Special To BrotherlyGame.com
So this is it, folks. By this time next week, a player (or two) from the Union's inaugural season might not be around to enjoy Round 2.
That's the reality of Major League Soccer's expansion draft, slated for Wednesday, Nov. 24. The 16 MLS clubs must furnish Vancouver and Portland, the league's incoming sides, with a list of their unprotected players by Nov. 22 - two days prior to the draft.
The Union can protect as many as 11 players from the expansion draft list. However, there are a couple of rules to consider here:
* Any player with Generation Adidas status is safe, so Danny Mwanga, Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney are in the clear. Though, it is possible Chris Seitz will have earned enough MLS experience/minutes to have graduated GA, making him unlikely to retain his GA status. (More on that if I hear anything down the road.)
* The Union have four players with international status, in Roger Torres, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Toni Stahl and Eduardo Coudet. League rules stipulate that teams more than three international players must protect at least three of their international players. (Assistant coach John Hackworth has said recently that the club is trying to keep Torres on loan through next season ... so draw your own conclusions.)
* No team can lose more than two players in the draft.
I'm not going to bore you with rules upon rules upon rules. The fact is the Union have to protect 11 guys. You can count on them locking down Sebastien Le Toux. Beyond him, who else deserves a coveted spot on this list? The potential combinations are endless.
From my point of view, there are three players not named Le Toux who the Union must protect from the grips of Vancouver and Portland ... and the names (or reasons for doing so) might surprise you:
1. Brad Knighton, GK. The Union's training staff all but acknowledged late in the year that Knighton was a marked improvement between the pipes, after having removed Seitz from the starting lineup. While neither is going to light the world afire, Knighton is the keeper with the most potential. His numbers merit a second chance, one in which he starts from the beginning of the year and on. He went 3-3-1 with 2 SO and a 1.10 GAA in 8 starts - five of which were against teams that qualified for MLS Cup Playoffs. I spoke with team manager Peter Nowak briefly this week, and he assured me that both Knighton and Seitz will get the same workload during preseason, which means the training staff is convinced both are worth keeping around. But Knighton is the guy to hold onto more tightly.
2. Justin Mapp, MF. How often do you fall into a 26-year-old, nine-year veteran who once made MLS' Best XI? And for only allocation money, no less? Forget how the Union acquired him. Consider why they kept him in the starting XI ... and why they must keep him there in 2011. His touch from the left side was dynamite. And all of the sudden, the Union's less-than-mobile attack that featured Alejandro Moreno and Stefani Miglioranzi was able to do more than simply hold and possess; it was able to strike. In 15 appearances, Mapp tallied once and chipped in with four assists. His symmetry with Le Toux was palpable and it's worth cultivating. Union fans have to salivate while thinking about the offensive potential of Mapp, Mwanga and Le Toux over the course of a full season together.
3. Sheanon Williams, D. Among my three selections for spots on the Union's ‘must protect' list, this is the one that likely will draw the most ire. The defensive alignment was the Union's weakness this year. Only one team allowed more goals than they did. So why protect Williams, a guy who made only eight appearances? For three reasons: His ability to stretch the field on the wing with speed and his left-footed touch was a plus. His sideline throw-ins were a built-in perk to an offense that had struggled at times. And, with Williams, the Union posted a pair of shutouts. Maybe they came as a result of Knighton moving into the net. Maybe the defensive backline only got better with time. Who knows. One thing is for sure: Williams gave the Union a consistent defensive lift and he's worth protecting.
To contact Christopher A. Vito, of the Delaware County Daily Times, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, @ChrisVito.