The conclusion of MLS Cup on Sunday will signify the end of the 2010 season and just a few days later the clock on the 2011 season will effectively start ticking with the MLS Expansion Draft. All clubs will submit a "protected list" naming eleven players who will not be eligible for selection by new entries in Vancouver and Portland. The lists are due on November 22, while the Draft itself takes place on November 24.
The protected lists usually include a few surprise names as technical directors and coaching staffs try to anticipate what the new teams might be looking for while shaping their rosters. While composing a protected list for the Fire two questions came to mind. Who should they protect and who will they protect? The answers to each question may not yield the same answers since the final eleven players included in the list may not necessarily be the best eleven players on the team but rather a list comprised of names which the organization feels would be selected by an expansion team entering the league.
Several factors will weigh into deciding who makes the list and who is left available for selection. Salary, age, injury, contract status, and the current rosters of each expansion team are all things to consider when trying to anticipate which players may be targeted by Vancouver or Portland. The Timbers, for example are retaining some of their current players and Vancouver may not be interested in shelling out more big cash on a central defender since Jay DeMerit is now on board.
Sam Stejskal's list included Ljungberg, Nyarko, Pappa, Conde, Pause, Castillo, Ristic, Segares, Husidic, Robinson and Kinney. Hottimeinoldtown.com has an interesting poll (cleverly called the Protectionator) which allows readers to vote on which eleven players should be protected. The consesus there currently includes Pappa, Nyarko, Ljungberg, Pause, Segares, Ristic, Conde, Watson-Siriboe, Kinney, Lowry, and Thorrington (slightly ahead of Carr and Robinson).
As usual, MLS' quirky rules makes the expansion protected list tricky to manuever. Teams may make available "a number of international players equal to their total number of international players minus three." The Fire currently have six internationals (Ljungberg, Ristic, Conde, John, Umanzor, Castillo) assuming that Krol is no longer on the roster. This means that three internationals must be protected by rule.
Here's my take on what the list might look like come Monday.
Freddie Ljungberg - He's currently holding a player option for 2011 so his future with the Fire is up in the air at the moment but the thought of Ljungberg playing for either Vancouver or Portland in the upcoming Northwestern rivalries may be enticing enough for the expansion teams to take him regardless of contract status and his $1.3 million designated player status.
Marco Pappa - He was signed to a new contract last offseason and he's only 23 years old. No brainer.
Patrick Nyarko - Another easy pick. In my opinion he was the Fire's MVP last season, he's young, has a few years left on his contract, and he's only going to get better.
Wilman Conde - Regardless of his contract status and salary demands he could be chosen by one of the expansion teams and traded to other MLS sides with interest in his services. The Fire will need to protect him to retain his rights.
Logan Pause - His $160,000.00 salary may scare off the expansion teams but his veteran presence is sorely needed on this team with the departures of Brown and McBride. Despite the price tag he could be a target if made available.
Gonzalo Segares - He's under contract for next year and the team has options for subsequent seasons. His 2010 salary was relatively inexpensive but I suspect his 2011 number could be higher. With the sudden lack of depth along the back protecting Segares is a must.
Bratislav Ristic - Seems to be a player that understands the system that De Los Cobos is trying to implement and the versatility shown in his eight appearances with the team would make him a valuable asset in 2011.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe - With the Fire's uncertainty at his position going into the offseason it would seem that the Fire will need to protect their 2010 second round pick. Young, inexpensive players with promise are expansion draft bonuses if made available.
Steven Kinney - Like Watson-Siriboe, the Fire will need to maintain some depth in the back line. His achilles injury and required recovery time may scare teams off but why take a chance with a player who figures to be the starting right back when healthy?
Baggio Husidic - His graduation from Generation Adidas adds his $75,000 base salary to the salary cap figure for 2011 and makes him eligible for the expansion draft. He's shown enough progress to earn consideration for the protected list.
Dasan Robinson - He's missed alot of time over the last few years due to injury but he can play both right back and center back. The last spot on this list was difficult for me to nail down between Robinson, Lowry, and Dykstra.
Nery Castillo - He may end up on the protected list but what are the chances that Vancouver or Portland want to gamble on a Designated Player that provided no goals and no assists in eight appearances with a history of attitude issues who struggled to find his fitness after being inactive for the better part of the last three seasons? Unless his contract contains a no trade clause leaving him unprotected may be a good gamble. Adding him to the roster as a DP is surely not the splash either team wants to make at this point.
Andrew Dykstra - I almost added him to the protected list ahead of Robinson. A 25 year old keeper with experience as a starter and a $40K minimum salary may be an inviting option for the WhiteCaps or Timbers. Since Johnson figures to be the starter in 2011, I chose Robinson.
Peter Lowry - He's had some success on the field and figures to be a decent MLS quality bench player who can step in as a starter when needed. Lowry may be an expansion casualty.
John Thorrington - A salary of $177,000 while participating in five matches in 2010 should be enough to scare away both expansion teams.
Collins John - Health issues and a hefty contract with team options that come up in July pretty much ensure that the Fire are in no danger of losing another Fulham forward.
Calen Carr - Played pretty well after returning from injury late in the season and he could be a player that both expansion teams consider.
Mike Banner - Another player who might fit in as bench depth with an expansion team. Banner is a versatile and useful player in the right circmstances.
Deris Umanzor - Unless the WhiteCaps and Timbers have been watching El Salvador National Team matches it's unlikely he's chosen.
Krzyzstof Krol - His loan deal has expired and the Fire haven't officially declined his option for next year at the moment but he seems intent on returning to Europe somewhere.
Corben Bone, Sean Johnson, and Victor Pineda are exempt from the expansion lists.
Protected: Busch, Conde, Brown, Mapp, McBride, Nyarko, Pappa, Pause, Thorrington, Robinson, Ward
Unprotected: Banner, Blanco, Carr, Dimitrov, Dykstra, Myrie, Rolfe, Segares, Woolard, Lowry, Washington