We have inundated you with discussion of what D.C. United should do about the upcoming Expansion Draft. Ben attempted to gauge what United would do. I put together a list ordered by how vital it is to protect each player, regardless of this particular mechanism's rules. Adam put together a list weighing the pros and cons of the guys on the bubble. That's a lot of words on something that is still almost two weeks away.
Well, here we are again, and this won't even be our last post on the subject! Across the entire network of SB Nation's MLS blogs, we'll be holding a mock expansion draft in the near future. The folks behind our future Orlando City SC and New York City FC blogs will get to pick over what each existing team's blog leaves unprotected. For Black and Red United, I'm acting as GM, or technical director, or president, or tyrant (whichever works for you in this situation).
After probably too much consideration for something that is not a real-life protected list, here's the list of players we're protecting:
1. Bill Hamid
2. Perry Kitchen
3. Steve Birnbaum
4. Bobby Boswell
5. Luis Silva
6. Fabian Espindola
7. Chris Rolfe
8. Nick DeLeon
9. Sean Franklin
10. Samuel Inkoom
11. Kofi Opare
I have also given specific instructions on which player to protect should a United player end up being selected. I covered every player on the roster that had to be protected, because I have a feeling we're a lock to lose at least one player (and we'll have a hard time keeping it to that). As the mock draft hasn't gone on yet, I won't reveal those plans for competitive reasons, but once the draft is out I'll add it in the comments. This is more suspenseful anyway, right?
Unlike real GMs, I feel obliged to explain my decision-making. I'll try to be brief:
Hamid, Kitchen, and Birnbaum - Obviously.
Boswell - He's holding up too well to get hung up on him being over 30, and in any case it's not like his game is based around his speed. Boswell is the team captain, he's as durable as they come, and leaving him unprotected is nuts given that he's a Floridian and teams like to build a natural connection with their regions.
Silva - 11 goals in roughly half a season, and he hasn't peaked yet. Of course we're protecting him.
Espindola - Despite what will probably be a 4+ game suspension for making contact with a referee, you'd have to be nuts to want Espindola to be at risk. Do you remember 2013's totally non-inventive team? Espindola is the antidote, and long may he reign.
Rolfe - United's best soccer was played with Rolfe and Espindola both on the field, and he's enthusiastically taken to the area. Yes, he'll start the preseason aged 32, but he's too clever a player for United to risk. For those of you who live in constant fear of Skynet, cyborgs, and the like he'll have offseason surgery to remove some of the hardware keeping his mecha-arm in place.
DeLeon - He's a player United needs to make the current 442 work, and despite it not feeling like he put up good numbers he actually had a sneaky-good season (including a career-high 5 assists). It was also no coincidence that some of DeLeon's best performances came in the playoffs and in road games where his teammates weren't playing their best stuff.
Franklin - He deservedly made the MLS All-Star game, and also probably deserved his "Fullback of the Year" nod from the league's site (no, it's not a real award, but you're reading a piece about a mock expansion draft so you've made your peace with that sort of thing). Franklin will hit 30 early next season, but he doesn't look like he's close to slowing down at all, and the dude has made a career playing on good teams. If unprotected, he's going very, very early.
Inkoom - League rules require United to protect one international, and with all due respect to Kyle Porter I doubt too many people will bat an eye at this choice. Plus, as we discussed earlier today, he's got the best resume on the team and he's only 25. The job for Inkoom is to adapt to the Black-and-Red next season, while one job for Ben Olsen will be to find a way to get his speed and crossing ability on the field more often.
Opare - This will be the controversial choice, what with Eddie Johnson, Chris Pontius, and Taylor Kemp all left unprotected. I stumped for protecting Opare in making my list before, but admittedly was hesitant about doing so. It's nowhere near as cut-and-dry as the other picks are. So, I decided to loosen my tyrant's grip and had the entire B&RU staff vote (with my vote counting no more or less than anyone else's). In the end, Opare didn't even need my vote to win, as he finished with two more votes than Party Boy or Kemp. EJ received no votes, which came as a surprise to me.
With Opare, it's important to remember that he's a young, talented center back who would be closer to a starting role with almost any other MLS club. The Galaxy were not at all excited about trading him away, and only did so because they thought they could get Sacha Kljestan by doing so.
The other thing about Opare is that his position is one that is hard to come by. Perhaps the biggest issue with MLS's overall quality on the field is that the defenses are too easy to unlock, and central defending is a huge part of that. If you have truly good center backs in MLS - not just your starters, but some depth - you're probably a playoff team. Try to pick out a playoff side in 2014 that has real center back issues.
By comparison, look at the teams that just missed the playoffs. Think about Portland's tremendous attack, or the money TFC spent everywhere but their back four. Teams with bad center backs are forced to either try to win every game 3-2 or 4-3, or they have to play very defensive soccer to hide their issues. In MLS, the former is the Timbers, and the latter is a style no one likes to watch.
It's a huge risk to keep Opare over the trio I mentioned earlier. EJ is from Florida and was badly underrated over the last half of the season. Orlando says they'll play a 4231, which likely means playing with a target man. Pontius is a potential Best 11 player when he's healthy. Kemp is a left back that can actually contribute to your attack, which is rare in MLS.
However, putting myself on the other side of this exercise, I can come up with better arguments to not select those three than I can for Opare. Johnson is a DP, and both of the new teams seem dead set on using their three DP slots elsewhere. Pontius needs to prove he's truly back at 100%. Orlando already has Luke Boden slated to be their starting left back, and NYCFC likely traded for Jeb Brovsky to take on the same job for them. Meanwhile, the center backs on both rosters are either not as good as Opare (Kwame Watson-Siriboe) or are 17 years old (Tommy Redding).
Anyway, that's where I land on it. We will tweet the results of the mock draft when they're published, and they'll also be available on the front page of the site. Let me know how you think I was crazy for protecting Opare over Pontius, and rest assured that part of me will strongly agree with you.