As the season draws closer to an end, it is fun to start pondering the future and what the Fire may look like in 2017.
The team is poised to end the season stronger than it started and there is reason for cautious optimism as we forge ahead. One variable in 2017 that could turn everything around is the addition of both Atlanta United and Minnesota United. Minnesota will likely become a regional rival though they are at least starting in the Western Conference while Atlanta will be another hurdle in the Eastern Conference for Chicago to tackle as it searches for an elusive playoff appearance.
But before any of that can happen, Atlanta and Minnesota need more players and MLS is going to let them raid some rosters to help them out.
The good news is each MLS team can only lose one player. If and when a player is selected from a team, that team is safe from further exposure.
The bad news is teams can only protect 11 players. It may seem like a lot, but it adds up pretty quickly. There are some automatic exemptions, but the Fire hardly have any players that qualify. Collin Fernandez, Drew Conner and Patrick Doody are automatically exempt as Homegrown players not on the senior roster. Joey Calistri is a Homegrown player on the senior roster, so he could be eligible, but his minimum salary could make it to where he is not classified as a “senior” player.
@HotTimeOldTown Calistri is earning $52,500 (reserve budget) and as such can be shifted back to the reserve roster at will, he is protected.— Jake C (@RJakeConnelly) September 14, 2016
It’s still very confusing regarding Calistri’s situation.
With only 10 combined selections to be made between the two expansion teams, chances are Minnesota and Atlanta will go looking for greener pastures when it comes to their selections than the potentially last-place team in MLS. But anything is possible, so let’s make crazy and wild assumptions for fun.
This is how I see the Fire potentially playing this come Dec. 13. (The list of protected players is actually due before that draft date, but you get the point).
David Accam, Matt Polster, Michael de Leeuw, Jonathan Campbell, Brandon Vincent, Johan Kappelhof, David Arshakyan
Simply put, I see no scenario in which any of these players are not locked up as tightly as can be. These are either established foundational pieces (Accam and Polster) or players who the club has heavily invested its future in (everyone else on the list).
IF Calistri ends up unprotected automatically, I think the Fire definitely use a spot on him.
That would take eight of the 11 protected spots, leaving only three spots.
My best guess for the final three
Sean Johnson, Joao Meira, Luis Solignac
If I were Veljko Paunovic, Johnson would be an auto-lock. But there always seems to be JUST enough uncertainty Paunovic seems to have when it comes to Johnson that I can’t rightfully say Johnson will for sure be protected. I still think it is very likely, but if not, I think Atlanta jumps all over him as he is a talented goalkeeper and comes with a great narrative to sell to the Atlanta fans.
On the other hand, I am not sure I would use a protection slot on Meira, but Paunovic seems to really trust him and finding a consistent center back pairing is one of the hardest and most important things to do in MLS. Meira has certainly improved throughout the year and I wouldn’t mind keeping him on the team. I just don’t think the expansion sides would be clamoring for him. But I expect him to be protected.
Solignac is a young striker who has found some success early on here. The Fire can’t afford to let him go as there would be essentially zero depth behind Arshakyan if Solignac were to leave. I don’t think the team risks it.
Most attractive unprotected players (the ones likely to be selected)
Rodrigo Ramos, John Goossens, Razvan Cocis, Arturo Alvarez
If a Fire player is selected, I expect it to be one of these men. Ramos obviously has youth on his side and has shown flashes of potential. Making the shortlist of 24 under 24 should make him an attractive option for an expansion side. I am not sure what the situation is with him in Chicago, but it seems something more than rest is happening, whatever it is.
Goossens is also the youngest of the three midfielders and also flashed potential, but has dealt with frequent nagging injuries. He is sort of in a strange place of not being a young prospect like Ramos but also not being an established veteran who has a track record of production like Cocis and Alvarez. I don’t see him being selected.
If the expansion teams are looking for veteran stability with MLS experience, both Cocis and Alvarez would make fine choices. Having players who know the league and have produced, even at modest levels, is crucial for a new squad. I could easily see either man being taken as they would fill that leadership/depth role well.
Sacrificing a midfielder should not be an issue since the Fire has publicly stated their desire to sign a DP-level midfielder in the (near?) future.
Who do you think is at most risk of being selected in the expansion draft?