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The Expansion Draft Cometh: Defenders Edition

by on 16 November 2016

This week and the next, we’ll be taking a look at who Minnesota might take in the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft. The Loons will get five selections of players left unprotected by the other twenty teams in the league. Atlanta will also get five selections, and they have the first pick.

To start this series, we’ll be looking into the defensive options. Prior to this series, four 55.1 writers made lists of the players on every team that we’d protect if we were that team. Looking at our selections in aggregate should give a good sense of which players are likely to be available.

Likely Unprotected:

Listed below, in team alphabetical order, are the defenders who were not protected by any of our writers. Bolded players are on my list of targets:

Michael Harrington (CHI), Eric Gehrig (CHI), Tyson Wahl (CLB), Corey Ashe (CLB), Joseph Greenspan (COL), Bobby Burling (COL), Dennis Castillo (COL), Kofi Opare (DCU), Chris Korb (DCU), Luke Mishu (DCU), Aubrey David (DCU), Maynor Figueroa (FCD), Jalil Anibaba (HOU), Agus (HOU), Kevin Garcia (HOU), Abdoulie Mansally (HOU), Leonardo (LAG), Daniel Steres (LAG), Amadou Dia (MTL), Donny Toia (MTL),  Kyle Fisher (MTL), Jordan McCrary (NER), Je-Vaughn Watson (NER), Darrius Barnes (NER), Donnie Smith (NER), Ethan White (NYC), Maxime Chanot (NYC), Connor Brandt (NYC), Ronald Zubar (NY), Chris Duvall (NY), Justin Bilyeu (NY), Aurélien Collin (NY), Karl Ouimette (NY), Kevin Alston (ORL), David Mateos (ORL), Taylor Washington (PHL), Ken Tribbett (PHL), Ray Gaddis (PHL), Jermaine Taylor (POR), Gbenga Arokoyo (POR), Nat Borchers (POR), Amobi Okugo (POR), Taylor Peay (POR), Chris Klute (POR), Demar Phillips (RSL), Chris Schuler (RSL), Jordan Stewart (SJ), Andrés Imperiale (SJ), Dylan Remick (SEA), Tony Alfaro (SEA), Oniel Fisher (SEA), Jimmy Ockford (SEA), Damion Lowe (SEA), Chance Myers (SKC), Ever Alvarado (SKC), Nick Hagglund (TFC), Diego Martinez (NYC), Eriq Zavaleta (TFC), Josh Williams (TFC), Mark Bloom (TFC), Cole Seiler (VAN), David Edgar (VAN), Marcel De Jong (VAN), Brett Levis (VAN)

Possibly Unprotected:

Listed below, in team alphabetical order, are the defenders who were protected by not all of our writers. Bolded players are on my list of targets:

Waylon Francis (CLB), Nicolai Næss (CLB), Gaston Sauro (CLB), Marc Burch (COL), Sean St. Ledger (COL), Sean Franklin (DC), Zach Loyd (FCD), DeMarcus Beasley (HOU), David Horst (HOU), Sheanon Williams (HOU), Ashley Cole (LAG), Dave Romney (LAG), Hassoun Camara (MTL), Victor Cabrera (MTL), Jason Hernandez (NYC), R. J. Allen (NYC), Andoni Iraola (NYC), Connor Lade (NY), Kemar Lawrence (NY), Luke Boden (ORL), Brek Shea (ORL), Vytautas Andriuškevičius (POR), Steven Taylor (POR), Jámison Olave (RSL), Aaron Maund (RSL), Víctor Bernárdez (SJ), Clarence Goodson (SJ), Tyrone Mears (SEA), Ike Opara (SKC), Kevin Ellis (SKC), Nuno André Coelho (SKC), Seth Sinovic (SKC), Kendall Waston (VAN), Sam Adekugbe (VAN)

Analysis:

As friend of the site Bruce McGuire will tell you (if you give him the chance), expansion teams in MLS need to get the defense right. It’s much, much harder than it looks. In 2015, NYCFC and Orlando ranked in the bottom four teams in the league in goals allowed. In 2016, both teams still ranked in the bottom four teams in the league in goals allowed. Just ask Toronto fans about how an expansion club can get the defense wrong (and keep getting it wrong) for years and years.

It’s for that reason that I’m a huge proponent of Minnesota using the expansion draft to draft defenders. Maybe not with all five picks, but how about with three? It won’t thrill the home faithful, but we’ll all appreciate an iron skillet-free backline come March. The expansion draft is the best possible time to stock up on proven MLS talent in a critical and often overlooked position.

Here’s who I’m targeting:

Nick Hagglund (TFC, USA, 24)

Hagglund had a poor 2015 season, but has been excellent for Toronto this year. However, all of our writers left the American unprotected. The problem for the Reds is how much talent they have. As good as Hagglund has been, defenders Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour are more likely to be ruled out, and TFC may leave it up to Atlanta and Minnesota to decide whether to scoop Hagglund or his defensive partner Eriq Zavaleta. I like Zavaleta too, but I prefer Hagglund.  Although only 6’1”, he is among the league’s most dominant defenders in the air and a decent distributor on the ground. He’s also only 24, which means he’s at the league minimum, and could be a building block for the Loons for years to come.

Ike Opara (SKC, USA, 27)
Kevin Ellis (SKC, USA, 25)
Nuno André Coelho (SKC, Portugal, 30)

Every writer left at least one of these three Sporting Kansas City defenders available, but each were also protected by at least one other writer. The Sporks struggled to find playing time for these three and Matt Besler this year, and so it makes sense that at least one of this impressive group will make their way into the expansion draft. Of the three, I think Opara is the best defender, but he’s also a serious injury risk. This past year was his first healthy season in a long time. Ellis, a KC native and former homegrown player, is the cheapest, youngest, and maybe the worst of the group, though he’d still be a good selection. Coelho is reasonably expensive, at $275,000, and 30 years old. But he showed himself to be a good player this year and brings global experience. I’d be happy to have any of these three head north to Minnesota.

Waylon Francis (CLB, Costa Rica, 26)
Nicolai Næss (CLB, Norway, 23)
Gaston Sauro (CLB, Argentina, 26)

Quite similar to the situation in Kansas City, Columbus have three enticing defenders and are not likely to protect them all. The problem with the Crew’s offerings is logistical, all three possible options are internationals, at least two of the three are expensive, and the whole unit played poorly this year. Francis was recognized as among the league’s better fullbacks not too long ago, but his star has been eclipsed a bit after the Crew’s dreadful year. He makes $200,000. Næss is a smaller center back who likely comes cheaper and is young. He was the first choice for The Massive after he was signed midseason. Sauro is an imposing Argentine, and he has the best pedigree of the bunch. But he spent much of the past year injured, and he earns an incredible $585,000. It’s a bit difficult to say exactly how the deep and talented Crew will react after their inexplicably poor year. But the Loons are bound to get a shot at some good defensive options from this club.

Ray Gaddis (PHL, USA, 26)

There may not be a player in MLS who went from essential to expendable so quickly as right back Ray Gaddis did this past year for the Union. The literal face of the franchise (he appeared on the Union-specific cover of FIFA 15), Gaddis signed a new contract last offseason, and was promptly beaten for his spot by the excellent rookie Keegan Rosenberry, who went on to play every minute of the 2016 season. That means that Gaddis is likely to be available in the draft, and that he’s still likely to be the player who played 110 games for Philly from 2012 to 2015. Gaddis makes $150,000 and doesn’t take up an international spot. He’d be a shrewd addition. (I like Connor Lade, a similar type of player, as well).

Clarence Goodson (SJ, USA, 34)
Jason Hernandez (NYCFC, Puerto Rico, 33)
Maynor Figueroa (FCD, Honduras, 33)

These three veterans all were left unprotected by several writers. While their ages are eye-catching, each may still have something left and could be valuable mentors for the Loons’ fledgling defense. Goodson is the biggest risk. The occasional US international played just two games this year thanks to a serious injury (herniated disk). He also makes $315,000. If the Loons could get someone of his experience and leadership for a cheaper sum, it could be a good investment. Hernandez has been NYCFC’s best defender, which isn’t saying a lot. But the MLS veteran is a seasoned competitor who never quits, and earns a reasonable $200,000. He was picked by the Pigeons in the last expansion draft, funny enough. Finally, Figueroa didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in the MLS Cup Playoffs, but the Premier League veteran was solid for Dallas all year. He earns just $115,000, which is startlingly low.

Others:

There will be no shortage of experienced defenders available. Aurélien Collin (NY) is perpetually moving teams, but he’s a good (albeit expensive) defender. There’s also stalwarts like Bobby Burling (COL), Zach Loyd (FCD), and Corey Ashe (CLB), as well as decent mid-career guys like Kofi Opare (DCU), and Aaron Maund (RSL). These are options who I’d be pleased to see on the team, but I don’t prefer them over the other likely choices.

Mock Draft:

After selecting protected players, all of our participating writers made lists of who they’d take in the draft. Comparing my list to those of other writers and considering the rules of the draft (a team can only lose one player), here’s how my mock draft came out:

  1. Ryan Meara (GK, RBNY)
  2. Nick Hagglund (CB, TFC)
  3. Oalex Anderson (FW, SEA)
  4. Ike Opara (CB, SKC)
  5. Ray Gaddis (RB, PHL)

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the options in goal!

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  • nathan3e

    The salary is why Collin has moved recently, but consider that the RBNY fortunes improved immediately after trading for him and trended up until their inevitable playoff collapse. He’s as close to a defensive guarantee as we could get in this league – if he’s there I hope they take him.

    • Alex Schieferdecker

      I agree, Collin is proven to improve teams. But the hire of Heath (who viewed him as surplus to requirements in Orlando) definitely diminishes the chance that we grab him. And like with Sauro and a few others, the salary is really a stumbling block. You can get better value.

      • nathan3e

        I agree that there is likely better value and that a Heath/Collin reunion is highly unlikely. With that said, a proven back four, even if it is a fairly expensive one, would keep us in a lot of games.

        • Alex Schieferdecker

          For sure. Getting the defense right is critical. That’s why I put so much emphasis on the expansion draft.

  • Benjamin MacKenzie

    As someone who tuned out from MLS in recent years, I’m really grateful to have a bunch of great writers thinking through and composing explanations of the players and dynamics we should look for going into the next year. Pumped to see what’s on offer at other positions.

    • ken

      Completely agree. This website in general is really great! Thanks to all who contribute and make it possible.

      • Alex Schieferdecker

        Thanks you guys!

  • Kyle Nelson

    What about Daniel Steres? He was a consistent starter for LA this season and no one chose to protect him, what am I missing?

    • Alex Schieferdecker

      That’s a good call. We may have gotten that one wrong, and if he’s available, he might be a good selection.

    • Wes

      we should be shot. Yes, he will be protected.