MLS has opted to bring back one of its many time-honored traditions: the Expansion Draft. Well, “honored” might not be right, since most people really dislike the Expansion Draft, and for good reason. MLS now gives teams the allocation funds to build their own rosters without stripping assets from others, and most expansion teams just take players and trade them back to their original team or elsewhere. Last year, six of the ten players selected by Atlanta United and Minnesota United had been traded elsewhere in MLS by the end of the first month of the season.
Nonetheless, the Expansion Draft exists, which means Bob Bradley and LAFC will be getting to pick through each team’s leftovers and walk off with whatever they want. Given Bradley’s experience at expansion success and the fact that ex-MLS players like John Thorrington are in the building, the new guys are probably going to arrange some pick-and-trade moves that benefit them more than simply taking five players deemed less-than-essential by other clubs around MLS.
The SB Nation mock version of this is not going to go to that extent of world-building, out of fear of a Synecdoche, New York scenario. Instead, we’re going to let Angels on Parade act as LAFC, while each team site acts as the braintrust for their own team. That means building a protected player list for D.C. United, and operating within the rules set out by MLS.
The short version of those rules is that everyone gets to protect eleven of their players, and all Homegrown or Generation Adidas players are exempt. LAFC gets to pick five players that are unprotected, and can only take one player from a given team. Each team has to protect at least three international players, give or take (there’s a handy chart here if you really want to dive into that portion of this). The Expansion Draft takes place next Tuesday, December 12, at 2:00pm Eastern.
Angels on Parade will post their picks for our mock draft tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s what we did to ward off their scavenging interests. We’ll start with our exempt players, and move on in alphabetical order through our list of eleven.
Chris Durkin, Ian Harkes, and Jalen Robinson are all exempt. Julian Buescher is still, as of now, listed as a Generation Adidas player, so he may be exempt in this process as well. If LAFC wants him specifically, they’ll just have to, uh, sign him because United isn’t going to keep him around. It’s an unusual situation, and one that may change if MLS announces the GA graduates (in 2016, this happened on November 1, so who knows when the league will clear that up).
1. Luciano Acosta
United shelled out seven figures to acquire him, and has built their attack around him. He’s a skillful, entertaining #10. This one is obvious. Given the rules about protecting internationals, the 23 year old also needs to be protected in order to avoid having to protect a player who has already had his option declined (Deshorn Brown, the only other eligible international on the roster).
2. Paul Arriola
United broke the club record for a transfer fee (set in acquiring Acosta) to bring the 22 year old USMNT regular to the District. It’s plain to see that Arriola is built into the core of what United plans to be in the years to come, and if they don’t protect him in this expansion draft my brains will fly out of my head and into the sea.
There are always arguments with Designated Players that LAFC would rather pick their own DPs, but let’s not overthink this. They’d take Arriola if he were available, so we’re not making him available, and my brains will stay where they belong.
3. Steve Birnbaum
Birnbaum had a very disappointing 2017, but just about any MLS team would snap him up if given the chance. There are no guarantees that he’ll bounce back and be the dominant center back he was in 2016, but given his raw talent level, returning to somewhere in that neighborhood seems more likely than staying at the level we saw this season.
4. Russell Canouse
Canouse was an inspired signing, and despite being just 22 should be in the discussion for a January USMNT camp call-up. You don’t leave players like that unprotected. Honestly, he might have been the second player on this list after Arriola if we went by how quickly they were added.
5. Steve Clark
This one’s not nearly as certain, but given that United has completely cleaned house, we figure it’s better to keep the only experienced starter on the roster rather than end up stumbling into a situation where Bradley selects Clark and then trades him to someone else. You’ll also see that by the end of this list, the remaining options were simply less palatable. Clark still needs to show us more than he did in 2017, but for today he’s on this list fairly comfortably.
6. Nick DeLeon
At $255,000 salary, I’m not entirely sure LAFC would take DeLeon for themselves, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see someone willing to pay them some TAM to select him and trade him. The 27 year old utility knife is United’s starting right back as of now, and can play five positions competently (or even six, if you consider him an option as a faux #10 if United is trying to protect a solid lead).
7. Taylor Kemp
Domestic left-footed left back capable of starting on a playoff team making under $300,000. No-brainer.
Hey, you skipped Bill Hamid! Are you insane?
We reached out to United to specifically ask about this issue, because our interpretation of the rules seemed to hint that the Black-and-Red would need to protect Hamid’s MLS rights. However, the team says that they do not need to protect Hamid in the expansion draft, so we’re working under the assumption that this is settled.
However, I will note that if we did have to protect Hamid to keep him, he’d be on this list, and one of Clark or one other player we haven’t gotten to would be the player to make way.
8. Bruno Miranda
You have to protect three internationals. Do you protect the 19 year old potential sparkplug with 3 caps for Bolivia and who broke athletic testing records when he was signed on loan, or do you protect the forward who the team has already announced will not be back in 2018?
9. Patrick Mullins
As with Birnbaum, Mullins seems very likely to bounce back and produce to an at least reasonable degree in 2018. LAFC would pounce on a domestic striker with 23 MLS goals to his name at age 25 who makes under $150,000. It’s also important to note that unless and until a DP striker is signed and scoring goals, Mullins is this team’s starting forward. As of this writing, said DP has not been signed and has 0 goals in 2018, so we protected Mullins.
10. Kofi Opare
Opare is the other player we’d consider setting aside to protect Hamid, and that would be a hard choice to make. But, since that situation is already settled, he’s on the list, and we’re glad to have him. It would be ideal to have Opare and Birnbaum competing to start alongside some sort of Laurent Ciman-level offseason acquisition, but that’s an issue for later. Right now, it’s good to protect cheap domestic players who have proven useful.
11. Zoltan Stieber
Stieber seems primed for a big year as a playmaker on the wing, both in creating chances and scoring with that powerful left foot. Plus, the obvious:
Who does that leave unprotected?
Jared Jeffrey and Travis Worra are the only players who are definitively under contract for 2018 who are not either protected or exempt. That’s it.
United’s recent move to decline numerous options really cleared the air here. Technically, United could opt to protect players who aren’t going to be under contract, but would you pull anyone off of this list to protect Lloyd Sam or Chris Odoi-Atsem? They’re good players, but they’re not essential players, and if LAFC wants to use this mechanism to acquire them they’d be showing a spectacularly poor grasp of how to leverage all of MLS’s various drafts and other processes.
In other words, if United was not up for locking a player down (or in the case of Clark, extremely close to locking him down) for 2018, we’re not going to leave a potential starter unprotected to keep someone that the Black-and-Red might not actually want to keep. So Brown, Buescher, Odoi-Atsem, Sam, Sean Franklin, Eric Klenofsky, Chris Korb, Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe, Marcelo Sarvas, and Rob Vincent are also unprotected. If LAFC were to select any United player, D.C. would receive $50,000 in General Allocation Money to make up for their loss.
That’s our take on the whole thing. Let us know in the comments what course you would have taken, or if you think that we are totally correct and great.