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Expansion draft preview: Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union could lose two players in the Nov. 24 expansion draft, when the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps start filling out their roster. That means the Union’s protected list is hugely important. We’ve obsessed a bit over this because the Union have so many talented young players, and depending on the club’s priorities, they could lose someone much loved by fans. Union management has begun game-planning the draft.

I had planned to wait a bit before writing a draft preview, but with all sorts of misinformation floating around about the draft and people talking about it here in Philly, I figured I ought to weigh in sooner than later. After all, if there’s a mess to be made, I can always make it messier. So here’s our draft preview (v. 1.0).

The draft – How it works

The draft will operate under most of the same rules as the previous draft, but there are a few differences because two teams are picking this year. Here are the rules:

  • Each team protects 11 players. If a player’s contract expires, he can still be protected. (No free agency in MLS.)
  • Generation Adidas and homegrown players are exempt.
  • Designated players can be exposed in the draft and are not exempt.
  • Vancouver and Portland will select 10 players apiece.
  • Once a team loses a player in the draft, it can pull back and protect one of its unprotected players.
  • No team can lose more than two players.
  • The Union must protect three international players, based on their current roster.
The international player rule

That last rule about international players is determined by my translation from legalese to English of a complicated tenet in the rules:

“Clubs are restricted in the number of international player(s) that they may make available. Clubs may make available a number of international players equal to their total number of international players minus three, provided that if a club has three or fewer international players it may make available not more than one. For purposes of this expansion process, for U.S.-based clubs, any non-domestic U.S. player would count as an international and, for Toronto FC, any non-domestic U.S. player or non-domestic Canadian players would count as an international.”

The Union have four internationals eligible for the expansion draft. They can only “make available” one in the expansion draft. So they must protect three internationals, according to my legalese-to-English translation. (4-3=1. Math is awesome.)

The four internationals are Roger Torres, Eduardo Coudet, Juan Diego Gonzalez and Toni Stahl. Players with domestic residency are not considered internationals under MLS roster rules, so the Union don’t list Sebastien Le Toux, Stefani Miglioranzi and Alejandro Moreno as internationals.  (The Union listed Fred as an international during the regular season but have confirmed that he no longer counts as an international due to having secured a green card.)

Roger Torres is probably a given to be protected. That means two other slots that would otherwise be spent on domestic players on the bubble — like Kyle Nakazawa, Jordan Harvey, Brad Knighton and Alejandro Moreno — must go to international players instead. That will hurt the Union, because most of their internationals should not otherwise be protected.

But there is a tactic they might be able to take to free up a slot for a domestic player, which I explain below.

Exempt – Generation Adidas

Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney should retain their click here.)

The 11 players the Union should protect

Don’t ask me to predict who they will protect. Honestly, I don’t know. It depends on management’s priorities and internal assessments. For example, Jordan Harvey led the team in minutes played for a reason. Whether that’s because Peter Nowak likes him and/or or the team has no other left backs, I don’t know. Many are down on Harvey’s second half play, but he played well earlier in the year. Most fans don’t watch game film like coaches do, see players in practice or realize that a player might be playing poorly because he’s asked to do something that plays away from his strengths but betters the team. So what we see may not be what Nowak and company see.

What I can tell you is who the team should protect. Here’s my list:

  1. Sebastien Le Toux — If you don’t know why the Union’s best player should protected, go follow the Red Bulls.
  2. Michael Orozco Fiscal — Played well down the stretch, has potential to be one of the best center backs in MLS.
  3. Danny Califf — The captain is an emotional veteran leader and a solid back line anchor.
  4. Justin Mapp — Good attacker with clear vision and a sense of humor about his weak right foot.
  5. Andrew Jacobson — The Union’s most underrated player may be their best holding midfielder next year.
  6. Shea Salinas — The Union’s most exciting player could be a star if he stays healthy. If he’s left unprotected, there will be rage among Union fans when he becomes the next Sebastien Le Toux: A superstar for a first-year club.
  7. Sheanon Williams — So young and talented that he has almost no ceiling for his potential. If left unprotected, he’s gone because he can start now and develop into a top player later.
  8. Roger Torres — Same as Williams. He’s on loan from Colombian club America de Cali, but that shouldn’t matter. Last year, Seattle had to protect Fredy Montero, who’s in a similar situation.
  9. Jordan Harvey — Led the team in minutes played. Struggled down the stretch, looking tired and lacking confidence, but could benefit from a training camp with Williams, allowing Harvey to play as the defense-minded starter-quality fullback he truly is instead of the attacking wingback he’s not.
  10. Juan Diego Gonzalez — Of the four international players, he’s the second to protect. Quality center back. Could start for many teams. Has trade value.
  11. Eduardo Coudet — Coudet is 36 and probably wouldn’t normally be protected, but would the Union spend this slot on Stahl? Look for some player personnel moves before the expansion draft to free up this slot.

The unprotected

  1. Kyle Nakazawa
  2. Alejandro Moreno
  3. Stefani Miglioranzi
  4. Chris Seitz
  5. Brad Knighton
  6. Fred
  7. Cristian Arrieta
  8. Nick Zimmerman
  9. J.T. Noone
  10. Toni Stahl
Kyle Nakazawa: The first to go?

If Kyle Nakazawa is left unprotected, he’s probably gone — unless someone picks Brad Knighton first. The young free kick maestro is too good on set pieces for Portland or Vancouver not to pick him and hope the rest of his game develops. The need to protect two or three internationals pushes Nakazawa off the Union’s protected list, unless management decides to not protect a goalie or Harvey. While Nakazawa didn’t dramatically impress in the run of play like Mwanga did as a rookie, he definitely showed he could compete at this level. He plays hard and will get better with more playing time. It’s hard not to like him, and he’s the toughest one to leave unprotected because of his potential and hustle. His biggest problem this year was the Union’s glut of center midfielders, and that may not change next year. If the Union didn’t have to spend a spot on an international player they really don’t need to protect — Gonzalez, for example, though he’d be lost if not protected — then Nakazawa would be on the protected list. Watching Nakazawa develop for Vancouver or Portland won’t be fun, but it will probably happen if he’s left exposed. What do they say? If you love someone, you let them go. Or something like that.

Obviously, some would replace Harvey with Nakazawa or Knighton on the protected list, and that could happen. If so, Harvey could be the first Union player to go.

If Knighton is picked first, then Nakazawa could be the first pulled back. Nobody wants to see Nakazawa leave, but it’s a numbers game.

The goalkeeper conundrum

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Union left both Seitz and Knighton unprotected. Knighton earned the starting job over Seitz, but a mid-career veteran could be signed to stabilize the job, much as Jimmy Nielsen did for Kansas City this season. Something tells me the Union brass aren’t comfortable with Knighton for the long-term, and leaving him unprotected — and seeing him get picked — could be a simple way to resolve a future goalkeeping controversy if they plan to import a veteran. If Knighton isn’t picked, you retain a young guy who played fairly well down the stretch and can be a solid backup or serviceable starter.

The rest

Presuming Knighton or Nakazawa is picked first and then the other is pulled back, the likely next pick would be either Chris Seitz, Cristian Arrieta or Nick Zimmerman (unless Mwanga graduates GA, which means he nudges someone off the protected list).

Seitz had a rough first year, but an expansion team could do a lot worse than take a chance on a 24-year-old former Olympian and youth international, provided they have some veteran insurance. Along with Nakazawa, Seitz still has the most unrealized potential of the unprotected group.

Arrieta could be the next guy picked because he can start right away. He’s versatile on defense, but he belongs at right back, where he’s a very effective crosser. His lack of speed hurt him for the Union.

Zimmerman is young, athletic, and a good clubhouse presence. He couldn’t find much time for the Union this season. When he did, he did OK, never playing poorly but rarely imposing himself on the game. Given time, he could blossom, much as Sebastien Le Toux has this season, and could be attractive to Vancouver and Portland.

Fred’s salary is high enough to chase off teams if he’s left unprotected, but it could be renegotiated. His performance this season may turn them away, but his good play down the stretch — and the fact that everyone knows he’s a center mid playing on the wing — could draw a team willing to play him centrally. A rumored loan to an Australian club could also be attractive to Fred as a transfer option, because at least in Australia, they let him play in the middle of the field, where he performs best.

Moreno and Miglioranzi are legitimate MLS starters, but a combination of age, contract, and role on the team might chase Vancouver and Portland away. Moreno wants to stay in Philadelphia, and like him, Miglioranzi probably doesn’t want to go to an expansion team again at this point in his career, which could chase off suitors. Of course, that could be wishful thinking, because both are team leaders and legitimate contributors. It all depends on the priorities of Portland and Vancouver management. Moreno is a proven starter in MLS, and if those teams want someone who can play the role he played this year — veteran leader, unselfish team player, reliable starter, a coach on the field — then he’s a great pick. There may be nobody in the league, save maybe Brian Ching, who plays hold-up as well as Moreno. Migs, on the other hand, is a bit older and has a more limited role. He’s good in that role, but I just have a feeling that these teams are more likely to go for the Union’s young players.

If unprotected, Coudet is unlikely to be picked because he’s 36 years old and coming off an injury, while Noone and Stahl have no MLS body of work to evaluate and, as a result, probably wouldn’t get picked. You saw what happened when the Union picked someone like that. Dave Myrie washed out almost immediately. I doubt anyone wants to repeat that mistake, although Stahl was on plenty of radars before the 2010 college draft so may be more attractive.

Fred is out of contract and could return, but he also could head to Australia.


Moving internationals could save Nakazawa or Knighton

The Union may be able to cut the number of international players they need to protect by trading or even releasing them. If they moving two, they’d only have to protect the remaining two. For example, they could trade Stahl and Gonzalez and then would only have to “make available” — i.e. leave unprotected —  one international instead of two. They could then protect Nakazawa, Knighton or Moreno and expose Fred. There’s nothing in the draft rules that says a team couldn’t do this.

Coudet is a good player, but he may be worth sacrificing if it means keeping a rookie free kick expert who could have a longer future with the team. Stahl hasn’t played in a regular season game since he was red-carded on opening day and is certainly worth cutting if it means the Union could keep Nakazawa or Knighton instead.

Back room deals

There’s another variable to toss into this mix, and that’s the back room deal. Chris Seitz wasn’t selected in the expansion draft last year — he was exempt by virtue of his Generation Adidas status — but was acquired by trade immediately after it. Likewise, no one from his club, Real Salt Lake, was drafted by the Union. If you don’t think passing over the league champs’ roster in the draft was part of the deal, then I have a bridge to sell you.

The Union could do the same thing from the other end. We’ve seen them adeptly work the trade market, securing extra college draft picks to select McInerney and Okugo and acquiring Mapp midseason. What complicates matters this year is now there are two teams in the draft, so just because you work something out with Vancouver, it doesn’t mean Portland won’t go and grab the guy you want to pull back.

Mock draft: What do Portland and Vancouver want?

Everything depends on what these teams prioritize. If it’s youth, then guys like Nakazawa and Knighton are targets. If it’s winning immediately, then look at Moreno.

With Portland already talking up the Seattle rivalry with aggressive and hilarious moves like this, there’s more pressure to win immediately. While they won’t eschew good young players, don’t expect the same kind of youth movement or patience that the Union have had. Portland has already signed several players from their USL club.  Two are former MLS starters, one started for teams in England’s League 1 and League 2, and the other was a 2010 MLS first round pick. All are in their 20s. One led the league in scoring. Three played for Portland all season, and the fourth was on loan to Austin, so the team knows these guys and was able to get first crack at them. It’s a smart move by a team that clearly learned the Sebastien Le Toux lesson. Head coach John Spencer was a top MLS assistant and regular for Chelsea as a player. He’s a smart pick.

Vancouver seems a little murkier. Their only likely signing so far is U.S. youth international Omar Salgado, but they must pick him in the amateur draft. Their USL team leader, Martin Nash, is retiring. Their coach has coached the team in USL since 2007 but also coached in Scandinavia, much like New York coach Hans Backe. The team also made significant roster changes mid-season in preparation for joining MLS, despite playing well in USL, so in all likelihood, they’ll keep some current players. Considering how highly they prized Salgado, they could push for youth. But we don’t really  know yet.

Could Shea Salinas be the next Sebastien Le Toux?

Anyone who reads this site knows pretty much everyone at PSP thinks Shea Salinas is a future star — and not the far-off future either, but as soon as he’s consistently healthy. I listed him as my player to watch back in our season preview in March, and for once, I was right. Most say MLS is a fast league, but Salinas makes everyone else look slow, like he’s a flash of Technicolor in a black and white world. Injuries cut his season in half, and if not for that, he’d have been a star this year and made the Union a much better team. Was it lack of fitness that kept him out of the lineup down the stretch? Or is Union management just not as high on him as we are?

We’ll find out when we see the protected list. Salinas belongs on it. If he’s not, then he’s gone, and he’s the next Sebastien Le Toux, the new superstar for an expansion team.  The Union should feel no obligation to even out the karma scales like that.

(Note: This post has been updated to reflect the change in Fred’s domestic status.)

What do you think?

Who do you think should be protected? Who did I get wrong and why? (I expect a few Jordan Harvey rants, so keep those concise and move on to the rest. 😉 ) Did I miss anything? Post your thoughts and your own protected list below and start the debate.

(Cover photo: An unnamed Union fan)


  1. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Excellent analysis and explanation of the rules, particularly as they relate to the requirement to protect three international players. It hadn’t occurred to me that the Union could release some of the international players in order to protect younger, more desirable talent.

  2. Mike Servedio says:

    Excellent stuff Dan.

    I know MLS doesn’t disclose contract info (why are they like the CIA?), but has there ever been indication that Coudet and Gonzalez are under contract beyond this season? If they are out of contract, do they count toward the amount of internationals required to be protected?
    If anyone from the A-League makes an offer for Fred, I say take it, even if we are only getting some kangaroos in return.

    • Even if they’re out of contract, they remain on the roster, so yes, it looks like they would count toward the number of internationals who need to be protected.

      From the draft rules: “If the Player’s contract expires at the end of 2010, he will still be considered part of the Club’s Senior Roster.”

      That said, I have no inside knowledge here and am interpreting the same language you’re seeing at http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/official-mls-expansion-draft-rules, so if I’m missing something, by all means point it out.

  3. Alex Bornstein says:

    Good job. One question – I wonder if there is a way to force Portland and Vancouver to take Seitz and Knighton respectively?

  4. This is first-rate analysis…thanks for doing it. I had no idea who technically counted as an International, and that the Union would be obliged to protect 3 of them. What is the motivation for that rule anyway??

    You make some provocative points about, essentially, gambling that certain players won’t get picked and leaving them unprotected as a consequence. I am not certain about leaving Miglioranzi unprotected; he really filled a very important defensive role on a team with a weak defense. Would Jacobson really match him in that regard? Because I’m not too sure Migs would be left alone in the draft. Nowak has called him (and Moreno) the Union’s most underappreciated players.

    • Thanks for the props, and good question about Migs and Jacobson. I agree that Migs and Moreno are underappreciated and overlooked because their roles, but I also think that (and their ages) make them less attractive to outsiders. In any expansion draft, protected lists are basically a practice of gaming the guys who want to raid your players.

      As for Migs, he’s usually solid, but I think his invisibility on the field — he blends into the game rather than stand out, and that’s not a criticism — hides both his strengths AND his mistakes. You really have to dissect the film to see his mistakes, but when you do, you see his errors lead to goals often blamed on the center backs. He’s as much to blame (or praise) as Califf, Harvey & Orozco for the defense’s performance.

      I hope the Union keep both Moreno and Migs, but I’d take the chance they’ll go overlooked if it means I can get Jacobson in his prime. If they can open up the third international space, you could see Moreno protected because he’s a bit younger than Migs.

  5. Great analysis! I actually understand this all now. Question: will the draft be able to be seen somehow? How has that gone in the past? I would assume it is streamed online but, who knows. Or, is it really long and boring (not with so much at stake for Philly, surely!) and not worthy of anything more than a few updates on the Union web page or Facebook/Twitter. I can see me having it on, in the background on my computer at work, while I push papers around and “look busy” 😉 Thanks!

    • Last year, MLS simply released a press release with the drafted players. But that was different because it was just one team. Now with two teams and regional rivals competing for fans, you’re right: People would definitely watch it.

      • Last year, the league (team?) streamed the audio (not video) of Nowak and Co. going through their list of players picked up in the draft. It was short and to the point, but still gave all the Union faithful something to be thankful for on T-giving Eve.

  6. I was hitting the PSP hoping to see this article. I mostly agree, although this rule about internationals hurts us, when we have overpaid Fred and no-playing time Stahl.

    I don’t see a point in protecting the keepers. Neither are starters for us next year, I hope, and most probably one of them will be left to play back up. I would protect Migs over Harvey- Migs had a couple of games that amazed me. He was winning balls right and left, all over the field, and then slicing them through nicely to the forwards. That’s not his everyday game, but when it’s there, he’s one of the best Union players out there.

    And I don’t know what’s up with Harvey, he may have hit a form bump, but there is nothing nice to say about his play for a while. I think his teammates avoid passing to him because the chances for a positive touch are so little. He seems to have lacked courage. Maybe training camp can give that back. But I agree with anyone who says they would like a new left back.

  7. Ed Farnsworth says:

    I was just re-reading the post and a question came to mind: Do you think Williams counts as a homegrown player because he was signed from the Union’s partner club in Harrisburg? (I think Noone was also signed from the City Islanders but his status with the Union was always a little obscure before then.) If not, the homegrown player exemption seems unfair to new teams like the Union since they’ve only been around for a season.

    • Neither Williams nor Noone count as homegrown players, as far as I know. (I could be wrong there, of course.) Zach Pfeffer eventually will though. 😉

    • The Homegrown tag is only acquired by players who accumulate 12 or more months of training time in a team academy. Williams attended UNC, left for Europe, came back, got lost in the system, and fell into our laps. Hard case to make ‘homegrown’. JT was an All-American at Temple before going undrafted and playing with the Islanders. The tag is supposed to refer to players who have spent significant time with the team before college eligibility. As I understand it, there was nothing stopping the Union from having an academy open and functioning well prior to first kick.

      • Ed Farnsworth says:

        Thanks for the clarification.

        Still, I wonder how many existing MLS teams, particularly those that didn’t exist before joining MLS, have had “an academy open and functioning well prior to first kick.” I think some of the teams coming out of USL have had academies: Montreal has had one since 2009; Vancouver, I think, has a “residency program” (somehow I doubt that it is the same thing); the Sounders have one now but I don’t know if they did before joining MLS.

        Would the Cosmos, should they join the league in 2013 and who presently have an East and West Coast academy (and little more than that save for a front office, some merchandise and a lot of great press) be the first “from scratch” expansion team to be able to take advantage of the homegrown player exemption?

        So many questions…

  8. The debate about Fred and any green card status probably stems from the Union press release this summer after Le Toux got his green card – it lists the international players. For Fred’s sake, he would be much more likely to be protected if he is an international (since Torres is the only other international who would likely be protected ahead of him if Philly was prioritizing them and then there is still a 3rd spot to protect – likely Gonzalez).

    CHESTER, Pa. (August 5, 2010) – Philadelphia Union announced today that forward Sebastien Le Toux has received his Green Card, freeing up an international spot on the club’s roster. Finnish player Toni Stahl, Argentinean Eduardo Coudet, and Colombian Roger Torres are the team’s only players to occupy international spots. The Union’s new signing Juan Diego González Alzate will join the international roster upon receiving his International Transfer Certificate.

  9. Harvey. I’m done no more. I have been a big Nakazawa fan all season long. I look at his free kicks and general control of the ball and see a great future distributor. The potential he has in being a great distributor one day, much like a Pirlo-esque player, plays right into Nowak’s possession based attacking play. While I would obviously say drop Harvey for him I have to say the most logical thing for the Union to do is drop Stahl and leave either Gonzalez or Fred unprotected. Dropping Stahl and leaving Gonzalez unprotected would make the most sense to me. I feel like we get a little sense of ‘control’, if you can say that, since with Gonzalez and Arrieta on the unprotected list one of them would logically go first and based on that we could decide who else to protect. This plays into the idea of a back room deal also. If we deal a player like Seitz or Knighton, along with some draft picks most likely, too Vancouver or Portland, drop Stahl and leave Gonzalez/Arrieta unprotected we can come very close to picking the players that will be leaving in the expansion draft and hopefully save our young guns. I might be getting a little complicated and having a little too much wishful thinking, but I am scared shit-less of this draft because of the unpredictability of the Union and who we could potentially lose. My hope is and I think it is pretty likely that the basic idea of the draft is protect the youth over all else. Great piece Dan. Although I am still a wreck until this is over with. Will the Union release who the protected players are? Or will we just wake up on draft day with two less players?

    • Protected lists typically come out 1-2 days before the draft itself.

      Only retiring players can dropped now if I have read the rules right. Meaning that cutting Stahl won’t help you – he was frozen onto the season ending roster after September 15th. Coudet retiring on the other hand would help open up an international slot – but if you actually have 5 instead of 4 (Fred is under some debate), then even that won’t help you protect less than 3.

      • That’s the one catch. General MLS roster rules and the expansion draft rules conflict a bit on a few points. It’s why my idea might work or might not. My guess is it doesn’t happen.

      • Like last year, the teams’ protected lists are being released the day after MLS Cup. This go-around it’ll be Monday the 22nd, 2 days before the expansion draft on Wednesday the 24th.

  10. Phil McCrack'n says:

    Wow, what a great piece. Best thing that I’ve ever read about the Union.

    I agree with your list, but think that the Union realize the value in Nakazawa and would expose someone like Califf before they risk losing Naka. Califf has a large salary for a defender ($280k) and if they have to protect Gonzalez, they would still have two starting CB’s with him and Orosco.

    If Mwanag loses his GA status, does he become an International player?

    • I feel like they would expose Fred before Califf based purely on salary and his position as captain. While Fred played excellent during the last few games of the season Califf and Orozco formed a center back partnership that, if paired with the right wide backs, is nearly unbreakable. Fred is very inconsistent so while he played great at the end of the season and I loved watching him I would not expect a consistent run into next season.

    • Thanks for the props, Phil.

      Logically speaking, he would probably be a domestic player because he has a green card. That said, roster issues aren’t always as clear cut as they seem in MLS, as Union Jack pointed out above.

  11. Im developing new factors to play in:

    The acquisition saga of Michael Orozco – if the Union can’t secure his services permanently or at minimum extend his loan, then he would be left out exposed and I’d argue to move Harvey in simply for the sake of having 4 returning defenders who have played more than 41 minutes.

    Fred is out of contract this off-season (according to unconfirmed reports). If the Union need to bring down cap numbers to make acquisitions, Id have to consider negotiating with Fred for a lower number. If he doesnt sign on, I’d have to leave him exposed – that doesn’t help me save Nakazawa, or a keeper, but he would be a potential expansion draft choice based on years of play remaining, experience, past scoring record, and leadership. If you lose him first, you get to save a 12th.

    Hack has already said the Union are looking “to solidify the keeper position”. I dont think either keeper on the roster is a starter come March and I have no desire to carry 3 again for the season. If we get legitimate interest from a potential starting keeper, we have to seriously consider leaving them both out there and pulling one back.

    Mwanga not graduating is HUGE for protecting another player. Makes decisions easier.

  12. We really need to clarify Fred’s international status. If Fred is not an international, Coudet can’t be released – he would have to retire (from MLS) to ease the international rule. That would leave only Torres, Gonzalez, and Stahl and we would have to protect two.

    I just went back and checked – Toni Stahl was the RotY in the Big East in 2006, first team Big East 2007, 2008, 2009, midfielder of the year in the Big East in ’09, and a second-team All American. Does UConn play a different version of soccer up there? How can he go from world beater to “can’t get a look in midfield”?

  13. Would be much happier if Fred did not get his greencard. Wasting a spot on Coudet is a bit upsetting, but I suppose the benefit is maybe we lose Fred first instead of Nak. Though this is all speculation. I am losing my mind over this.

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