It was announced Tuesday at MLS headquarters that there will be an Expansion Draft in 2016. To help fill out the rosters of MLS newcomers Atlanta United and Minnesota United, each of the new teams will be allowed to pick five players off of current MLS rosters - with no team allowed to lose more than one player. This is a change from the last expansion of MLS, in 2014, when Orlando City SC and New York City FC entered the league and selected ten players each.
Existing MLS teams will be allowed to protect 11 players, plus all Generation Adidas and players carrying the Homegrown designation. With that in mind, here is a first stab at who on the Rapids roster will definitely be protected, will likely be protected, and will be doubtful to be protected.
The draft isn’t until December 13, 3 days after MLS Cup. But I’ve projecting the list now, mostly because I’ll probably forget to do so in the drunken haze after the Rapids win the Cup. (Smiley emoji)
All speculation is purely mine alone, so feel free to argue in the comments. You guys always do, anyway.
Players that are not subject to the expansion draft*:
Marlon Hairston (Generation Adidas)
Eric Miller (Generation Adidas)
Dillon Serna (Homegrown)
Players the Rapids will definitely protect:
Two of the Rapids three designated players are certain to stay: Gashi is still adjusting to the league, and I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet. Howard is the highest profile player on this team since at least Marcelo Balboa, if not ever. Calvert and Sjoberg are young, inexpensive, and supremely talented - Calvert is 19 years old, Sjoberg is 25. Cronin is the team captain and an every-game starter without fail. At 29 years old, the team could theoretically look to the future and leave him unprotected, but I can’t fathom why.
That leaves six spots left to protect.
Players the Rapids will likely protect:
With the exception of Bobby Burling, the players on this list are youngsters. Guys like John Berner and Jared Watts are players the Rapids have invested time and training on to develop, and won’t want to let get away. That doesn’t mean we’ll certainly see them in burgundy next year; it just means that a smart front office knows that talented players on the bottom-end of the MLS pay scale can be flipped for allocation money or a draft pick.
It’s hard to figure what the Rapids make of Badji - does he project as a future starter on the wing or up top? Is he insurance? Will his speed and size eventually make him a valuable fullback? Nonetheless, he’s shown enough the past two seasons that I think the team wants to use a protected spot on him.
Dillon Powers might go to Europe, as he nearly did last year before the coach at Reading got sacked . You probably protect him, even if you don’t expect him back, so that you can collect the transfer fee for him. Into his fourth year in Commerce City, Powers still has’t found either an automatic spot in the starting XI or a permanent position in the 4-2-3-1. Odds are not great for him returning in 2017, so it’s possible that departure is facilitated via the expansion draft.
That leaves two protected spots for three guys: Azira, Williams, and Burling. Burling is the kind of veteran backline presence that an expansion team would love to have, but at 31 he’s moving onto the backside of his career. Williams, too, is an international and a great asset, but he’s really the team’s third best fullback, so protecting him is a luxury. Azira has been a great partner to Sam Cronin at d-mid, and he’s very inexpensive. But Seattle let him go, so maybe the Rapids leave him unprotected figuring he’s unlikely to be lifted from their roster anyhow.
If it’s me, I’d leave Burling unprotected, knowing that the team has been pretty solid at CB this year with Watts paired with Sjoberg, and that a winter CB free agent signing could likely fill that gap if need be.
Players the Rapids are unlikely to protect:
Sebastien Le Toux
Sean St Ledger
The first and most obvious players on the list fall into the category of ‘this guy’s so expensive, if you want him, be my guest.’ That would be Kevin Doyle at $1.1 million, Jermaine Jones at $650,000, and Sebastien Le Toux at $310,000 per year. The contracts of Jones and Le Toux are likely up this year anyways, and there are some reasons the Rapids might want to resign either of them, but not that many. And Minnesota and Atlanta ain’t going to touch Doyle: his current production rate means each of his goals this year is worth $250K.
Marco Pappa, at this stage of the season, strikes me as this years version of Gabriel Torres: dribbly, talented, but unable to give more than 30 good minutes each game. He also doesn’t high press nearly as well as Hairston or Badji or Gashi. It’s doubtful to me whether he gets resigned for 2017 at all, anyhow. Buh-bye.
Conor Doyle, Dennis Castillo, and Joseph Greenspan are all talented, but raw. These are guys you hope nobody picks in the draft, but if you do, you know they were a couple of years away from really contributing anyhow. You leave them unprotected and cross your fingers that they don’t find their way onto someone else’s shopping list.
Zac MacMath is a starting-caliber GK. The Rapids know it and MacMath knows it. He’ll leave for Europe or push for a trade either way. So maybe the Rapids do him a favor and let him go to Atlanta. Like Pappa, I think regardless of the expansion draft, we won’t have MacMath back next year. Good luck kid.
Sean St Ledger is currently occupying the ‘Brian Mullan roster spot for a guy with a blown knee that can serve as a good locker room presence.’ He’s probably going to retire, but even if he’s hell-bent on a 2017 comeback, an expansion team won;t waste a pick on that.
UPDATE: I left Marc Burch off the original list. Oops. Here are my thoughts.
Burch has been fantastic at left back this year, one of MLS’ hardest positions to fill, and he would be an excellent keeper. But at 32 years old (33 to start the 2017 season), and with five MLS clubs already under his belt, it’s a stretch to think he’d be protected. You leave him off hoping that somebody else leaves a tastier, younger left back unprotected, and also knowing that Zac MacMath and Jermaine Jones are more attractive options to take. Once a team gets one of those fellows, Burch and the rest of the Rapids on the roster are safe.
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*Generation Adidas status ends at somepoint, but I don’t know the rules for that. In the event that Hairston or Miller cease to be considered GAs, I would put them in the ‘Definitely to be protected’ list, and bump Azira and Williams to the ‘unlikely’ list.