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Devil’s advocate: Why not to play the kids

So here’s why Philadelphia Union couldn’t play the young guys constantly this year:

If you play them too much, you could lose them in the expansion draft.

The Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers will each pick 10 players in the expansion draft this November. That’s 20 players from the current 16 teams, which means some teams are going to lose two players (but likely not more).

The Union can protect 11 players from their roster, provided the rules stay relatively constant from past drafts. As the league’s youngest team, they’d be a prime target to lose more guys.

Generation Adidas and home-grown players are typically exempt from the expansion draft and don’t have to be protected, however. That gives the Union a big advantage because they have four Generation Adidas players: Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo and Chris Seitz. J.T. Noone could potentially qualify as a home-grown player, which would exempt him too, though it’s unlikely.

Players graduate from Generation Adidas based (at least in part) by how much they play. If you play too much, you graduate. (Seitz remains Generation Addidas despite being in his fourth season but is almost certain to have graduated by year’s end.)

If the Union’s prized teenage trio is exempt from the draft, then it allows the team to protect other players, a huge benefit.

Major League Soccer roster rules have always been somewhat murky though, with the single entity keeping many things behind closed doors, and expansion draft rules change a little each year. The league hasn’t officially released this year’s rules, but Vancouver breaks down some projected rules on its web site. Likewise, until we know who graduates from GA, we won’t know who’s exempt from the draft.

If Toronto FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei was the measuring stick, then the Union would be well positioned, but chances are he’s an exception to the rule. Most thought Frei would have graduated from GA last year because he started 26 games and played 2,282 minutes as a rookie. Somehow, he didn’t and was exempt from the expansion draft, freeing up another protected slot for Toronto.

In contrast, fellow GA players Steve Zakuani, Kevin Alston, Omar Gonzalez, Patrick Nyarko and others graduated and were not exempt from the expansion draft after each started more than 20 games last year, and their clubs had to spend protection spots on them. MLS officials never explained the distinction between them and Frei. As a result, we don’t know it. (Are there different rules for goalkeepers?) Chances are that Frei was a special case, something not unheard of in MLS circles.

Of the Union’s three GA players, only Mwanga has played more than 300 minutes or started more than two games. Okugo is unlikely to crack the starting lineup as a regular, so don’t expect him  to graduate. McInerney could start after Saturday’s performance. With 267 minutes played and one start so far this year, he could theoretically crack 1,000 minutes and double digits in starts if he went the full 90 in each remaining Union game. Mwanga has started 11 games and appeared in 16, playing 1,006 minutes. Considering last year’s graduations, it looks like a coin toss on whether Mwanga graduates GA or not.

Union fans should hope that none of the three do. That would allow them to protect 11 of their other 20 players.

That means the Union could protect:

  1. Roger Torres
  2. Andrew Jacobson
  3. Chris Seitz
  4. Sebastien Le Toux
  5. Shea Salinas
  6. Danny Califf
  7. Justin Mapp
  8. Juan Diego Gonzalez
  9. Jordan Harvey
  10. Michael Orozco Fiscal
  11. Kyle Nakazawa

That leaves only four players under age 30 exposed: Nick Zimmerman, Toni Stahl, Brad Knighton and potentially Noone. If Orozco leaves, it means you could protect Zimmerman. Alejandro Moreno, Stefani Miglioranzi, Eduardo Coudet, Fred and Cristian Arrieta should not be protected due to a combination of age and performance. Of those, you probably lose Zimmerman or Nakazawa if they’re unprotected, or possibly Arrieta.

But that’s all contingent on the GA kids being exempt. As much as I’d love to see Mwanga and Union Jack starting the final nine games, there may be a good case for sending the vets out to play, at least for a bit.

17 Comments

  1. Don’t we not have to protect Torres since he is on loan?

    • The Union likely have to protect him. Seattle had to protect Fredy Montero last season, and that’s the best apples-to-apple comparison I can think of.

      • You’d think they would just have a readily available list of guidelines and rules for this stuff. I don’t get why everything needs to be so closed-doors with this league.

  2. I understand the logic behind this argument, but I must protest. Doesn’t MLS have plans to expand beyond Vancouver and Portland? This an issue the Union will continue to have as long as they try to build from youth.
    As much as I love Chris Seitz, why would you protect him? No shutouts and a 1.78 GAA – is this someone you’re worried about losing?
    These young guys are the future of the team. Trying to protect players who have led the Union through an unfortunate first season is not reason enough to delay the development of the players the team truly wants to build around.
    If this was the plan, send the kids down and let them romp around in Harrisburg!
    Also: Gonzalez, Orozco-Fiscal, Harvey: Sooooo replaceable.

    • Well, I made sure to headline this one “devil’s advocate” for a reason. 😉

      Yes, MLS plans to expand beyond Vancouver and Portland, but only Montreal is set for 2012. With two teams picking, you’re most likely to lose more guys this year, and Mwanga, Mac & Okugo are sure to have graduated GA by season’s end.

      Also, re: Seitz? Absolutely you protect him. You think the Union suffered through a season of his youthful mishaps for nothing? Whatever you think of his performance this year, he was drafted with next year in mind. If a 23-year-old goalkeeper with a year’s worth of experience starting in MLS became available, he’d likely get snapped up in the expansion draft. Some might say it’s no great loss, but I’ll wait till next year to determine that.

      The defenders? Yeah, replaceable, but probably protected because I’m not sure the Union want to HAVE to replace them just yet. The Union have a lot of replaceable guys, to be honest.

      • Here’s where we differ: I understand Seitz has made the occasional save… but what has he done this year – anything – to suggest he has an upside. Aren’t there supposed to be flashes of brilliance to go along with the lack of concentration and youthful errors? Isn’t there supposed to be some fire that inspires the men in front of him? Exactly which Seitzian traits do we expect to blossom?
        I think that if Seitz were a field player he’d have lost his spot ages ago, and even as a goalie I cannot figure out why he remains in net. Not to pile on, but has any player on the Union had more consistently poor year than Seitz? Declare sunk cost and move on.

      • Mike Servedio says:

        I have to agree with Adam. Let’s cut Seitz loose and cut our losses. It was always a mistake to bring in a young, inexperienced goalkeeper on a young, inexperienced expansion team. With a better goalkeeper, the Union might be closer to the playoff picture. Or at least have ONE clean sheet on the year.

  3. While we’re on the subject of MLS obscura, can someone explain to me how the East and West Conferences are separated? My understanding is that the best eight seasons make the playoff. It seems like an extraneous bit of complication to separate the two box scores.

    • The top 3 teams in each conference make it, then the next 2 best teams, regardless of conference round out the 8. The potential exists that 5 teams from one conference could make it, or it will be split 4 teams from each conference.

  4. Dan you know my position on Jordan Harvey. So that is my only bone with that list. Are we sure that Nowak likes Torres? I am very concerned that Nowak or someone in the organization is not a fan of Torres because of the lack of playing time he has been given. He was injured for a while there but he has also been underutilized in my mind. How he has not earned a starting position is something I will never understand. The last 3 weeks the teams demeanor and the overall look of the team has been amazing when he has come on to the field and yet he continues to come on only as a sub. If Mwanga is not counted as GA, get rid of harvey and I hope some team is stupid enough to take him.

    • My theory is that Nowak saw Torres have a confidence dip before the injury, and wants to give him a few minutes to be successful and build his confidence.

  5. Protect Seitz? When he starts protecting the goal I’ll think about it. Protect the under-utilized Nakazawa before Orozco “don’t call me just Orozco” Fiscal.

    • Could not agree more, I would not have a problem if the union did not renew Orozcos loan-buy him out right. People have complained about Nak but if Le Toux would let him take the free kicks I think we would have a team who did not throw every god damn set piece into the trash.

  6. Also don’t you have to look at pay as part of who you protect? The cap is not very high and wouldn’t you want to allow a higher paid, middle of the road player to be left unprotected (Seitz?) because the expansion teams may not want to use the cap space (unless they are exempt is some weird MLS rule). I would leave off Harvey & Seitz & add Zimmerman & Knighton.

    • Harvey makes $55,000 a year. He’s a bargain, even if you think he deserves to be a backup. Seitz makes $100k. I’d still protect him, though it’s clearly becoming harder and harder to justify that every game.

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