With the introduction of two new teams to MLS in 2015, Orlando City SC and New York City FC, the league will hold an Expansion Draft this week to allow each team to stock up on 10 players from the rosters of the other 18 teams. Orlando and New York have already begun to build their player rosters through trades and signings, but the Expansion Draft will allow them to collect starter-level players that may be important parts in their inaugural season.
However, the Cities won't get the freedom to select just any players they want. As part of the Expansion Draft, each of the 18 existing teams has the opportunity to select 11 players from its roster that will be exempt from the draft -- the Protected List. The list does not necessarily reflect that team's 11 best players; rather, it is comprised of players -- on or out of contract -- that the team does not want to lose their rights for within the single-entity system of MLS.
For example, the San Jose Earthquakes included Steven Lenhart on their 11-player protected list, even though the target forward is currently out of contract. Presumably, this signals the intention of the Quakes to bring Lenhart back in 2015 -- pending the negotiation of a new contract. It also prevents Orlando or New York from selecting him and entering into its own negotiations. Of course, if Lenhart and the Quakes can't agree on a new deal, he would be eligible to enter the Re-Entry Draft later this month.
One wrinkle in created the protected players list involved the mandated inclusion of a minimum number of International players. There is no such rule for domestic players -- U.S. citizens, permanent residents (green card holders), or holders of other special status (e.g., refugee or asylum status) -- who make up the bulk of each MLS roster, but for most teams, the minimum number of protected Internationals was three.
The 2014 Quakes roster included seven players that were counted as Internationals: Yannick Djalo, Shaun Francis, Andreas Gorlitz, Matias Perez Garcia, Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, Pablo Pintos, and Jordan Stewart. For the 2014 Expansion Draft, the Earthquakes were required to include a minimum of three Internationals on their protected list. Those players' names are italicized in the list below.
San Jose Earthquakes Protected Players:
Forwards: Steven Lenhart, Chris Wondolowski
Midfielders: Sam Cronin, Matias Perez Garcia, JJ Koval, Shea Salinas
Defenders: Victor Bernardez, Shaun Francis, Clarence Goodson, Jordan Stewart
Goalkeeper: David Bingham
In addition to the list of 11 protected players, Homegrown Player Tommy Thompson is also exempt from the Expansion Draft.
During the Expansion Draft, if the Earthquakes have one of their eligible players selected, they can add another player of their choice to the protected list. If either of the Cities picks a second Quakes player, the rest of the eligible players are added to the protected list -- a mechanism that caps the number of possible selections at two. Essentially, no MLS team can lose more than two players to Orlando and New York.
The draft will begin at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, December 10, with Orlando City and New York City alternating picks in a 10-round process. By virtue of winning a coin flip back in September, OCSC will make the first selection in the draft. Players selected as part of the Expansion Draft will have time to negotiate contracts with the Cities and are exempt from the Waiver Draft. If deals are not struck, those players are eligible for the Re-Entry Draft.
San Jose Earthquakes Available Players:
Forwards: Mike Fucito, Adam Jahn, Billy Schuler, Kristopher Tyrpak
Midfielders: Cordell Cato, Yannick Djalo, Atiba Harris, Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, Khari Stephenson
Defenders: Brandon Barklage, Andreas Gorlitz, Ty Harden, Jason Hernandez, Thomas Muller, Pablo Pintos
Goalkeepers: Jon Busch, Billy Knutsen, Bryan Meredith
The Earthquakes 11-player protected list could very well represent a potential Starting XI, but that does not necessarily mean that head coach Dominic Kinnear sees it that way. There are definitely players on the avialable list who had an impact on the Quakes in 2014 and could still very much play a role for the team in 2015. Cordell Cato, Pierazzi, Jon Busch, and Jason Hernandez were important contributors last season and have a lot to offer. High salaries for the last three make those players less likely to be selected by the Cities.
Cato, a relative bargain at $50,400 according to MLS Players Union salary figures, definitely highlights the list. The Trinidad and Tobago international recorded statistical highs in goals, assists, minutes played -- every statistic, in fact -- in 2014, his third year as a professional. The 22-year old showed his versatility last season, playing both as a defender and a midfielder with San Jose. His burgeoning international career with the Soca Warriors also shows the development and potential Cato possesses.
One stipulation of the Expansion Draft is that the Cities must promote any players selected from MLS Supplemental Rosters and promote them to their Senior Rosters. Since each MLS team can build a Senior Roster of only 20 players, according to the current CBA (the rules might be different next season when a new CBA is instituted), players on existing Supplemental Rosters may be less likely to be selected. Cato is one of 10 current players on San Jose's Supplemental Roster.
A possible selection target could be Djalo, who spent last season on loan to San Jose from his Portuguese club Benfica. Djalo is back in Portugal, training with the Benfica B team, and is reportedly looking to go out on loan again next season. Potential destinations for the talented midfielder include Russia and Turkey, but even MLS has been rumored, specifically Orlando City. If Djalo does return to MLS, even on loan, the Quakes would retain his contract rights. OCSC might select Djalo in the Expansion Draft in order to take over those rights.
If Cato is not selected, then Pierazzi seems a possible target. The French midfielder had a good rookie MLS campaign after a solid career in his home country, but his relatively high salary ($240,000) and comparable style to protected player Sam Cronin makes him somewhat expendable. The Earthquakes may not necessarily be keen to lose him to the Cities, and his high salary may prevent that from happening, but he is at risk of selection. Such are the rules of the Expansion Draft that some players will be available that are still in a team's plans moving forward.
With 18 teams worth of available players to choose from, the chance exists that the Cities bypass the entire Earthquakes list. If that occurs, the next step is for the Quakes to negotiate with the players they want to keep and release the rest to the Waiver and Re-Entry Drafts. One thing is certain, it will be weeks before the 2015 San Jose Earthquakes roster really rounds into shape.