It's a poker game as Chivas leave young talent available

Zarek Valentin

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The Expansion Draft can be a poker game for teams deciding which players to leave unprotected. In the 2011 edition, Chivas USA have gambled by leaving a few talented young prospects available for former Chivas captain and current Montreal Impact head coach Jesse Marsch.

The Rojiblancos' unprotected list is highlighted by Chivas' last four MLS SuperDraft first Round draft picks: Zarek Valentin (4th overall pick in 2011), Victor Estupiñán (10th overall in 2011), Blair Gavin (10th overall in 2010) and Michael Lahoud (5th overall in 2009).

“You get 11 players that you have to protect and there are rules that you have to protect a certain number of foreign players and we did that,” general manager José Domene told MLSsoccer.com.  “At the end of the day, we protected, who we thought that we need.

“Like I've said, you play the odds,” he added. “You also want to keep guys that may have value for other teams so that they're not left unprotected. Unfortunately, you can't protect everybody, so it is what it is.”

Valentin – who graduated from Generation adidas along with Gavin – experienced an up-and-down rookie season, playing 25 games for Chivas and eventually earning a spot in the recent US U-23 Olympic camp in Germany. Gavin, meanwhile, has battled hamstring injuries since being selected by Chivas last season, but showed flashes of potential during his 18 appearances.

The versatile Lahoud enjoyed a strong season for Chivas, playing numerous positions, including left back and defensive midfield. Estupiñán, who brashly predicted he’d score 30 goals as a rookie, made just nine appearances in his first season in MLS.

Head coach Robin Fraser's protected list includes striker Juan Pablo Ángel, who is still in talks with the club about returning after scoring seven goals in nine games during a brief stint with the Rojiblancos.

Joining Ángel on the protected list were core members of Fraser's starting lineup, including ‘keeper Dan Kennedy, defender Heath Pearce, midfielder Nick LaBrocca and forward Alejandro Moreno among others.

Paulo Nagamura, who struggled with various injuries in 2011 and in just 11 matches – and a former teammate of Marsch – was also protected. So was Ryan Smith, the English winger who was acquired by Chivas from Sporting KC in the league's brief trade window on Monday.

Both defenders Brian De La Fuente and forward Tristan Bowen were exempt from the Expansion Draft due to their status as Home Grown players. Neither played a large role with Chivas' first team in 2011 and Bowen has been on loan with second division Belgian side KSV Roeselare since August.

Chivas USA's Protected XI:

Goalkeeper: Dan Kennedy

Defenders: Heath Pearce, Michael Umaña

Midfielders: Jorge Flores, Ben Zemanski, Paulo Nagamura, Nick LaBrocca, Ryan Smith

Forwards: Juan Pablo Angel, Alejandro Moreno, Justin Braun

Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at adam.m.serrano@gmail.com