The Angle

The Expansion Draft Cometh: Midfielders

by on 22 November 2016

Continuing on last week, we’re 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 has the first pick.

We’ll be looking at the draft position by position. Last week, Alex Schieferdecker looked at defenders while Wes Burdine scouted the goalkeepers. Prior to this series, four FiftyFive.One 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. This series has defined midfielders as the central Nos. 6, 8, and 10 positions – wide players will be covered in the upcoming preview of forwards.

The 2014 MLS Expansion draft saw NYCFC select 5 midfielders while Orlando City selected 3. Out of all the picks made, NYCFC came the closest to striking gold with their selection of Tommy McNamara. Other players selected include Ned Grabavoy (2nd pick), Lewis Neal, and Mehdi Ballouchy. Of all the midfielders selected, only McNamara remains with the club who selected him today, albeit after a move to the wing.

If our list of potentially unprotected players is any indication, Minnesota should view the expansion draft as a way to build midfield squad depth and perhaps buy a lottery ticket or two. Minnesota will all but certainly be looking for reinforcements from outside the organization in this area after relying on an aging midfield core in NASL. DPs and TAM-level players have brought a new level of quality to MLS midfields, widening the gulf between game-breakers like Seattle’s Nico Lodiero and workman-types like Philadelphia’s Brian Carroll. Both types of players are essential to building a successful MLS roster, making midfield selections more of a calculated risk than a sure thing.

Likely Unprotected

Khaly Thiam, CHI; Nick LaBrocca, CHI; Michael Stephens, CHI; Alex Morrell, CHI; Dilly Duka, CLB; Hector Jiménez, CLB; Cristian Martínez, CLB; Rodrigo Saravia, CLB; Ben Swanson, CLB; Marshall Hollingsworth, CLB; Jermaine Jones, COL; Juan Ramírez [Designated Player], COL; Marcelo Sarvas, DCU; Patrick Nyarko, DCU; Jared Jeffrey, DCU; Rob Vincent, DCU; Timo Pitter, FCD; Juan Esteban Ortiz, FCD; Carlos Lizarazo, FCD; Mauro Rosales, FCD; Eric Alexander, HOU; Zach Steinberger, HOU; Collen Warner, HOU; Yair Arboled, HOU; Jeff Larentowicz, LAG; Rafael Garcia, LAG; Patrice Bernier, MTL; Kyle Bekker, MTL; Calum Mallace, MTL; Steve Neumann, NE; Daigo Kobayashi, NE; Zachary Herivaux, NE; Mikey Lopez, NYCFC; Mehdi Ballouchy, NYCFC; Mix Diskerud, NYCFC; Andrea Pirlo [Designated Player], NYCFC; Sal Zizzo, RBNY; Gonzalo Verón [Designated Player], RBNY; Shaun Wright-Phillips, RBNY; Harrison Heath, ORL; Devron García, ORL; Júlio Baptista, ORL; Tony Rocha, ORL; Warren Creavalle, PHI; Brian Carroll, PHI; Cole Missimo, PHI; Wálter Restrepo, PHI; Derrick Jones, PHI; Leo Fernandes, PHI; Ben Zemanski, POR; Nick Besler, POR; Jack Barmby, POR; Andy Thoma, POR; John Stertzer, RSL; Sebastian Saucedo, RSL; Cordell Cato, SJ; Anibal Godoy, SJ; Matheus Silva, SJ; Alberto Quintero, SJ; Aaron Kovar, SEA; Michael Farfan, SEA; Nathan Sturgis, SEA; Álvaro Fernández, SEA; Paulo Nagamura, SKC; Benji Joya, SKC; Lawrence Olum, SKC; Justin Mapp, SKC; Emmanuel Appiah, SKC; Bernardo Añor, SKC; Benoît Cheyrou, TFC; Daniel Lovitz, TFC; Chris Mannella, TFC; Armando Cooper, TFC; Nicolás Mezquida, VAN; Andrew Jacobson, VAN; Ben McKendry, VAN; Kianz Froese, VAN; Pedro Morales [Designated Player], VAN; Deybi Flores , VAN

Possibly Unprotected

Tony Tchani, CLB; Mohammed Saeid, CLB; Zach Pfeffer, COL; Micheal Azira, COL; Victor Ulloa, FCD; Christian Lucatero, HOU; Baggio Husidić, LAG; Harry Shipp, MTL; Federico Bravo, NYCFC; Tyler Adams, RBNY; Sean Davis, RBNY; Daniel Royer, RBNY; Servando Carrasco, ORL; Antonio Nocerino, ORL; Matías Pérez García [Designated Player], ORL; Eric Ayuk, PHI; Ilsinho, PHI; Stephen Sunday, RSL; Omar Holness, RSL; Marc Pelosi, SJ; Paulo Nagamura, SKC; Connor Hallisey, SKC; Soni Mustivar, SKC

You’ll notice that none of the players I’ve highlighted require the use of international slots. This is intentional, as ideally those slots are useful to an expansion team either for bringing in a difference-maker, or as trade bait for other clubs looking for players outside of the United States.

Harry Shipp (25, USA)

Not long ago, Harry Shipp was to be the cornerstone of a rebuilt Chicago Fire side. That was, until they engaged in their annual rebuilding effort last offseason – be sure to read the quote from his mother in the linked article. Shipp was sent to Montreal, where Marcello Biello has preferred other options in attacking midfield. On roughly $130,000 last season, Shipp offers an intriguing, affordable target who may be able to bring an attacking spark on the wing or advanced in the center of midfield.

Calum Mallace (26, USA), Montreal Impact

Calum Mallace has direct connections to Minnesota soccer (his brother Craig is the Director of Camps & Youth Development for MNUFC), and like Harry Shipp has found himself stuck behind more experienced players in defensive midfield. Mallace fits the “workman” profile of other defensive midfield expansion draft picks (think Jack Jewsbury and Brian Carroll), and has a team-friendly salary at just under $120,000. He wouldn’t necessarily be a flashy pick, but building depth at central midfield will be necessary in Adrian Heath’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

Victor Ulloa (24, USA), FC Dallas

Ulloa signed with FC Dallas as a homegrown player in 2010 and featured heavily for the club in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He was a stalwart in defensive midfield in those two seasons before losing his place to Carlos Gruezo and Kellyn Acosta in 2016. Ulloa was routinely one of the first players off the bench when Dallas was in the lead and was relied on to help the Hoops close out games. I’ve long been an admirer of Ulloa, and think he would be a great fit as the #6 in Adrian Heath’s preferred formation. On a team friendly $132,500 per year, Ulloa should almost certainly be one of the first players selected in the expansion draft if he is made available.

Baggio Husidic (29, Bosnia & Herzegovina), Los Angeles Galaxy

Let’s start by saying this – there isn’t much that’s sexy about Baggio Husidic’s game. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Husidic has spent time with Chicago Fire, Hammarby (SWE), and the Galaxy in his 8 year professional career. Able to play centrally or out wide, his consistency would be valuable in an expansion side that will likely be reliant on some high-risk, high-reward signings at other positions. Husidic is a domestic player for roster purposes and at $150,000 per year would offer a stable veteran presence in the center of midfield.

Zach Pfeffer (21, USA), Colorado Rapids

Pfeffer was signed as Philadelphia Union’s first homegrown player in 2010, making only 30 appearances for the club from 2011 to 2015. During that stretch he spent time on loan with Hoffenheim’s U-19 squad in two separate seasons. Pfeffer was traded to Colorado along with allocation money for the Rapids’ first round pick in the 2016 SuperDraft. He has strong technical ability, but for one reason or another hasn’t stuck in either Philadelphia or Colorado. Whether that’s due to a lack of athleticism or not being the right fit in the clubs’ schemes is up for debate. Selecting Pfeffer would be a bet on his development – a bet that might be worth taking given his youth.

Mikey Lopez (23, USA), New York City FC

Lopez was selected by Sporting Kansas City with the 14th overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, spending three years with the Sporks before signing with NYCFC before the 2016 season. Lopez is a box-to-box midfielder and set career highs in total minutes, total appearances, and starts last season. I’m not sold on Lopez being a starting-caliber player at this point in his career, but on the league minimum salary and having clearly shown signs of development last season, he would be a solid selection from a risk/reward perspective.

Marc Pelosi (22, USA), San Jose Earthquakes

Stop me if you’re noticing a theme among these last three players. On the back of a strong performance with the USA at the U-17 world cup in 2011 Pelosi signed with Liverpool’s youth academy and was part of their U-18 and U-21 squads. He moved to the Quakes in 2015 through an MLS Allocation procedure and made 12 appearances in 2015 before missing all of 2016 with knee injuries. Pelosi has been lauded for his technical ability, and offers a creative spark in the center of midfield. Much like NYCFC’s selection of Tommy McNamara, Pelosi is a high upside target who could provide a significant boost to Minnesota’s midfield if he’s able to get back to full health. It’s a risk that I would gladly take on a player making $85,000 per year.

Others

It’s likely that Minnesota will have the opportunity to choose from a variety of midfielders who are either advanced in age (Benoit Cheyrou), require international slots (Nicolas Mezquida), or are on larger-than-earned contracts (Mix Diskerud). Midfield in my opinion was the hardest position to assess which players would be protected given the wide variety of strategies each team could utilize. MNUFC will also need to assess how they approach the midfield – do they overpay for a more experienced player or look for younger, cheaper players who could provide depth for years to come? My preference is for the latter.

Mock Draft

It will probably come as no surprise given the introduction to this piece, but I would be hesitant to use more than one selection in the expansion draft on a midfielder. The gulf in quality between players available for selection and those who start for MLS clubs widens as you move toward the attacking end of the field. It is almost a certainty that MNUFC will be able to draft a starting-caliber goalkeeper, and one, two, or even three quality defenders. I’m not certain the same could be said for the available crop of midfielders.

1. Nick Hagglund (CB, TFC)
2. Jeff Attinella (GK, RSL)
3. Harry Shipp (AM, MTL)
4. Chris Duvall (RB, RBNY)
5. Jared Watts (CB, COL)

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  • Ryan Hodkiewicz

    How is there no mention of Jose Villarreal? He would be my #1 target this expansion draft.

    • Jake Rueter

      I had a beautiful, eloquent love song about Jose written for this piece before we discovered that LA lists him as a forward. Stay tuned!

    • Jeff Rueter

      Don’t worry – he’s mine too. Come back later in the week!

  • Alex Schieferdecker

    Looking at this list, I’m not blown away.

    This is what I’ve been getting at, where the difference in quality between the protected and the unprotected players is much narrower in goal and defense, than it is in midfield.

    • Jeff Rueter

      I think that has every bit to do with teams’ priority with protecting players. Despite position scarcity toward the back, teams would rather lose a solid defender than explain a key attacker/midfielder’s departure.

      • Alex Schieferdecker

        Yep. I hope it accrues to our advantage. That’s why I want to use three picks on defenders.

    • Ryan Hodkiewicz

      Okay Alex point taken.

  • Offensive Loons Fan

    If I’m using a pick to make a bet, I’m betting on Mikey Lopez. He is physically very gifted and I think he would be AT LEAST a good depth player. Given playing time to develop, I think he has a really high ceiling he hasn’t come close to touching yet.