The MLS extended family (league execs, club reps, agents, sponsors, non-participating players) is beginning to arrive here in Los Angeles ahead of Sunday’s final at Home Depot Center. And while the match between the Galaxy and Houston Dynamo is the focal point of the weekend, the other 17 clubs have turned their attention to next season.
The first order of business is sorting through player personnel and deciding who to protect and leave exposed in next Wednesday’s expansion draft, which will help build the Montreal Impact’s roster.
With more than 200 players available for selection and only 10 needing to dust off their high school French textbooks before relocating to Quebec, the event won’t be as dramatic as last year, when Portland and Vancouver entered the league.
I’ve been assessing D.C. United’s roster, putting myself in Ben Olsen and Dave Kasper’s shoes, and have tried to narrow down the club’s decisions. Some of the names on the protected/unprotected lists will surprise you, but each comes with an explanation:
We’ll begin with the players who are exempt from the process: homegrowns and Generation Adidas. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid, midfielder Andy Najar, midfielder-defender Conor Shanosky and defender Ethan White are from the youth academy and don’t need to be protected. Defender-midfielder Perry Kitchen is a GA, but because he played almost every match, he’ll likely graduate from the program after just one season and lose his exempt status. Which means United would need to protect him.
I’ll go through United’s roster by position.....
Bill Hamid: He has the size and reflexes to become a star. Now he needs to improve his decision-making and mature. Exempt.
Joe Willis: Rookie proved his worth in three league matches, and while it would seem silly to protect a back-up keeper, United would need him next summer if Hamid heads to the Olympics and receives national team call-ups for World Cup qualifiers. Protected.
Steve Cronin: Veteran keeper dropped to third on the depth chart and only made two league appearances. Unprotected.
Dejan Jakovic: Most experienced defender, his value was fully realized when backline struggled in his absence late in the season. Protected.
Brandon McDonald: Sturdy starting center back signed a new contract late in the season. Protected.
Daniel Woolard: Started 26 league matches primarily at left back, understated and reliable. Protected.
Ethan White: Made 24 appearances as a rookie. Exempt.
Marc Burch: An injured foot and Woolard’s emergence limited him to 11 starts. Underwent additional surgery this month. Unprotected.
Devon McTavish: Returned to active duty late in the year after recovering from a concussion. Unprotected.
Jed Zayner: Began the campaign as the starting right back, but hamstring and knee injuries undercut his season. There’s real concern about whether he’ll return to full health. Unprotected.
Chris Korb: Rookie right back made frequent appearances early in the season, slipped into a midseason rut, then rediscovered his form. With Zayner’s return unclear, Korb gains importance. Protected.
Brandon Barklage: Outside back and midfielder made four brief league appearances. Unprotected.
Conor Shanosky: Didn’t appear in any league matches. Exempt.
Dwayne De Rosario: A couple of soccer industry sources tell me DeRo has won the 2011 MVP award. I’m awaiting confirmation. MLS will unveil the winner Friday. DeRo and DCU were a better fit than Pippa’s royal wedding dress. (Ok, maybe not that perfect.) Club wants to sign him to a new contract. Protected.
Branko Boskovic: Between his designated player salary, the long recovery from ACL surgery and a contract that expires mid-season in 2012, Montreal won’t touch him. Save the slot for someone else. Nonetheless, he appears to be very much in United’s plans. Unprotected.
Andy Najar: Began the season out of shape and lost playing time but regained his stride as the year unfolded. Electrifying at times. Still a teenager. Exempt.
Perry Kitchen: Played on the backline most of the year but pegged to move up and add bite to defensive midfield. Protected.
Chris Pontius: Splendid season was derailed by a broken leg in September. His departure and United’s slide were no coincidence. Protected.
Santino Quaranta: Didn’t put up the numbers expected of an experienced attacking player (one goal, four assists in 21 games), but remains a lively, ambitious player. Protected.
Clyde Simms: With Kitchen emerging, Simms is expendable. He’s the nicest guy in MLS, but in that position, Olsen seems to prefer someone with a mean streak. His salary is also an issue ($180,000). With seven years of MLS experience, might he becomes the midfield cornerstone for an expansion club? Unprotected.
Kurt Morsink: Feisty defensive midfielder and clubhouse favorite. Made just two league appearances. Unprotected.
Stephen King: Versatile midfielder, smart and steady, signed a new contract late in the year. Not a starter but good to have around. Protected.
Austin da Luz: Promising winger but not essential. Unprotected.
Josh Wolff: At age 34, the captain contributed five goals and seven assists and provided guidance to a young squad. Protected.
Charlie Davies: Even if United wanted him back — and it’s pretty clear to me that the club does not — protecting him doesn’t make much sense because his loan from Sochaux is about to expire. Would Montreal claim someone who might not be in the league next year? Doubtful. So what’s going to happen to Charlie? My guess is Sochaux, recognizing he isn’t ready for Ligue 1, will agree to another loan. United, in turn, will trade his MLS rights for allocation money or draft picks. There is a four-hour trade window next Monday before the expansion lists are finalized. Could something happen so soon? Sure. If it does, maybe he ends up in Montreal (Davies speaks French, right?), New England (he’s from New Hampshire and played at Boston College) or Chivas USA (he scored three goals against the Goats in September and has family in Southern California). Unprotected.
Blake Brettschneider: It’s risky not protecting a good young forward, but the numbers appear to be against him. Perhaps he makes the list instead of a veteran. Unprotected.
Joseph Ngwenya. No goals in 16 league matches. Enough said. Unprotected.
So here’s my list.....
Exempt: Hamid, White, Shanosky, Najar.
Protected: Willis, Korb, Jakovic, McDonald, Woolard, Kitchen, De Rosario, Pontius, King, Quaranta, Wolff.
Unprotected: Cronin, Barklage, Burch, McTavish, Zayner, Morsink, Simms, da Luz, Boskovic, Davies, Brettschneider, Ngwenya.
United is in danger of losing just one player in the expansion draft. Only 10 of the 18 returning clubs will be affected.
Once the expansion draft is complete, the roster process continues with decisions on contract options and renegotiations. The MLS re-entry drafts, designed for veteran players to join a new club without his previous employer requiring compensation, will take place Dec. 5 and 12. Last year United utilized those mechanisms to select Ngwenya and Wolff.
United also plans to intensity its search in the international market and prepare for the Jan. 12 college draft.
Season opener less than four months away.....