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Expansion draft preview: The Montreal edition

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Another MLS Cup, another expansion draft.

For most clubs around the league, that’s what the year’s final match really means. The day after Sunday’s championship game, MLS teams must submit to the league office the list of eleven players they plan to protect in the Nov. 23 expansion draft.

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Expansion draft rules

  • Each team protects 11 players. If a player’s contract expires, he can still be protected.
  • Montreal will select 10 players.
  • No team can lose more than one player.
  • Generation Adidas and homegrown players are exempt from the draft.
  • Designated players are not exempt and can be exposed in the draft.
  • The Union must protect at least three international players, based on their current roster.

The exempt players

Midfielder Zach Pfeffer and goalkeeper Zac MacMath are the only players pretty much guaranteed to be exempt. Pfeffer is a homegrown teenage player in his first full year on the senior roster, and if those guys start going in expansion drafts, moms around the country are going to get pissed at MLS and keep their kids on high school teams. Meanwhile, MacMath is Generation Adidas and is unlikely to qualify for graduation yet due to his low number of appearances this year.

Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo and Danny Mwanga are the other possibilities, and as of Monday night, the Union had still not learned their fates, according to team spokeswoman Aimee Cicero.

There are very few cases of players remaining GA for more than two years. In fact, there may be only one: former Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz, who played just three matches his first two years.

Mwanga, McInerney and Okugo all surpass that by far.

Mwanga has played in 52 games over two years and should graduate. If he doesn’t, MLS has some explaining to do, since other players have graduated after just one season. Expect the Union to have to protect him.

McInerney has played in 35 games over two seasons, but that’s only translated to 908 minutes on the field. Okugo has played in 26 matches, equaling 1,248 minutes. The Union are likely lobbying for both to remain GA, and they may have a shot, albeit a possibly better one with McInerney than with Okugo due to his slightly younger age and fewer minutes played.

The rules for graduating GA have never been made public, and some (like me) suspect MLS keeps them nebulous to enable exceptions based on individual teams’ situations. The Union are still just a second-year club, which means they’re not yet as secure and stable financially as teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy or Seattle Sounders. That may help the case for Okugo and McInerney.

At least, the Union better hope so, because if not, they might lose one.

The 11 players the Union should protect

You won’t find predictions here on who the Union will protect. Projecting 11 players Union manager Peter Nowak plans to do anything with is like playing the slots in Atlantic City.

So let’s lay out who they should protect and why. Here’s the list:

  1. Sebastien Le Toux – The team’s best attacking threat is one of the league’s best strikers.
  2. Danny Califf – Not just the team’s heart and soul, but also its most authentic public voice and back line anchor. He quietly had a terrific season.
  3. Brian Carroll – Made the back line look great all year. Key to the defense.
  4. Sheanon Williams – One of the league’s best right backs and still just 21 years old.
  5. Michael Farfan – The steal of the 2011 MLS amateur draft is the Union’s best one-on-one player.
  6. Freddy Adu – His price tag could scare off the Impact, but if I’m the Union, I don’t make that bet. His first half-season was unimpressive, but give him a full training camp before passing judgment.
  7. Roger Torres – Torres has earned a starting spot and is a fan favorite. If left unprotected, you can guarantee he’s gone.
  8. Carlos Valdes – Played better in the first half of the season but still helped form the core of the league’s best defense.
  9. Danny Mwanga – The top striker prospect regressed in year two, but injuries and Carlos Ruiz had something to do with that. The Union would be foolish to give up on him.
  10. Gabriel Farfan – Still developing as a left back, but he has the talent to play somewhere on the field. That said, if Okugo and McInerney graduate GA, Garfan could get nudged out, though I’d personally keep him over Okugo.
  11. Jack McInerney/Keon Daniel – This may seem a cop-out, but these guys have variables that aren’t determined yet. If Union Jack graduates GA, then he’s protected. If he doesn’t, then Daniel is up next, but his visa problems could mean he’ll never suit up for the Union again. If the Union have given up on Daniel, then mid-season signing Joe Tait could be a surprise protectee if McInerney graduates. (I could list Okugo here, but you’re unlikely to have a situation in which McInerney graduates GA and Okugo doesn’t.)

The unprotected

  1. Faryd Mondragon
  2. Justin Mapp
  3. Kyle Nakazawa
  4. Stefani Miglioranzi
  5. Veljko Paunovic
  6. Morgan Langley
  7. Ryan Richter
  8. Joe Tait
  9. Thorne Holder
  10. Juan Diego Gonzalez
  11. Levi Houapeu
  12. Chase Harrison
  13. Amobi Okugo (if he graduates GA)

The older guys — unlikely picks

You don’t leave Mondragon and Paunovic unprotected because you want to let them go. It’s basically a calculated risk, placing a bet that Montreal won’t take them.

Mondragon is a 40-year-old goalkeeper in the twilight of his career. While he played well much of the season and proved a terrific leadership presence, his shortcomings as a shot-stopper were also exposed down the stretch. He would make an adequate keeper for a team with a good back line, but for one that might be porous, it could get ugly. Proven keepers like Donovan Ricketts and Zach Thornton will probably be available to Montreal, so there’s little reason to spend a coveted draft pick on a guy likely to retire in a year or two.

As for Paunovic, there’s even less reason to spend a pick on a guy who just came out of retirement, turned down other MLS clubs before signing with the Union, and might choose to retire again instead of uprooting to move to an expansion club.

With Miglioranzi, his difficult season simply didn’t merit protection. He’s unlikely to draw Montreal’s interest, and even if he does, his minutes could be replaced by Okugo.

Two who could go — Justin Mapp and Kyle Nakazawa

If Mapp had two feet, he’d be a regular on the national team. But his right foot is pretty useless. He’s had some great games, but he’s had more where he totally disappears. He’s had enough time to prove what he can do for the Union, and the reality is he’s a decent player who nonetheless is very replaceable. That said, he’s still a solid player who would contribute immediately to an expansion team, and if left unprotected, he’d be a logical pick for Montreal.

As for Nakazawa, there are a lot of things to like about him. He’s young, he hustles, he’s a solid defender, and he’s terrific on free kicks. But he had trouble cracking a crowded midfield lineup after midseason, and he doesn’t appear to be in Nowak’s plans anymore. It’s time for him to move on. He deserves a shot at regular playing time somewhere.

Okugo?!?! F&%$ me!!!

The Union better hope Okugo and/or McInerney don’t graduate GA, because they’re going to have a tough time protecting both.

Look at that protected list above. Those first nine spots are basically non-debatable. (OK, you can argue Adu, but, well, whatever.)

That leaves Garfan and the final spot open. Let’s say all three 2010 GA draft picks graduate GA and require protection. Mwanga has to be protected, and so does McInerney, because there’s no way Montreal passes on them.

So who would you keep: Garfan or Okugo?

Many of you would surely say Okugo, and honestly, it’s almost a coin flip. But you do have to flip that coin, don’t you?

Realistically speaking, Okugo isn’t going to start on this team with Carroll entrenched in front of him. If he does, it creates a weaker Union attack due to the lack of a central playmaker. We’ve seen for two years that, unless they play three legitimate attacking players in the midfield with two forwards (regardless of formation), the Union don’t produce much offensively. Further, Okugo’s skill sets are more common than those Garfan brings to the table. Yes, he’s likely to become a very good defensive midfielder one day, but the U.S. tends to produce more of those than creative players on the flanks.

Garfan is simply a more unique player with a more uncommon skill set. He played out of position most of the year, but if he develops defensively to the point where fullback becomes a position he’s comfortable with, he could become a legitimate national team prospect. He has good attacking instincts, great ball skills, and a fierce temperament that translates well to defense. He might belong in the midfield in the end, but he’s worth taking a chance on. Lastly — and while this shouldn’t be a factor, it’s not unreasonable to consider — letting him leave in the expansion draft could alienate his brother, one of the cornerstones around whom the Union should build their attack.

The other guys

The remaining players on the roster combined for one appearance and 10 minutes of play. It’s unlikely any will be protected, though based on Tait’s body of work in the Premier Development League, he’s the most likely to draw notice from Montreal.

The bottom line

The Union will probably lose someone, and there’s a good chance it’ll be someone good. Everything is contingent upon whether Mwanga, McInerney and Okugo graduate Generation Adidas. If even one of them maintains GA eligibility, then the Union are in a much better position. But if all three graduate GA, the Union have some very difficult decisions to make when crafting a protected roster. In all likelihood, it would come down to choosing between Garfan and Okugo, unless the Union were willing to gamble that Adu’s high salary would chase away Montreal. Any other player on the protected list above would get snatched up by Montreal if made available.

The other big variable could be a trade. Last year, the Union traded for Brian Carroll the day protected rosters were due, and it made Andrew Jacobson expendable and bumped Shea Salinas off the protected list to Vancouver. That narrow trade window will open again this year, and don’t be surprised if Okugo is dangled as trade bait for allocation money if he, McInerney and Mwanga graduate GA. Okugo has trade value and tons of potential, but Carroll’s presence could keep him marginalized. If the Union believe they’ll lose him in the draft, it makes more sense to trade him before that happens.

But then, that would be logical. And this year, no 11-man list of Union players has ever been logical.

What do you think?

Who do you think should be protected? Who did I get wrong and why? Did I miss anything? Post your thoughts and your own protected list below and start the debate.

Also, look for Adam Cann’s post later this week, as he puts PSP’s player ratings to good use with a unique and very different look at the draft. 

26 Comments

  1. Earl Gardner says:

    Can’t Torres not be selected due to the fact that he’s on loan?

  2. Think its too early to speculate…but only players we cant afford to lose are:

    Le Toux
    Williams
    Carroll
    Valdes
    Marfan

    and maybe Califf and Torres…also I imagine nobody on our team REALLY looks mouth watering to the Impact…they do only get 10 picks from 18 teams…8 teams will be in the clear and it could totally be us.

  3. Clearly Torres and Valdes are international players but for some reason I thought Le Toux was not on the list. Wouldn’t that mean the Union need to protect a 3rd international?

    • Does Mwanga count?

      • Yeah, he’s one of the 3 internationals. He’s from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If he stays GA, the Union will have to protect a 3rd international in his place.

      • I thought that Danny’s asylum status was held as more or less the equivalent of a green card in MLS’ eyes and that he did not qualify as an international.

  4. Call me crazy, but I’d rather protect Okugo than Carroll. Yes, Carroll was excellent this year. But Okugo is on his way to being an elite player going both ways. Carroll provides nothing going forward and Okugo can really spray it around.

    • no way. get rid of carroll and he needs to be replaced next year. if okugo goes maybe he’s good eventually but it’s in time for the union to make roster changes to account for his absence.

    • Actually, it’s a pretty intriguing thought. The difference is that Carroll makes them a championship contender next season. Does Okugo, or is he still a year off? That’s the question, whether someone’s willing to sacrifice that. I’d go with Carroll, but it’s a tough choice, because Okugo’s going to be so good.

  5. Yea, Torres is international so he has to be protected, unless they want to protect Gonzalez instead . . .

    Thank you for not putting Mondy & Pauny on that list. They both play(ed) important roles on the team, but it’s so unlikely Montreal will take either due to age. And even if they do choose one of them I’d be more than happy to give them up and keep everyone else. And the rest of my 2 cents: I’d keep Garfan over Okugo. Okugo is still 2nd on the depth chart behind Carroll & Gabe played well as a left back so I’d take my chances with the player who DID provide more. It’s a tough call either way.

  6. garfan over okugo.
    i wouldn’t worry about adu.

  7. Just to make sure I have this correct, it is completely possible for Montreal not to pick any Union players because they can only pick 10 players 1 from each team and there is 18 players in the league.

    Other than that lets hope GA stays in effect for those 3 and I would not change anything from above

    • Correct. Montreal could end up not picking a single Union player. The only way I think that happens is if 1-2 of Mwanga, McInerney and Okugo remain GA. Otherwise, the players exposed are just too good.

  8. I think one of the top priorities is for the Union to find a left back in the offseason. I protect Okugo over Gabe Farfan. He’s only lacking in experience, but has better vision and passing accuracy than Carroll, and is more creative in the holding midfield role. I don’t see Gabe as a starter next year by a long shot.

    • MLS isnt a league with great depth and the Farfans capably played every position but goalkeeper and CB this year. Both are young, domestic, quick, and good on the ball. It would be a mistake to leave either of them exposed IMO.

  9. I wouldn’t protect Freddy. He’s way overated, ia replaceable, and we could use the money that is spent on him elsewhere.

  10. Lump me on the “Expose Carrol, protect Okugo” bandwagon. If we have to make that choice – is there really any other way to go? Carrol is a 30 year old, one dimensional (of course, he does that one dimension GREAT) defensive midfielder. Okugo is (from everything I’ve heard and seen) one of the best American youth prospects right now, has complete two way midfielder potential and actually looks fine (as in, he isn’t completely over matched right now) when he started.
    We’ll definitely lose something for a few months or so as Okugo grows, but for all the bluster coming from this FO about youth and the future and grooming players, I can’t imagine them letting go of a great American prospect like Okugo.

    • The Union used the No. 6 pick in the draft on him and nothing has happened that would suggest he will be anything less than the player he was projected to be, they will not expose him.

  11. I think the Impact will be looking for starters not prospects.

    • okugo can start.

      • Alot of the comments from above seem to suggest that Im not the only one that believes he is more of a prospect than a current starter…

      • He’s been very good of late and was sacrificed when his teammates faltered. His season has also been one of growth and development, rather than mwanga and jack Mac, both of whom have gone backwards. Either way, he is far to valuable to leave unprotected. He is a far more prized commodity than Gabe Farfan

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  13. I’ll be shocked if either Okugo or Jack Mac graduate. Mwanga should and probably will based on playing time and appearances. We will lose a contributor in this draft, no doubt about that, but hopefully its depth over losing a starter.

  14. whoah this blog is excellent i like reading your articles. Stay up the great paintings!

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