The offseason between the 2014 and 2015 MLS campaigns promises to be wholly unpredictable.
- The players, represented en masse by the MLS Players Association, are out of contract with the league, so a new Collective Bargaining Agreement will need to be hammered out before the season. There's more TV money than ever in the league, and franchise valuations are through the roof, but don't expect that to keep the owners from claiming that it's only their love for the game that keeps the lights on.
- The death of the reserve league - replaced by the incorporation of USL-Pro partnerships - means that the 20+10 roster structure is likely a thing of the past. How large will MLS rosters be? How will USL-Pro loans be accounted for in roster construction? We don't yet know.
- We don't know the roster sizes, sure, and neither do we have any clue what the cap number will be. Will MLSPA settle for smaller rosters if the cap jumps up to, say, $5MM per team?
- Will the league continue with the Re-Entry Draft and its very, very limited form of free agency? Will there be some other mechanism that emerges from a new CBA?
In short, we have very little idea how an MLS roster will be put together in 2015. We do know this, though: On Dec. 10, just hours after some (other) team hoists MLS Cup, Orlando City and NYCFC will comb through the league's rosters and select some players in an Expansion Draft. And that's what we're here to discuss, today, in a roundtable.
There are still several unknowns. The last time there was an expansion draft - before the 2012 season - clubs could protect 11 players from the draft, with Designated Players, Homegrown players, and those players on Generation Adidas contracts considered 'exempt.' This time around, is that the case? This paragraph from MLSSoccer.com's story on the draft raises as many questions as it answers:
MLS Expansion Draft
The expansion draft occurs whenever a new team enters the league. Each team gets to pick a total of 10 players from the existing clubs in the league. Since two teams are entering the league, Orlando and New York will take alternating picks. Existing teams can protect up to 11 players. Homegrown and Gen adidas players are automatically protected unless they are on the Senior roster.
So, no protection for Designated Players? How about Harry Shipp - he's played over 2,000 minutes this year, and his salary ($75,000) would seem disqualify him for 'reserve roster' status - but he's a Homegrown. Does he need to be protected?
Uncertainty: Just another word for 'nothing left to lose'
We have decided to forge ahead, dauntless of the size of the task before us. MLS' opacity - and tendency to publish any rules it releases after the fact - means that any look at roster construction must be marked with an asterisk, anyway. So, with the following assumptions, we give you the first offseason roundtable of 2015.
- The Expansion Draft will proceed roughly along the lines of the previous ones of its type. Meaning: Teams will 'protect' 11 players from their roster, and players with special squad statuses (Designated Players, Homegrown Players, and Generation Adidas) will be automatically ineligible for the draft, and so need no protection.
- The salary cap will not leap upward. This year's working cap (around $3.2MM per franchise) will not grow by 50 percent, as some have suggested likely under a new CBA.
- The salary info released by MLSPA, while assuredly not dollar-for-dollar accurate in every detail, is a close enough approximation to the salary-cap numbers to enable rough calculation.
That salary information is crucial to understanding the decisions discussed below. One of the key elements of the Expansion Draft is a sort of double-dog-dare-you mentality: Franchises often expose prominent players on big-money deals, especially if the player's performance hasn't matched their salary number, essentially daring the expansion teams to free up a huge chunk of established club's cap space (and tie up a similar sum of their own, pristine cap number) in a single draft-pick. To assist our conversation about these matters, the Fire's 2014 salary information is as follows:
|2014 Chicago Fire Player Salaries as of September 15, 2014|
|Source: Major League Soccer Players Union|
|Last Name||First Name||Pos||2014 Base Salary||2014 Guaranteed Compensation|
Again, we are assuming that the 2012 rules are carried forward. The Fire do not have a Designated Player on the roster, so that's of no import to us - but they do have three Homegrown players on the roster: Harry Shipp, Chris Ritter and Victor Pineda. We will assume, for the purpose of this exercise, that all three are off-limits in the Expansion Draft.
We are also assuming that the Fire pay the transfer fee for Grant Ward, and pick up Benji Joya's loan-fee option, unless otherwise noted in that writer's entry. And, of course, that Logan Pause retires as planned.
1. Sean Johnson: the only untouchable on the team.
2. Mike Magee: Say what you will about his down performance this season. If the club surrounds him with talent, he can make things happen.
3. Quincy Amarikwa: His cap hit is minor, and he can be that much needed spark at times.
4. Razvan Cocis: This is mainly personal. The guy moved his family to Chicago. He likes it here, and he's produced on the pitch.
5. Marco Franco: An unknown commodity who also has a very small cap hit. I'd like to see him get some first team minutes next season.
6. Jeff Larentowicz: Can't let Big Red go for nothing. He can be a decent trade piece or continue on as Captain.
7. Patrick Nyarko: Another player you can't let go for free. Either trade him, or hope he's 100% next year. You know what you get with Patty.
8. Sanna Nyassi: If you find a trade partner for Nyarko, then Nyassi is the guy who fills in.
9. Lovel Palmer: This selection is also personal. He's just a great guy who is 100% effort.
10. Kyle Reynish: Hear me out. Reynish was the NASL GK of the year last season. If next season becomes the year a European club finally makes a strong push for SJ, the Fire need a capable starter.
11. Gonzalo Segares: Post-Logan Pause, nobody says Fire like Sega does. A lot of sentiment behind this one.
John Jenzeh leaves exposed: Alex, Greg Cochrane, Robert Earnshaw, Matt Fondy, Patrick Ianni, Benji Joya, Hunter Jumper, Alec Kann, Stephen Kinney, Laurent Sinama-Pongolle, Bakary Soumare, Grant Ward, Matt Watson.
With the 2014 MLS regular season coming to a close, and the Chicago Fire doing their best to impress us with their long lasting mediocrity, the rest of us can look to 2015 as a fresh start. MLS will welcome two new expansion clubs next season, and New York City FC and Orlando City SC will be participating in an Expansion Draft that Orlando has won top pick for. Because there are two teams entering in 2015, New York and Orlando will alternate selections from the existing 19 MLS clubs.
Because each existing MLS team can protect eleven of their players from expansion selection, not including homegrown and Generation Adidas (players fitting that criteria are automatically protected by the club), the Chicago Fire will have the opportunity to lock down players and keep them from moving to the new teams. Despite the club's underachievement as a whole in 2014, there are still key pieces that will help the Fire move forward next season.
In the interest of speculation and playing keyboard manager, I've selected the eleven players that I believe the Fire should protect from the sticky fingers of New York City FC and Orlando City SC, in order of importance to the club's success. Meaning, the higher on the list a player is, the higher the priority is for keeping him at the club.
1. GK Sean Johnson - This is a no-brainer, and if I had him any lower on the list I'd have to honestly evaluate the level of cynicism this season has forced itself upon me. Sean is the backbone of the starting XI, and as frustrating as this season has been, it could have been far worse had we not been saved by the Milk Man himself.
I still believe it's only a matter of time before Sean finds his way to Europe, but until then the club can't afford to lose him without at least collecting a transfer fee.
2. F Quincy Amarikwa - The 2014 season has quite literally been The Quincy Time Show. Amarikwa is the Fire's goal scoring leader with 10 goals in all competitions, and with Magee under performing and later out due to injury, and few reinforcements up top (save for Earnshaw later this season) Quincy was forced to take the brunt of the workload for The Men In Red.
No matter how bleak our post season chances became, Quincy always fought for every chance in every match. I believe Quincy will only continue to improve, and he should top his 2014 goal output next season.
3. F Robert Earnshaw - El Matador (as I like to call him) or Agent 88 as he's known to everyone else, has been an exciting late pick up for the Fire. Although I originally thought the signing was too little, too late, Earnshaw has shown that he can make a big impact in a small amount of time. His level of calm in his finishing paired with Quincy's hustle and pace has proved to be dangerous when in the opponent's defensive third.
For the Fire to be successful next season, the team must have viable scoring threats as options up top. Matthew Fondy and Flourent Sinama-Pongolle are NOT one of those options. SPOILER ALERT: Fondy and Pongolle don't make this list.
4. F Mike Magee - It was clear that the Chicago Fire and MVP Magic Mike Magee honeymoon was over once preseason started and Magee decided to hold out for more money. Build on top of that the fact that once he got his big pay raise he succeeded in doing absolute nothing to back his new earnings up. But despite low production and later being out of commission due to hip surgery, when healthy and surrounded by players can facilitate his game, Mike Magee will again be magic. With Quincy and Earnshaw in the mix now, the pressure of replicating his 2013 success is off of Magee's shoulders, and he can focus on creating chances and helping the team win.
A lot of people are ready to send Magee off to any club who will have him after his shenanigans this season. But I warn that if Fire part ways with Magee, he will find success elsewhere. Remember that hat-trick he scored on the Fire in LA in 2013? I bet he'd love to do that to us again, especially if we let him.
5. D Gonzalo Segares - Chicago's defense has been under scrutiny since manager Frank Yallop arrived. Particularly when he shipped former MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry to Philadelphia and brought in Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni in a move that was a head scratcher to say the least, and who then both proved to be irrevocable busts. But Super Sega is a staple in the Fire defense, and now with Chicago Fire entering the post Logan Pause era, Gonzalo Segares is one of the lasting original Fire players from the glory years.
Segares is a Fire OG and the club wouldn't be the same without him, and I don't think I'd ever want to see him in a different MLS jersey.
6. M Patrick Nyarko - I could argue that before Mike Magee was injured, his struggle to produce on the field was in large part due to Patrick Nyarko having been injured for much of the season. We've been forced into the realization this season (if you didn't know already)that without Nyarko's speed and creativity on the wing, and his ability to run at defenders and draw fouls in dangerous areas, our attack is very one dimensional. Magee had the most to gain when Patrick was healthy, and he had the most to lose when Patrick was not.
Since Patrick was injured Yallop has tried to band-aid fix the hole at RM by moving center mid Alex out to the wing, which continues to be a point of frustration for me that Alex even continues to be considered for the game day 18. But with the continued improvement of Grant Ward and the acquisition of Sanna Nyassi, there is the possibility of good depth and rotation on the wing.
7. M Sanna Nyassi - Nyassi was a good pickup by Yallop to help a stagnant Fire offense. Although the returns weren't enough to turn the season around, our opportunity for that shut when the transfer window did. But still, Sanna Nyassi's versatility on the wing as well as his ability to play up top will be important for the Fire going into next season.
Knowing that Nyassi can be successful at multiple positions helps his stock with the team, and nearly ensures his upswing in minutes on the field.
8. D Lovel Palmer - Lovel Palmer is a hard working defender that gives every part of himself to his club and his fans. When CJ Brown vouched for his character and work ethic in January, there wasn't much doubt that he would be great for the club. His passion on the field and for the Fire community is comparable to that of a player who has played for Chicago for multiple years, and not just one.
Palmer's defensive prowess has helped stabilize a struggling back line, and although his early crosses need improvement; his ability to push forward to give the offense an extra option is very valuable.
9. D Marco Franco - Marco Franco is a promising young defender who has loads of potential if he is given the opportunity to grow. Franco has spent a lot of time on loan this season, first with the OC Blues, and most recently with Indy Eleven. I've been a fan of loaning him out to get him experience, and I think next season he could put himself in the position to contribute to the squad.
The defender's hit to the salary cap is minimal, and his services in the defensive rotation is reason enough to keep him around.
10. M Jeff Larentowitz - I like Jeff Larentowitz, which is why it was a struggle to put him so low on the list. Big Red is a no-nonsense defensive mid. He works hard, and takes his role with the club very seriously. And with Logan not being the Logan of past years and getting minimal minutes, I thought his appointment as captain was a good move. However, his leadership on the field has been a point of contention for me. It was clear early on in the season that Yallop had no intention of assigning penalty takers or set piece takers. He said in a press conference that he allows the players to work it out for themselves. This is where Big Red needs to step in. Appoint the takers yourself, or take them yourself. But allowing players to hash it out on the field is not what a captain does. For a recent example, there is no way Pongolle should have been allowed to take that set piece just outside of the box v. Montreal on Sunday. It's Larentowitz's job to take the ball and tell Pongolle to step away.
It's also not clear what Larentowitz's role would have been had the Fire actually acquired Jermaine Jones. Of course Big Red spent some time at center back during the Jermaine Jones Saga, but in the offseason when the Fire are able to fix their defensive weaknesses, would Larentowitz stay on as an out of position player?
11. M Razvan Cocis - Cocis is a good rotation player who has great control and vision in the middle of the field and can provide service forward to advancing wingers and forwards. I don't consider Cocis a permanent starter for the Chicago Fire, but I do think he is a viable option for depth at the center mid position. Razvan Cocis has actually made great strides to make Chicago home from Romania, and I believe he deserves a chance to prove his worth to the Fire.
With the assumption that Frank Yallop decides against picking up the option for Benji Joya (which would be a grave mistake) and the hope that the Fire send Alex far, far away from Toyota Park, Cocis will have the opportunity to see some minutes in 2015 even if the Fire do go out and spend some money on a true center attacking midfielder.
Up In The Air: It's still not certain who the Chicago Fire will choose to protect from the upcoming Expansion Draft, but I would hope to see the majority, if not all the players, on this list also make it on to the official team list. I think it would put the Chicago Fire at a considerably difficult situation if the club had to replace one of these players in the off season, on top of what seems to be an endless amount of work needed to get the squad back to winning ways in 2015.
Braulio Diaz leaves exposed: Alex, Greg Cochrane, Matt Fondy, Patrick Ianni, Benji Joya, Hunter Jumper, Alec Kann, Stephen Kinney, Laurent Sinama-Pongolle, Kyle Reynish, Bakary Soumare, Grant Ward, Matt Watson.
When I first looked at the topic of expansion draft protection list, my initial reaction was let them all go, lets implode this roster, and conduct a true rebuild. I then remembered the teachings of HTiOT founder Tweed Thornton 's work on the importance of carryover minutes and I thought better of the idea. Clearly, even if this club does complete the wholesale shake-up which I believe it desperately needs, the Fire will need returning leadership in the rebuilding process and experienced players with minutes under their belts on the pitch.
Since the Fire can protect 11 players in addition to Homegrown talent and Generation Adidas players who are automatically protected, I tried to think about what is going to be most important to the Fire going forward. Also, to the best of my understanding (which is never a very a sure thing with MLS), the Fire would not have to worry about protecting players on loan to them since they are not technically under contract with the club unless they exercise their option to purchase. Not having to worry about protecting Harry Shipp, Grant Ward, Victor Pineda, Benji Joya, Collin Fernandez or Chris Ritter relieves a lot of pressure of which young guys we have to protect.
Keeping all of that in mind this is who I thought would be the best options for protection. These are my picks in no particular order with a brief explanation of my thinking.
1. Quincy Amarikwa: I don't think that Quincy is an everyday forward who should be starting most matches in a season. However, he has undoubtedly proven himself to be a valuable piece in any clubhouse.
I would like to see the Fire acquire a legit threat up top this off season and go back to using Quincy as a spot starter and late substitution. I could see NYCFC or Orlando scooping him up as a spare part. Protect him!
2. Razvan Cocis: I've seen just enough of Cocis this season to think that given better players around him he could be a valuable asset in 2015. I believe once he settles into the physicality of the MLS he will be useful at moving the ball through the midfield. Keep him.
3. Robert Earnshaw: He certainly broke onto the Fire roster with a bang. Earnshaw has demonstrated that he can pose a real threat to MLS clubs when in the final 3rd. On the DP money he was making in Toronto, I think he is not that valuable, but on the salary the Fire are paying he is useful and I could see expansion clubs feeling the same way.
4. Sean Johnson: Before the season began I thought for sure that Sean Johnson would be packing his bags for Europe this off-season, meaning protecting him would be a moot point (except to collect transfer money). I thought for sure Kyle Reynish would be starting some while Johnson shopped for a new home.
With the back line prone to mistakes in front of him in 2014, Johnson conceded a lot of goals and I fear his demand has been hurt a bit. That being said, he is still extremely valuable to the Fire and would be to either expansion club. Without a doubt, protect him.
5. Jeff Larentowicz: I still think the Fire could do better at Jeff's roles (both that he has played this season). However, the Fire need a captain and for the time being that remains Jeff Larentowicz. He plays with authority and has a lot of MLS experience, something both NYCFC and Orlando will be looking for. It makes sense to use one of our protections on him.
6. Patrick Nyarko: I know, his small frame is prone to injuries and MLS clubs seem to have figured out how to take Nyarko out of the games using strategic "tackling", but Patrick, I just can't quit you. I think Patrick's unique approach with the ball at his feet will be much more useful with better talent around him and expansion clubs will look at him as a useful part. Protect him.
7. Lovel Palmer: I love Lovel Palmer and how he plays the game. I also love how approachable he is off the pitch. Palmer has seen relative success with other clubs he has played for, and that experience and winning mentality is what the Fire were missing most this year from the rest of the club.
Do I think he is the best player in the world? No. But assuming he remain with the Fire next season I plan to put Palmer on the back of the next kit I purchase. Without a doubt, protect him.
8. Gonzalo Segares: My first instinct was that the Fire could afford to lose Sega. Then I rationalized that at left back he is in one of the thinnest positions in MLS, and our go to option if Sega were taken in the expansion draft would be Greg Cochrane. Then I thought about Logan Pause retiring and thought about the importance of Sega's history in the clubhouse. Then this selection became a no brainer for me. Protect Sega.
9. Marco Franco: My initial instinct was to protect all young talent and screw the old guard. As it turned out, because of the Fire's rich youth development program and the presence of homegrown talent, I did not have to protect half of the guys I thought I would need to. With the sheer numbers of defenders I would have the Fire leave unprotected I would want to have a young prospect as an option.
It's true that I have not seen enough of Franco to know if he is truly MLS ready talent, but being selected 13th overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft has me willing to gamble that we need to protect him.
10. Sanna Nyassi: I don't find Nyassi's game overly inspiring but I do think his speed is useful. Not sure if he is the type of player that would get scooped up in the expansion but I think he is worthy enough of a protection.
11. Matt Watson: Watson has proved himself to be a useful 'tool' in multiple tactical situations and a competent talent for the Fire. I think the Men in Red can continue to use his skill set in the midfield and that expansion clubs could see value in him. I think he is worth protecting.
Anthony Seymour leaves unprotected: Alex, Greg Cochrane, Matt Fondy, Patrick Ianni, Hunter Jumper, Alec Kann, Stephen Kinney, Mike Magee, Laurent Sinama-Pongolle, Kyle Reynish, Bakary Soumare, Grant Ward.
A few short notes on the players I chose to leave unprotected:
Mike Magee: I love what Magee brought to the table in 2013. Who wouldn't? However, the need to rebuild and valuable capital needed to succeed in rebuilding, I think the Fire would be happy to see Magee's contract removed from the payroll. I hope Magee still has a successful career after returning from hip surgery but he gets paid a lot of money in MLS terms to take that risk. If NYCFC or Orlando wants to take on that risk, let them.
Bakary Soumare: Again, if an expansion team wants to take on Soumare's salary, be my guest. I think the value per dollar is not there for Baky, although I do think (despite past grumbling) he remains a serviceable, if erratic, center back.
Florent Sinama-Pongolle: I really have only had a brief look at what the Frenchman brings to the table. However, what I have seen so far has not impressed me. An argument could be made that he deserves a chance to be protected over, maybe, Nyassi because he potentially has more upside, but I have just been too unimpressed with what I have seen so far.
Alex: Alex just doesn't have me convinced. I feel like we have seen enough of him to know that he is not going to the replacement for Sebastian Grazzini he was billed as. I would let him go.
Finally, some 'speed comments' on others I'm leaving unprotected. Lets face it, no one really wants most of these guys. Cochrane: Eh. Anangono: Duh. Fondy: Nice guy, no one wants him. Ianni: More money dump. Jumper: Won't be picked. Kann: Third goalie. Kinney: Broken. Reynish: Replaceable.
As the 2014 MLS season winds up and we enter a new era of MLS with Orlando City and New York City FC joining the league, it's clear that the Fire are in a state of flux. Frank Yallop hasn't had the most convincing of first seasons and the roster looks quite a ways off from contending. With that in mind, I took the approach that the Fire could use this off-season as a chance to continue to make the squad younger, maintain the foundation and smartly build for the future.
1. Sean Johnson: I really hope I don't have to explain too much of this. Enjoy Johnson playing for the Fire while you can because soon enough, a European team is going to come calling and Johnson will leave. He's a top five goalie in the league and our most important player.
2. Razvan Cocis: As he entered the league towards the end, it's hard to judge someone because it can take some time to adapt to the league and a new country. From what we saw in the second half of the year, Cocis is worth keeping around to see if he is can be the answer in the midfield.
3. Quincy Amarikwa: Quincy has proven to be a hard-working forward who can get goals in the league. He will never lead the front line by himself but with a salary of just $60,000, he brings great value to the team.
4. Matt Watson: After his first season in Chicago, Watson has shown his versatility and tough play in the midfield. I believe that he can improve even more on his first year and continue to grow and as a common theme in all of this, he represents fairly good value at $82,000.
5. Patrick Nyarko: It wasn't the year that Nyarko or Fire fans had hoped for. An injury kept him out for a good portion of the year but when healthy, it was clear that Nyarko can still help the team. A proven, quick wide player in MLS is something to hold on to.
6.Lovel Palmer: When the season started, I wasn't too sure about how Lovel Palmer would do. I thought Marco Franco would get the majority of the minutes by the end of year and I'm here today to eat my words. A steady year at right back makes him an easy choice to protect.
7. Robert Earnshaw: In his second stint in MLS, Earnshaw has shown that he can still score goals in the league. He is definitely the better option over Florent Sinama-Pongolle so he gets to stay with the Fire for another year where he can hopefully continue to score.
8. Greg Cochrane: This decision is one of my more controversial picks as it could signal the end of Gonzalo Segares' time with the Fire. Cochrane is a younger option at left back and would free up around $124,500 worth of cap space that the team desperately needs. I'm not sure Cochrane is the long-term solution but deserves some consideration.
9. Mike Magee: Magic Mike. He did not have the season we all hoped for. A slow start to the year ended with an injury leaving the fans, the Fire and Magee disappointed. Some people might say this is a good chance to dump a possibly injured player but I'll put my money on Magee returning to his old form with a point to prove because of this last season.
10. Marco Franco: Even though he barely featured for the Fire, I don't think the Fire should give up on him yet. Franco is only 23 years old and hopefully he can put in the work in the offseason to come back with a stronger season. It's fairly possible that the Fire could cut their losses but it's just too early to give up on him already.
11. Sanna Nyassi: When the Fire traded for Nyassi, they knew this expansion draft was coming. For that reason, I think the Fire made the trade with an eye on this draft and are planning on keeping him. Nyassi is young and as they say, "you can't teach speed". His few glimpses of promise make me want to see him get a full season with the Fire but a salary of $155,000 makes me a little hesitant. It's close, but he stays.
A quick recap of some of the people left off are Larentowicz (old, salary), Ianni (yikes), Soumare (double yikes), Fondy (didn't show anything), Reynish (Johnson is in the way) and Alex (easily replaceable). There are a few others but if the Fire continue to look towards the future, this is the way that they should go. Bring on the disagreements!
Dan Paulmeyer leaves exposed: Alex, Matt Fondy, Patrick Ianni, Benji Joya, Hunter Jumper, Alec Kann, Stephen Kinney, Jeff Larentowicz, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Kyle Reynish, Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare, Grant Ward.
Assuming the rules are in place from the last expansion draft, like home growns and generation Adidas players are automatically protected, having a certain number of international players protected, and the whole DP thing but the Fire have no DPs on the roster right now. This is who I would protect and leave vulnerable in this year's addition of the expansion draft.
Protect in no particular order:
1. Sean Johnson
2. Jeff Larentowicz
3. Patrick Nyarko
4. Lovel Palmer
5. Razvan Cocis
6. Marco Franco
7. Quincy Amarikwa
8. Sanna Nyassi
9. Matt Watson
10. Florent Sinama-Pongolle
11. Greg Cochrane
Unprotected with reasoning:
Alex: I think he just isn't good enough to be a consistent contributor.
Juan Luis Anangono: No explanation needed.
Robert Earnshaw: I just think that, him being 33 and the Fire needing to actually make a Keane-like acquisition, there will be no room on the roster for him, but I also think he will be back as Orlando and NYCFC won't select him.
Matthew Fondy: Yeah, need I say more?
Patrick Ianni: Too big of a cap hit to protect.
Benji Joya: In Yallop's dog house and seems not to be getting out anytime soon.
Hunter Jumper: Health concerns may keep him from playing again.
Alec Kann: Reserve league keeper and nothing more.
Steven Kinney: I forgot he was on the team.
Mike Magee: Unlikely he will be selected by an expansion team as the cap hit is a large figure and his hip surgery means he won't be match fit until maybe May.
Kyle Reynish: This could be the one unprotected that is selected from the Fire as he can probably be a starter in the league.
Gonzalo Segares: One of my favorite Fire players but he is getting up there in age and the Fire need to develop one of the young backs like Cochrane or Franco to take his spot. I don't think an expansion team would take Segares if they have a plan for the future in 5 years.
Bakary Soumare: For his production and cap hit he just is not worth protecting.
Grant Ward: I don't think that an expansion team will want to pay a transfer fee for him but I have been wrong before.
Let me just say - if you're still reading this far into this roundtable - that you, loyal reader, deserve a space to call your own. Turns out we have one already; it's called the 'comments section,' and it's just down the page a bit further. Please do register your opinions, be they outrage or approbation, in that space - this is a community, not a megaphone, and we'd really like to know who you'd keep and who you'd cut loose.
For me, the expansion draft is an elaborate cat-and-mouse game. There is not a tremendous amount of unheralded talent available, so what useful players do come up for selection are usually saddled with crazy contracts or some personal baggage. And, as Messrs. Yallop and Bliss have made clear, the Fire's hands were tied in 2014 by some longer-term deals - which is why I expect them to try to dump salary in the Expansion Draft.
1. Sean Johnson: SeanJohn is paid pretty well by MLS keeper standards, but he'd be a first-round pick in the expansion draft. He's only 25, which is a baby in keeper-years. There's no downside here - if he plays lights-out and earns a look in Europe, the Fire can profit in the transfer market, and if he merely stays at his current level, he's one of the top five keepers in MLS.
2. Lovel Palmer: Palmer is not now, and will never be, a Best-XI type right back. But on the field he's tough and unstinting, and off the field he's the rare player who gets how important the bond between the supporters and the team can be. He doesn't make excuses, and he doesn't cut corners. He's the kind of guy I want retiring in Fire red. And he's not making huge money, so we've got that going for us, which is nice.
3. Quincy Amarikwa: Quincy's gotten a ton of playing time in 2014, and he's played quite well for a player of his pedigree and at his salary number. If he was making $150k, I'd expose him; at $60k, he's a bargain.
4. Matt Watson: Watson is an all-action Swiss Army knife of a player, and his partnership in the middle with Cocis was the best central-midfield pairing of a lousy 2014 for the Fire. His lower salary and versatility makes him surprisingly valuable in MLS.
5. Razvan Cocis: Cocis is a true central midfielder, a guy who understands how to use space and combinations to keep and advance possession. He's unselfish with the ball and astute off it. The Hungarian is a more experienced player the club can build around.
6. Grant Ward: It's important to remember just how young Grant Ward is - he's the youngest player on this year's roster by almost two years. He's grown into a role on the right wing; surely he needs to be more incisive, but name a 19-year-old in world football who does not. I question what his salary-cap hit would be, but at the listed number, this is a no-brainer.
7. Benji Joya: Joya is also terribly young; he's only recently been able to buy himself a beer. While he's gotten buried at the back of Yallop's doghouse this year, if the Fire can keep ahold of the former USA U20 captain, I'd like to see them do it. Played in his proper position, he's poised for a breakout year.
8. Jeff Larentowicz: This is where it starts to get shaky. Big Red's cap number is a little salty, but 1.) the club needs some continuity, and captain's a good place to start, and 2.) the club needs some returnees in central defense, and Jeff seems a good place to start. I see Larentowicz' switch to defense as a great move; he may extend his career by 2-4 years by making this move now. If he was still starting and struggling at defensive midfield, I'd expose him.
9. Greg Cochrane: Now that I've protected Big Red, I'm going to run the risk of losing Gonzalo Segares. I love Sega, I love his game, but a 32-year-old left back who's losing his wheels faster than a drunk, drag-racing teenager is a tough nut to crack. At $100k, yes; at $170, no. Cochrane isn't ready for prime time, but at his cap number, the savings just look too tempting.
10. Alex: I believe we need to cut Alex a bit of slack. He's not the second coming of Seba Grazzini, no; he's more like a left-footed version of Matt Watson - versatile, durable and nowhere near a budget-buster. Plus, we need to protect some international players, I believe. I think trying Alex at left back was an experiment to see if he and Cochrane could hold down the fort in 2015.
11. Patrick Nyarko: Patty isn't on a low cap number, and he's been injured a lot the last couple of years - but I have a hard time imagining the glee of NYCFC or Orlando City if he were exposed. An honest-to-goodness right winger who can beat people on the dribble? Yes, please. The idea of Greg Cochrane getting spun 10 times a game by Patty against one of our Eastern Conference foes does not appeal to me, not at all.
Sean Spence exposes: Robert Earnshaw, Matt Fondy, Marco Franco, Patrick Ianni, Hunter Jumper, Alec Kann, Stephen Kinney, Mike Magee, Sanna Nyassi, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Kyle Reynish, Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare.
Notes: Several of my choices were salary-dump dares: You want the 2013 MVP, coming off of serious hip surgery? Go ahead and free up $350k for us. You want a man-mountain centerback who will break your heart? Take $330k off our tab, please. Magee, Soumare, Earnshaw, and Segares fall in this category.
Sanna Nyassi was a tough call, but - while he's undeniably very quick - there's a reason he hasn't cemented a regular role in several MLS stops, in my opinion. Patrick Ianni was similar; at his number and age, if he's not pushing hard to start on the worst Fire team in club history, then it's time to move on.
Marco Franco is a guy I debated protecting, as he's young and cheap; I'm essentially hoping his few appearances for OC Blues and Indy11 haven't put him on anyone's radar.
So what have we missed entirely? Where are we getting it right? You've surely got some thoughts about this, loyal reader. Take it to the comments, ok?