With the expansion draft but a day away as I write this, the Union presented their protected/exposed players for the world to read, mock and generally over-evaluate. Since I'm not one to back down from a challenge I decided to do my own evaluations of each of the Philadelphia Union's exposed players and who might get taken by whom. For the purposes of this article I won't be doing an evaluation as to the Generation Adidas players (Andre Blake) or the Homegrown Players (Zach Pfeffer & Jimmy McLaughlin) because the Union didn't need to have a strategy as to their being protected.
Maurice Edu - Pretty much a sign to me that one of two things are going to happen on the Maurice Edu front -either the Union are going to keep him (using allocation money from the Okugo trade for example to buy down his salary hit), or they just wanted to retain his rights in case he does return to MLS if they are unable to sign him. The first option makes sense given that Edu had a physicality that was sorely lacking in many other Union players during the season. That being said, if the Union fail to buy Edu or extend his loan, the second option is much riskier because if Edu does leave Stoke City, there's no guarantee he ever comes back to MLS. He could very well go to an English Championship club or another European club, which means that the Union may never see any benefit from protecting Edu.
Fabinho - The most controversial protection of the entire roster. Fabinho is a divisive figure, and honestly the reason I feel the Union protected him is that beyond Fabinho they don't really have many other options at left back. Would Fabinho have been selected? Probably not. The guy will turn 30 in March of next year, and he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire with his play on defense. The Union, however obviously felt that they didn't want to risk losing him and for better or worse he is protected.
Sebastien Le Toux - Not a surprise. Le Toux is the face of the franchise, and at this point if the Union lost him AGAIN the fan base may very well have rioted.
Cristian Maidana - The 27 year old Argentine midfielder had some ups and downs during the season, but showed that he was a player worth protecting. His team leading eleven assists certainly helped with that decision. Hopefully he'll continue to develop into the creative play maker the Union need in 2015.
Vincent Nogueira - Arguably the Union's greatest off-season acquisition prior to the 2014 season, Nogueira showed a skill and craftiness with the ball that few - if any - players on this team has ever possessed. Protecting him was a no-brainer before the season was even over.
CJ Sapong - The Union's newest acquisition. Obviously they HAD to protect him given the fact that they desperately need someone who can put the ball into the back of the net. Sapong should hopefully aid a Union attack that at times was anemic in the latter half of the season. He also fills the void that Conor Casey's departure has created.
Carlos Valdes - Sometimes perhaps a bit controversial, Valdes was also not a surprise to be protected given his pedigree and the fact that the Union had so much drama surrounding whether or not he would return to the team. Losing him would only enrage the fan base after what the Union had to endure to get him back here.
Andrew Wenger - Boy, what a change of scenery can do for someone. The former First Pick of the 2012 SuperDraft, in his partial season with the Union Wenger matched his goal total and beat his assist total over the past three years combined with the Montreal Impact. Wenger seemed to get better as he gelled with his Union teammates, and quickly developed into a pretty damned good winger with the team. If there had been some more Union players in the box when he served the ball in, his assist total would probably be even higher. While sometimes his misses made you slap your own head, you have to be excited to see how Wenger does in the upcoming season with a full off-season and preseason under his belt with the team.
Sheanon Williams - Arguably beaten for the starting right back spot by Ray Gaddis (more on him later), Williams is also young, turning 25 in March. If he had been left exposed, he would more than likely been taken by Orlando City SC or New York City FC. And unlike Gaddis, Williams can be used at center back in a pinch, which if Valdes is called up to the Colombian National Team for the 2015 Copa America means that at the very least he will be a defensive depth option for the team.
Ethan White - An unfortunate early season casualty of the John Hackworth era (seriously, Aaron Wheeler at center back?) White was able to show that he deserved to be considered a consistent starter. I personally liked White - he was solid at what he did, and hopefully he can continue to develop chemistry with Valdes at center back.
Raymon Gaddis - Let's get something out of the way here - Ray Gaddis quietly developed into one of the most solid right backs in MLS last season. A speedy kid out of the University of West Virginia, Gaddis was given the chance to start last season and pretty much took it with both hands, starting in every Union game either as a right- or left back. Gaddis became more than just some "speedy right back" and showed an ability to shut down players. His athleticism also allowed him to track back and close down breakaways. Gaddis earned respect from many fans, and pushed consistent right back starter Sheanon Williams out of the role as well. Gaddis was always going to be a lock to be protected and I'm glad he was.
Now...it's time for those whom the Union didn't want.
Austin Berry - This is one that you may or may not agree with. Berry saw time at center back for the team during last season, however he didn't exactly do a great deal to prove he deserved to continue to start for the team. Carlos Valdes' return as well as Ethan White's ascension to the starting role means Berry was always going to be deemed surplus. At 26 Berry is in his prime, and Orlando or New York may decide that his 2012 Rookie of the Year performance was something that could be repeated and take him.
Brian Brown - Given that his option wasn't picked up, Brown's exposure is not surprising. While Brown had two goals he also had some maddening misses during the season. While I could see the team possibly bringing him back on loan as a sub option, he is in no danger to be picked.
Corben Bone - In thirteen minutes of playing time with the Union, Bone had one yellow card and one red card. You tell me why he wasn't protected.
Fred - Fred turned 35 in August, and while he is what some might call a "crafty veteran", he is obviously surplus to the Union's plans.
Brian Carroll - The former Union captain personifies what many are calling an "old school" MLS defensive midfielder. When Caroll does his job you don't really notice, him but when he makes a mistake it is huge. Carroll isn't useful in the attack, which in more "modern" MLS play the defensive midfielder needs to be up in the attack (like Maurice Edu or Amobi Okugo). There was always speculation that Carroll wanted to return to D.C. United or Columbus. With his contract not being renewed by the Union, if he's not selected in the Expansion Draft that may come to fruition.
Conor Casey - While Conor Casey showed he could still score some goals, he also showed a complete inability to go for a full 90 minutes in 2014. Given his salary was nearly $200,000 this past season, that simply wasn't worth the money he was making.
Danny Cruz - The "Cruz missile" is another divisive figure for Union fans. Some love his all out hustle and speed, while others hate his seeming lack of skill with the ball. Personally, I've always been worried that Cruz is one face plant away from a serious injury. Guys of his ilk can get hurt all too easily, and once they lose that speed they are never the same again. Cruz has always been a decent sub guy to me. His speed in the latter stages of a game is perfect for tired opponents, but I do get a little crazy with how much he seems to fall over.
Antoine Hoppenot - Hoppenot is simply not good enough for an MLS roster. I could see him latching onto a USL PRO or NASL team, but there is really no way he should be wearing Union colors come opening day in 2015.
Michael Lahoud - Lahoud is a tough one here. I actually think him to be a decent option at defensive midfielder, and with Okugo gone (and Edu's status still not known) the Union could potentially be out of defensive midfielders if Lahoud is taken. I also feel that between Fabinho and Lahoud, I would have protected Lahoud, who is also relatively cheap (he made $102,000 in 2014).
Rais M'Bolhi - I won't post some of the comments I've seen about leaving M'Bolhi exposed because we try to maintain an image of "family friendly" here on the Brotherly Game. M'Bolhi is probably the most argument-inducing player that has come to the Union in a long, LONG time. It was M'Bolhi who gave away the three points in the October 2 game against the Chicago Fire that all but sealed the Union's doomed playoff fortunes. M'Bolhi also earned $240,000 last year which puts him at fifth among MLS goal keepers - and is reported to be making Designated Player money next year. When you pay someone that kind of money, they simply CAN'T commit that kind of error that M'Bolhi did. If M'Bolhi isn't selected (which we'll get to) he HAS to be the guy to win games for the Union by shutting out one on one breaks with the team as well as making some insane acrobatic stops.
Zac MacMath - The 23 year old MacMath was believed to have been unfairly shoved aside for M'Bolhi during the season. To his credit, MacMath handled it well and given the fact that M'Bolhi seemed to be away more than here, MacMath continued to get starts. He still made an occasional gaffe here and there but it was believed that he showed a better presence in net. Given that he is from Florida, rumors persist that he could be a target for Orlando.
Leo Fernandes - Early in the season Fernandes seemed to be becoming a good young player in the making and then... I have no idea what happened. Fernandes suddenly dropped off and failed to make much of an impact in games after that.
Richard Marquez - This was a controversial move if you know the fringe Union players like some people do (excuse me whilst I put on my monocle and sip my brandy), Marquez for all intents and purposes was a solid center back for the Harrisburg City Islanders, and many were clamoring for him to be given a shot with the Union during the latter half of the season when it was becoming clear the Union weren't going to be a playoff team. Marquez was no doubt heavily seen and scouted by Orlando, since they played against Marquez and Harrisburg during the season. However, Marquez suffers from the fact that ahead of him are Valdes and White, which at best would limit him to a depth option as of right now.
Pedro Ribeiro - Another player some were angry was left exposed, it should be noted that Pedro apparently did well as a defender for Harrisburg when he was on loan. He is of course an attacking player, so hs time with the Union was...ok. Ribeiro - despite being 6'4 and just over 200 pounds - showed little ability to play physically. If he stays with the Union, then I'm hoping he puts on some more muscle in the off-season and can start beating out opposing players on the ball.
Aaron Wheeler - A relic of the Hackworth era, Wheeler was unfortunately never given a shot to play forward under Jim Curtin, where I felt he would have been better used. It's not surprising that Wheeler was exposed.
So now that we've gone down each player, let's look at who could potentially be taken by Orlando or New York. MLS expansion drafts have a history of "gentleman's agreements", where teams make trades with the understanding that the expansion team won't select any of the existing team's players. With Orlando getting Okugo for a second round draft pick and some allocation money, there is some talk going around that the Union also wrangled a promise from Orlando to be "hands off" their players. Whether this is true or not is anyone's guess, so we'll cover both possibilities.
For me personally the following players are in "danger" of being picked by New York or Orlando.
I don't believe M'Bolhi is in danger given his salary and international status. First of all Orlando HAS a starting goalkeeper in Tally Hall, who while only 29 years old is coming off a knee injury. It is doubtful that Orlando will be going after anything other than a backup goalkeeper at this point. New York in my opinion is more of the wild card. Josh Saunders is 33 and has suffered from substance abuse in the past, so he is more of the unknown quality at this point. Ribeiro, Marquez, Lahoud and Berry are all younger options at various positions. Here is who I think could be taken by each team.
With a "Gentleman's Agreement"
New York: Berry, Lahoud, MacMath
Orlando: No One
Berry to me seems like a guy who would do well when paired with an experienced center back that can help cover some of his mistakes. Lahoud is a cheap option at defensive midfielder who could do well if given a chance to prove himself. MacMath is a young goalkeeper that under the guiding hand of Jason Kreis could develop into an excellent keeper similar to Nick Rimando.
Without a "Gentleman's Agreement"
New York: Berry, Lahoud, MacMath
Orlando: Marquez, Ribeiro, MacMath
MacMath is the ultimate wildcard in this. Given his age and his non international status, he HAS to be on the radar of both Orlando and New York. Marquez would certainly be of interest to Orlando, since they did get a very good look at him during the USL PRO season. Ribeiro is a Brazilian prospect, who Orlando might want to get to allow him to learn under Kaka, possibly developing him into a deadly attacking midfielder/forward.
Now I might be wrong about any of the players possibly selected, however the Union will NOT lose both M'Bolhi and MacMath. Even if by some outside chance M'Bolhi (or any other player for that matter) is selected, the Union would get another "protected" pick and no doubt will use it to protect the goalkeeper not taken.
One thing is for sure, it's gonna be one hell of a draft.
What about your thoughts? Who do you think is in danger of being taken? Let us know in the comments section below!