With the confetti cleared from Mercedes-Benz Stadium after what has been an exciting MLS Cup - and fortunately, for Atlanta United’s sake, it was red confetti - it’s back to business for MLS clubs.
The 2018 MLS Expansion Draft is scheduled for Tuesday, and, like last year, it will have one participant: FC Cincinnati. After a meteoric rise from nascent club to the top-drawing team in the USL, the newest MLS franchise begins the work of building a roster that it hopes can compete in the top flight.
FCC already have five players under contract: forward Fanendo Adi; defender Forrest Lasso; and midfielders Fatai Alashe, Corben Bone and Emmanuel Ledesma. That number is set to be doubled in short order on Tuesday. Here’s a couple of things to note if you’re unfamiliar with the process or need a referesher:
- Each team must protect 11 players from its full roster, meaning its senior, supplemental and reserve roster. There are five clubs that are exempt because they had players picked by LAFC during last year’s expansion draft: Columbus Crew SC, the San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City, the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC.
- FC Cincinnati can pick a maximum of five players and no more than one player from a team, so it’s possible that regardless of who is exposed by Atlanta, none of them could be picked.
- Homegrown Players and those on Generation Adidas contracts are automatically protected and won’t count toward the 11-player number.
- Teams can only make available three less than the number of international players on their full roster. Atlanta have a total of ten international players (Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Franco Escobar, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Jon Gallagher, Julian Gressel, Jose Hernandez, Eric Remedi, Ollie Shannon and Gordon Wild), so it can expose a maximum of seven.
So, with that bit of business taken care of, here’s who’s on my protected list for Atlanta United (italics means that the player is automatically protected due to the rules above and won’t count toward Atlanta’s list of eleven):
|George Bello||D||Homegrown Player|
|Andrew Carleton||M||Homegrown Player|
|Greg Garza||D||option exercised|
|Leandro Gonzalez Pirez||D||international|
|Chris Goslin||M||Homegrown Player|
|Julian Gressel||M||international; option exercised|
|Lagos Kunga||F||Homegrown Player|
|Darlington Nagbe||M||option exercised|
|Patrick Okonkwo||F||Homegrown Player|
|Miles Robinson||D||Generation adidas|
|Hector "Tito" Villalba||F|
|Gordon Wild||F||Generation adidas|
That leaves the following exposed:
Mikey Ambrose (option exercised)
Jon Gallagher (international)
Jose Hernandez (international)
Mitch Hildebrandt (out of contract)
Alec Kann (option exercised)
Jeff Larentowicz (option exercised)
Michael Parkhurst (out of contract; club renegotiating)
Oliver Shannon (international; out of contract)
Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu (out of contract)
Romario Williams (option exercised)
Sal Zizzo (out of contract)
Really, the only player I struggled with a little bit here was Greg Garza. When he’s healthy, Garza provides a spark on the left side of the defense, a classic fullback that can put in a solid workrate whenever he’s on the pitch. But I want to stress three words: When he’s healthy. Injuries have been a part of Garza’s career since his time in Liga MX; hip problems kept him from making the full impact he’d hope to make with Atlas and Xolos, while he’s missed 32 matches with Atlanta over the last two seasons after injuries to his shoulder and hamstring.
All that being said, with Garza on a multi-year deal and his value to the club, it would probably be in Atlanta’s best interest to keep him protected. They’d be better served putting both Kann and Hildebrandt on the exposed list and let the chips fall where they may because it wouldn’t be the end of the world if either were picked.
The rest of the list of exposed players was fairly straight forward:
- Michael Parkhurst’s option was not picked up, but the team is negotiating with him on a new deal. But it makes for an interesting case. In an ideal scenario, he stays with Atlanta for at least one more year before hanging them up, but - and by no means is that a shot at Parkhurst at all - I feel like the quality of players on the protected list leaves him in a bit of an odd-man-out situation. Acquiring a veteran presence on the back line, along with a natural locker-room leader that has logged a good amount of minutes at the professional level, could be a move that FCC are willing to make.
- Ambrose looked good with the big club and ATL UTD 2 but couldn’t stay fit, while Zizzo, whose last match was in June, was basically a forgotten man after having a torn meniscus repaired. While Zizzo’s contract option not picked up at the end of it while Ambrose’s was, I don’t think either will be picked.
- Kratz, Larentowicz, McCann and Wheeler-Omiunu would be on the exposed list for a second straight year; McCann is a player that fell out of form and one that, while I don’t think Cincinnati picks him, likely won’t be back with the club in 2019. Larentowicz likely won’t be picked either - having celebrated his 35th birthday in August - and looks to be back for at least one more season before retiring with Atlanta picking his contract option up.
- Vazquez and Williams (on the list last year) may find themselves exposed, but Cincinnati might look to another team or other channels (likely the SuperDraft) for depth behind Adi at striker. Both should be safe.
- As for Gallagher, Hernandez and Shannon, you’d like to think that they’d be left alone as Cincinnati probably won’t use a pick on one of them unless it thinks either could be a key contributor right out of the gate.
It’s likely that someone on the list above could be wearing an FC Cincinnati shirt next season, but it’s equally likely that Atlanta’s roster could remain intact. I’m interested in seeing what you think of my lists - hop in the comments and let me know.