I had forgotten about this part. In the afterglow of earning our second cup and star the reality of the expansion draft seemed like somebody else's problem, the worry for teams who were not protected by the armor of being MLS Cup Champion. And yet I wake this morning to find this, this horrible, awful monster from under the bed reminding me that a terrible decision awaits us and we only can protect 12.
We only can protect 12 from the MLS Expansion Draft - with Inter Miami and Nashbille SC set to select five players each on Tuesday, 2:30 pm PST - and although the "kids" (Bwana, Leyva, Muse, AOC) are automatically protected, that means we can't protect 12 others. We have to leave 50% of our family unprotected, including those who not only featured in Sunday's Cup-winning championship but played significant roles in getting us there through the regular season. This is f'ing heart wrenching.
Ben Baer provided the following no good gut punch of a table:
|Protected (predicted)||Automatically |
|Xavier Arreaga||Handwalla Bwana||Saad Abdul-Salaam|
|Emmanuel Cecchini||Danny Leyva||Will Bruin|
|Stefan Frei||Trey Muse||Jonathan Campbell|
|Kim Kee-hee||Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez||Jordy Delem|
|Kelvin Leerdam||Justin Dhillon|
|Nicolas Lodeiro||Joevin Jones|
|Jordan Morris||Bryan Meredith|
|Victor Rodriguez||Alex Roldan|
|Cristian Roldan||Harry Shipp|
|Raul Ruidiaz||Luis Silva|
|Brad Smith||Nouhou Tolo|
|Gustav Svensson||Roman Torres|
Of course, this column on the right can't be correct. There is no way on this green and blue earth that Torres and Nouhou and Jones and Bruin and Delem could all be exposed (with all due respect to SAS and Shipp but these other five, at least in my mind, are a cut above)!! But then you look to the column on the left. Who from that list doesn't get protected?
Three names come up on the left, of course: Smith, VRod, Cecchini.
Smith. Smith's loan was extended once, but will it be extended again? If it is, of course we protect him. If it's not, of course we don't. But will we KNOW whether or not the loan is extended before we have to decide whether or not to protect him? It seems all to likely that we won't know, and the thought of protecting Smith only to have the loan not extended, while exposing Nouhou to be taken by an expansion team...is horribly depressing. But my guess is we have to protect Smith because we will hope to have the loan extended.
VRod. VRod earned himself protection through the playoffs. I like Jones and he did well in the playoffs (I almost died watching him fail to kick the ball clear from the box and give it over to Toronto, but aside from that...) But the question is, let's assume, at best, we can only get VRod for 50% of the games in 2020, vs. Jones for 90% of the games? 3 months ago, the answer of course was Jones. Now, the answer of course is VRod. Unless for some reason VRod's decided he needs to spend more time closer to his family, if VRod wants to stay we have to protect him. And hell...imagine having VRod available to start and play 90% of the games in 2020? No...let's not hope for that and be realistic. But...just imagine!
Cecchini. This is the only one with any legs in my opinion. As Baer notes in his article, Cecchini has the pedigree; the kid is our $789,000 investment toward the post-Goose era and a (slightly) younger Sounders squad. With Goose staying (YAY! Honk!) and Roldan being fairly solidified as Goose's right-hand-man in central defensive-midfield, Cecchini, then, is going to ride the bench for most of the year barring national team call-ups and injuries (let's have less of these, please). That's great and we want and need Cecchini to be the key back up for that position. But what about the boys who are and will be more likely called upon? Each of these guys played significant minutes in the regular season this year:
- Delem (1439 min across 23 games and 17 starts in regular season)
- Torres (1127 min across 17 games and 12 starts in regular season -despite missing 10),
- Jones (921 min across 17 games and 9 starts in regular season),
- Nouhou (790 min across 22 games and 9 starts in regular season),
- Bruin (428 min across 9 games and 4 starts in regular season - prior to ACL injury).
And the above doesn't include the significant contributions of these players in the playoffs (especially Torres and Jones). Cecchini, in contrast, played 155 minutes across 4 games with 1 start.
I recognize that there of course will be strategic risk taking....like with Ozzie, Sounders could bet that no one will likely take Torres given his age (34 in March) or Bruin because he's still recovering from an ACL injury (at least he didn't fall off the back of that bus on Tuesday!). If that's true, that leaves Delem, Jones, and Nouhou.
The real question is: which of our back-ups is most important for their position? Left-back? Defensive midfield? Winger? On the one hand having a weak spine through central defense was one of the major reasons we struggled through the middle of the year. Bring on Delem or Cecchini. Is Cecchini better pedigree than Delem? 22 v. 26, Argentina v. Martinique, both fairly versatile in the roles they can play. But Delem has played 3000+ minutes for the team over the last three seasons and playoff campaigns. He'd be ripe for the pickings at his $71,000 salary. But so much of our attack is built on our outside defenders sprinting up the field (particularly on the left) to join the attack. Bring on Nouhou or Jones. Jones is so versatile in both LB and left-winger, and given my bet that the team protects VRod it would make sense that they would need to protect Jones as a fill-in for VRod playing less than 90 on a regular basis. But Nouhou is only 22 himself and with a bit of discipline, his unbridled speed will be such a powerful weapon (if only he had scored against LAFC!).
Reasonable arguments can be made to protect all four of these guys. My brain understands Cecchini, but because he was called upon so little this year I feel disloyal to the other three who contributed so much. I expect Sounders to protect Jones over Cecchini because Jones will be a starter or at least called upon regularly to fill in for VRod.
But my heart sings Nouhou.