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Expansion draft shock

Somehow, you had to expect that either Shea Salinas or Andrew Jacobson would end up unprotected, no matter how much you wanted to keep them.

But both of them? Because of a trade for yet another holding midfielder? Yeah, didn’t see that one coming.

Philadelphia Union’s trade for defensive midfielder Brian Carroll made Jacobson expendable, so the player some (I) view as the team’s most underrated player could be moving on in Wednesday’s expansion draft.

But joining him could be the speedy Salinas, a fan favorite who struggled with injuries there but wowed people with his attacking prowess during the season.

The full protected and unprotected lists are here, and things played out mostly as expected (though not how we thought they should have). The bubble players were clearly Salinas, Jacobson, Kyle Nakazawa and Jordan Harvey, and Nakazawa and Harvey got the nod. Harvey was the starting left back all season and led the team in minutes played, despite struggling down the stretch, and his protection along with that of the other three starting defenders indicates Union management really want to maintain the continuity of the starting back line. Nakazawa’s free kicks and hustle endeared him to fans, and few wanted to see him go.

Losing Jacobson seems less painful, because as much as I like him, Carroll is a very good defensive midfielder, one of the league’s best for Columbus Crew, a team apparently undergoing a massive makeover. Carroll immediately slots in as a starter, either marginalizing Stefani Miglioranzi or ensuring the team goes with two holding midfielders in a 4-2-2-2 once again.

But losing Salinas? Wow. Kidney punch. When he played, he was the Union’s most exciting player. (Read our season review on Salinas here.) He’s versatile. He’s fast. I can’t see the Union holding on to him, but maybe Portland and Vancouver haven’t scouted him well or (like Peter Nowak) simply don’t value him as highly as fans do. There are other outside midfielders available — Wells Thompson of Colorado, Brian Nielsen of New York, Sanna Nyassi of Seattle — but only Nyassi looks anywhere near as attractive a pick as Salinas. With two expansion teams drafting, as opposed to the usual one, it increases the number of players getting drafted. So Salinas is probably gone, but stranger things have happened.

Still, somehow I had a feeling Salinas would be exposed. When we interviewed assistant coach John Hackworth on KYW’s Philly Soccer Show two weeks ago, I asked him about only one player by name: Salinas. Why? Because you just knew he was the one guy on the bubble that clearly should be kept but might not be. If he goes, I think the Union will regret it. (Skim to the bottom of our expansion draft preview for a prediction there.) The Union could try cutting deals with Portland and Vancouver to pass over him, but that’s difficult to do with two teams in the draft, so don’t expect it.

Other players are unprotected, obviously. Alejandro Moreno could be attractive for his leadership and selfless team play, but two goals from a forward in his 30s may turn Vancouver and Portland away. Likewise, Stefani Miglioranzi is a legitimate starter, but he has more days behind than ahead of him. Fred is likely on the way out of Philadelphia, possibly to Australia or the new player movement draft, which is where players out of contract are made available to other MLS teams. Both goalkeepers were left unprotected, and each could be attractive.

Toni Stahl is on the protected list because the Union were required by MLS rules to protect three of their four international players. Roger Torres and Juan Diego Gonzalez were no-brainers as first two. It was a coin flip between Stahl and Coudet, and honestly, it didn’t matter much which was protected because neither was going to get picked in the draft. Coudet is 36 and coming off an injury, while Stahl was a benchwarmer who drew red cards nearly every time he played. The Union should have tried — and maybe did try — to move them before the draft to clear out that spot so Salinas could be protected. If they had only two internationals, they’d have an additional protected list spot freed up.

When Vancouver and Portland evaluate who to pick, they’re not just picking players against the rest of the league but also against the rosters of each team. Once they take a player from a team, that team can protect one more player. Once a team loses two players, the team’s other players are off limits. No team can lose more than two.

If the Union lose someone other than Jacobson or Salinas first, such as goalkeeper Brad Knighton, they could easily pull one back (more likely Salinas).

But don’t hold your breath.

Big names on other clubs left unprotected

Some other big names made the unprotected list. Here are the ones that strike me as most attractive to the expansion clubs:

  • Dax McCarty, Dallas — Played well enough to make the national team early this year until some injuries marginalized him. Could be the top pick in the draft.
  • Eric Avila, Dallas — The youngster impressed when he played, particularly with a key playoff goal.
  • Anthony Wallace, Colorado — Starting left back for Colorado. Sort of like Jordan Harvey last year. Flourished after coming over in a trade.
  • Troy Perkins, D.C. — Should be the starting goalkeeper for one of the expansion teams. A good player and former U.S. international caught in the D.C. debacle this year.
  • Dominic Oduro, Houston — Super fast, a quality starter at forward who is sure to get picked, unless there’s something we don’t know about his contract.
  • Jimmy Conrad, Kansas City — Smart veteran center back and former international who has anchored Kansas City’s defense for years.
  • Mike Magee, Los Angeles — Versatile, plays hard, can slide from the wing to forward and back again.
  • Josh Saunders, Los Angeles — Young goalkeeper impressed when given time in 2009.
  • Brian Nielsen, New York — The Danish winger got hurt and didn’t play much, but New York had high hopes for him.
  • Geovanni, San Jose — Geovanni was the best designated player signing of the year. If Portland or Vancouver can afford him, they should grab him, but my guess is that he’s unprotected because his contract will chase away others or because he’s already quietly confirmed he won’t be back next year.
  • Tim Ward, San Jose — Solid defender who started for a good team.
  • Joe Cannon, San Jose — The league’s best second-string goalkeeper can start right away.
  • Sanna Nyassi, Seattle — Young, fast winger, he played well this season and should go in the draft.
  • O’Brian White, Toronto — Fast, young but injury-plagued. Attractive to Vancouver because he’s Canadian, and the team must have a certain number of Canadians on the roster.
  • Chad Barrett, Toronto — Decent player, never scored enough goals, but still could draw interest.
  • Julian de Guzman, Toronto — Very good holding midfielder saddled with big expectations due to a fat contract. Like the other designated players, will probably be passed over because of that contract status, although Vancouver could consider him due to his Canadian citizenship.

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