What players should the Union protect for the upcoming expansion draft?
This started as a comment in response to my Brother’s article about the Expansion Draft. Then while writing, I realized that it had grown far too long for a comment and I decided to just submit it as a fan-post instead. Anyway, these are my incredibly long-winded thoughts about who The Union should protect in the Expansion Draft.
Let’s go ahead and get the most obvious players out of the way first. There is no question about protecting Vincent Nogueira, Cristian Maidana, Sebastien Le Toux, Raymon Gaddis, and Sheanon Williams. If you disagree with me, I’d like to know what team you have been watching all season. Those five guys played a huge role in what little success the Union had in 2014. They are without a doubt some of best players on the team. There are dozens of articles you can find on this site that list the many, many qualities of these five players. These are the no-brainers, of course we protect them.
The sixth slightly less obvious (but still pretty obvious) choice is Carlos Valdes. He didn’t make the impact we’d all hoped he would after coming back from loan at the end of the season, but we can hardly blame him for that. An offseason and some time to gel with his new teammates will be just the thing for Valdes. He’ll start 2015 off on the right foot and be the defender we all remember. He’s clearly worth protecting, and I’d be pretty surprised if many people disagreed with me.
There are two other players that I think should definitely be part of the team in the future, but will require some extra work from the front Office beyond simply selecting them for protection:
1) Amobi Okugo - Given his performance this season and the fact that he's the only remaining Union original, Okugo belongs on the list with the first five players I mentioned. He is invaluable to this team. Unfortunately, his contract is expiring this year and he's made it pretty clear he'd like to play in Europe if the right offer comes along. I can respect that, but I think Okugo should be a part of this club for as long as they can hold onto him. Unless he gets a stellar offer from a European club, the Union front office should pay him what he wants and keep him around. He's young, versatile, and he's only going to get better. This team might have an excess of central defensive midfielders right now, but I don't care. Amobi is the man. I had dinner with him at Hibachi one time (true story) and he's just as cool a dude as you can imagine. Sign him to as long a contract as possible and protect him in the expansion draft.
2) Maurice Edu - Edu is another player that I believe ranks among the best on the team. If you haven't yet, go watch the videos of him Mic'd up and you'll see what I mean. The guy is obviously a leader on the field, and that is a huge asset in my opinion. The only trouble is that Edu is in Philadelphia on loan from Stoke City, and unless we can figure out a contract deal, he'll go back there and most likely ride the bench. We should do whatever we can to get Edu out of Europe permanently and playing in Motown Philly where he belongs. It's worth noting that I have no idea what the rules are in regards to players on loan and the expansion draft, and after poking around on the internet no one else seems to have any idea either. The Union might be able to work something out where they don't sign him to a long-term contract until AFTER the expansion draft and therefore avoid having to use a slot to protect him. I'm a pessimist though, so I'm assuming that won't be the case. The Union should absolutely sign Edu long-term and once they do he'll be worth protecting.
Okay, those are the easy ones. After this it gets a little bit trickier. We’ve got three slots left and the way I’ve see it there are eight players that are worth consideration. Let me go into a little more detail about each player and why I think they might be worth protecting.
In no particular order...
1) Andrew Wenger - He's a young, attacking-minded weapon who's got the hustle to get back on defense. He's got good size and a great attitude. The only issue with Wenger is he seems to overthink his game sometimes. If he can gain confidence as he gains experience he'll be a big threat in years to come. He's definitely a guy worth protecting as long as he fits into the system you're looking at for the future.
2) Conor Casey - When Casey is in form he's the kind of forward other teams dread playing against, but he is aging. He might still have a few miles in him, but he can't play 90 minutes and he can't stay in form for a full season. I have trouble getting a read on Casey, myself. I can't tell if he's committed to the team or not. Sometimes it seems like he's got some fire left, sometimes he seems like an old man who just doesn't give a shit anymore. I hope our management has a better read on which way he leans.
3) Rais M'Bohli - Listen, I know a lot of people are pissed off about this whole keeper situation, I certainly am. But let's try to step back and look at this without any emotion for a second. The Union just spent a lot of money on a world class keeper. Was that blunder in the Chicago game the worst piece of goalkeeping we've seen all season? Yes, but there's just no way the team is going to make a big splash by going out and getting a big name keeper only to let him go in the Expansion Draft because of one mis-hit clearance. You can't judge a player based on one mistake. The only reason not to protect him is if we feel 100% confident that no one else will want him. It would be beyond embarrassing for the organization if another team swoops in and steals are newly acquired keeper before he's started more than five games. Orlando signed Tally Hall, and I don't know what NYCFC has done on the keeper side (Editor's note: NYCFC currently has eleven-year vet Josh Saunders out on loan to San Antonio), but unless we can be certain that neither of those teams want to take on a keeper with a big contract we have to protect M'Bohli.
4) Zac MacMath - What can I say about Zac that hasn't been said a thousand times? The kid keeps getting better year after year. He's got a ton of MLS experience for a kid as young as he is and as we all know, keepers just get better with age. We do however know that the team is committed to Rais, so why would we bother protecting Zac? The problem arises when we take into account the fact that Rais is going to be called up to his national team. A lot. He's the starting keeper for Algeria, and unless I miss my guess, there's no way he's going to turn down an international call up to play for Philly. The other back-up, supposed Jamaican phenom Andre Blake, is also going to be called away on international duty for his national team. Where does that leave the U? Either they try to keep MacMath or they have to be the kind of jerks who force a young kid not to play for his country. I'd rather they not be those kind of jerks, but it may be unavoidable. The other reason to protect him is if we believe that MacMath has some trade value. If we have to get rid of him, we might as well try to get something in return.
5) Ethan White - Man, if you had told me in February that I'd want to protect Ethan White in the expansion draft I'd have laughed in your face. Sigh... but here we are. Soccer is a funny game, and Ethan White has earned a place in my heart. He's not the best center back on the team (he may not even be top three if you include Okugo and Edu), his ball distribution needs work, and he's not as tall as I'd like, but for all that he's a solid player. You can't have all stars at every position - sometimes you just need a guy who's gonna go out there and do his job well. Aside from that, what our team is sorely lacking is depth. Having another stalwart defender on our roster is something I will never complain about.
6) Danny Cruz – Man, if you had told me in February I’d want to protect Danny Cruz… wait, did I do this one already? Crap. Seriously though, Cruz has turned over a new leaf. He’s still got a heavy touch and he needs to keep his mouth shut on the field, but he’s been much better this season than last. Cruz is a player who, if left unprotected, I would be really surprised if he didn’t get picked. He’s got a lot of hustle and I think he can make a huge impact for a team coming on as sub.
7) Pedro Ribeiro – I must confess, I really like tall players. I know that size doesn’t matter as much in soccer as it does in other sports (one only need to look at Messi to know that), but dammit I just love seeing big guys push around little guys on the field. At 6’4" Ribeiro fits the bill. I love the idea of a big central attacking midfielder coming in and using his body to push around the little guys that usually dominate the middle of the pitch. Speed is a concern, but with big long legs you can sometimes make up for a lack of quickness. I think it’ll be a few years before he’s ready to be a starter, but Ribeiro has a future in the MLS. I want to see this kid develop and find his place on the team. The only reason not to protect him is if we feel confident that Orlando and NYCFC aren’t interested. He might just have played well enough at the end of the season to raise a few eyebrows. It would suck to see someone who might be a future star on the team pulled away from us before he had the chance to shine.
8) Brian Brown – Similar to Ribeiro, Brown is young and needs time to develop, but I think he’s got a goal scorer’s instinct, and he’s got some speed to go with it. He scored twice against Sporting Kansas City, and that has endeared him to me. This team is sorely in need of attacking depth, so they should be loath to give up one of the only natural forwards they’ve got. Again, the only reason not to protect him is if you firmly believe that other teams won’t be interested. Brown scoring two goals against the reigning MLS champs should be enough to get everyone’s attention, but it’s hard to say if it will be enough to warrant selection in the expansion draft.
I think the Union have some pretty tough choices ahead of them. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to pick the last three spots… why? Why would you do that? It’s just a soccer team, please don’t threaten to shoot me over an expansion draft you madman!
Okay, fine, if I must pick I’d probably select Andrew Wenger, Rais M’Bohli, and Zac MacMath, but honestly this decision changes several times a day depending on my mood.
Think you know better than some guy on the internet with no legitimate experience analyzing or playing soccer? You probably do. Leave your thoughts in the comments.