2023’s contract status, expansion draft, and free agency

Photo: Stephen Speer

Now that MLS Cup has been played, “offseason things” are beginning to happen. (For complete, official calendar details, click this link.)

  • LAFC and the Philadelphia Union must announce their end-of-season roster moves to the league immediately, and to the general public sooner or later, via the accumulating MLS website article “Roster Updates” among other possibilities.
  • St. Louis’s expansion draft kicks off MLS’s offseason roster building. A two-day trade window closes today, before each team’s protected list is announced tomorrow. The draft occurs on Friday, November 11.
  • Free agency begins Monday November 14, and the list of free agents is made public.

We ignore waivers and the re-entry draft processes because Ernst Tanner has not pursued other MLS players by those means in the past.

The charts and the bullet list below give unofficial estimates of:

  • What the 2023 contract statuses are for the players currently on the first team roster
  • Who will be protected, exempt, and available for the St. Louis CITY expansion draft
  • What 2022 Union players are eligible for free agency
2023 contract status

UNCONFIRMED Contract Status for 2023

Guaranteed (19) Option Out of contract ????
CERTAIN (12) (5) (2) (1)
Blake Freese Bendik Real
Elliott Wagner Turner
Glesnes Flach
Odada Martinez
Aremeyaw Burke

We infer Olivier Mbaizo is guaranteed for 2023 because the Players Association does not list him as a free agent for 2023. According to the rules for free agency, if he were not under contract for 2023, in all other ways he would be eligible for free agency. So he must be under contract for 2023.

The only known information about Matt Real’s contract is salary, guaranteed compensation, and 2022 presence. There was never any announcement from the club, only a Jim Curtin reference in a media availability early in the year that mentioned a new contract but gave no details.

The only Homegrown contract for which we know details beyond salary, guaranteed compensation, and the current season is Jeremy Rafanello’s. We do know the club exercised Cole Turner’s option for 2022, and we are assuming that there was only one option available partly because of the numbers currently present in the position.

All reputable reporting indicates that Paxten Aaronson has a deal in place to move to Eintracht Frankfurt and that he is reporting for his medical in Germany this week.

Expansion draft

The Union did not have a player claimed by Charlotte last year so they are vulnerable to St. Louis’s selecting someone.  A vulnerable club may lose only one player. (See link for the full expansion draft rules.)

The twelve in the left-most two columns are the players we think the club may protect from selection. All Homegrowns 25 years old and under remain exempt (center two columns). Our best guesses of the available players are on the right.

The difficult choice is between promising new defensive midfielder Richard Odada and established, important, older reserve striker Cory Burke. We chose Odada even though his roster asset value is lower because Burke’s age limits his ceiling. Odada’s ceiling seems potentially higher.  Also he plays the position most difficult to find for the Union’s system, namely a single two-way defensive midfielder. Further influencing our judgment not to protect Burke is the pipeline’s unprecedented depth at striker behind him (professionals Chris Donovan, Stefan Stojanovic, Jose Riasco, Nelson Pierre, & amateur Marcos Zambrano) although none of these are yet Burke’s equal.

  Protected Exempt – HG 9/15/22 Available
1 Andre Blake GC Matt Freese 24.0 Joe Bendik (GK)
2 Kai Wagner GC Matt Real 23.2
3 Jack Elliott GC Brandan Craig 18.4 Gino Portella (LCB)
4 Jakob Glesnes GC Nathan Harriel 21.4 Abasa Aremeyaw (CB)
5 Olivier Mbaizo GC Cole Turner 21.4
6 Jose Martinez INTL Jack McGlynn 19.2 Jesus Bueno (DM)
7 Leon Flach US Quinn Sullivan 18.5
8 Alejandro Bedoya US Paxton Aaronson 19.0
9 Daniel Gazdag INTL Jeremy Rafanello 22.4
10 Julian Carranza GC Frank Westfield 16.8
11 Mikael Uhre INTL Marcos Zambrano 17.6 Cory Burke (S)
12 Richard Odada INTL Bajung Darboe 15.9 Chris Donovan (S)
  • Abasa Aremeyaw has finally arrived but is unproven in North America.
  • Gino Portella is also unproven in North America, and injury prone.
  • Joe Bendik is 33 and the number  three keeper.
  • Cory Burke is 30, the third striker, and has five (!) younger strikers behind him.
  • Chris Donovan is the fourth striker.

St. Louis could select either Burke or Donovan, not both.

Free agents 

Here are the Union players who are eligible for free agency according to the players association. (See this link for full free agency rules.)

  • Joe Bendik
  • Cory Burke, but only if his 2023 option is declined

Alejandro Bedoya’s contract extension, announced in September, removed him from eligibility.


  1. Vince Devine says:

    One thing that may influence who is left available in the expansion draft is international status. it’s been reported that STL already have 8 internationals on the roster, so it’s unlikely they’ll be selecting more in the draft. This could influence whether Burke is protected and Odada unprotected.

    • The union have to protect four internationals as I understand the rules, which the list above does.
      Were Tanner running St. Louis, he would acquire the players he wanted without regard to how many were internationals, and then buy the needed extra slots for them.
      What St. Louis’s approach may be we have no idea, of course.

      • Vince Devine says:

        Not to be argumentative but last years expansion draft rules required teams to protect 3 int’l players (if they had 4 or more). But my original point was that with all their int’l roster spots full, it would be unlikely they’d draft another since these spots are increasingly difficult to obtain as evidenced by the increasing cost for one.

      • Remember that expansion sides get an extra tranche of GAM noticeably above and beyond the annual allocation given each team.

  2. Welp…it’s both Burke and Odada.
    “Protected from selection are the following players: Andre Blake, Cory Burke, Julian Carranza, Jack Elliott, Leon Flach, Daniel Gazdag, Jakob Glesnes, Jose Martinez, Olivier Mbaizo, Richard Odada, Mikael Uhre, and Kai Wagner.”

    • The Bedoya omission is a surprise, but you’d have to assume there’s some sort of agreement in place for St Louis to lay off, if they’d otherwise be interested at his salary/age. He needs to finish his career in Philly, with a cup.

      • Hopefully there is.
        Otherwise the lure of a captain-level presence from another team when they are flush with Garber funny-money might be too much to pass up, in spite of his age.

      • Scott of Nazareth says:

        At a guess, age and recent injury concern would make him an unlikely choice in an expansion draft.

  3. I guessed Bedoya would be exposed last year, and out of respect, I guess, he was not.
    So I assumed the same for this year. My error. Apologies.

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