This is the third of a four-part series on the MLS Expansion Draft as fcdallas.net looks at the criteria an existing team goes through in determining who to protect for an Expansion Draft.
There are several things an existing MLS team must consider before deciding which players to protect and which players to leave exposed for the Expansion Draft. When protecting 12 players on a roster, there is much that goes into the thinking behind which of our players we are going to protect that may not seem readily apparent. Simple thinking would state that the team should just protect its 12 best players and then hope that your 13th, 14th or 15th best players are not selected in the draft. However, there is much more that must be taken into consideration.
One thing we must look at is how much a player's contract counts against the salary cap for next season. If a player has a high cap number that will hit their cap for next season, then you might consider leaving him unprotected despite this player being one of your top 10 or so players. If an expansion teams takes him, then you will have lowered your cap number for the following season and can hopefully go and upgrade on that position. There are times when a team will not protect a "Top 12" player in the hopes that they can upgrade that position elsewhere.
Something else a team must look at is if a certain player has perceived value for another team in the league. For example, an expansion team might not have interest in a player on your team. However, there may be an existing team that desires to have that player. An existing team can call the expansion team and ask them to select that player and, in turn, they will trade them a draft pick or a player off of their current roster. In reality, you are not just looking at what the two expansion teams need but what the entire league might need.
Looking at the depth of your team when considering what positions you are strong or weak at is something else to take into consideration. If your team is particularly thin at one position, it would be difficult to leave players of that position exposed in the expansion draft. The decision would be easier if you believe that you could fill that spot with somebody of equal or more value.
Age can come into play during the protection process as well. One might begin to ponder if an expansion team will try and build for the future with younger players or if they will try to win immediately. In 1998, when Chicago entered MLS, they did win immediately and it resulted in a MLS Championship during their first season. If a team looks at that and tries to mimic their success, then a veteran player you might not think would be in the plans of an expansion team just might get picked up. The head coaches of both expansion teams, Real Salt Lake and CD Chivas USA, have spent time with youngsters. Coaches like to go with what is familiar to them and they may be willing to build around a younger core. Salt Lake Head Coach John Ellinger was the coach for the U-17 Men's National Team, while Chivas Head Coach Thomas Rongen coached the U-20 Men's National Team. Rongen also could be interested in veteran players he coached or saw during his tenure with Tampa Bay, New England and D.C. of MLS.
The two teams that will play in MLS Cup this weekend, the Kansas City Wizards and D.C. United, may have a few more difficult decisions than the other eight existing teams as they will have to make their decisions the day after the Final. Most teams had their protected rosters set as they enter the playoffs. But what if there is a player who you were not going to protect before the playoffs and he has an amazing playoff run finishing with three goals in Cup? A tough decision for that team will be made. All in all, it may very well change your strategy on who to protect all over again.
Another strategy that plays into who to protect is the fact that once an expansion team selects a player from an existing team's roster, then that team can then add one player to the protected list. Quickly a decision will be made by the team on who to protect and it will not just be the 13th best player. The squad will evaluate which hole just opened up and how much he counted against the cap in order to make the split-second decision.
One final thing a team must not overlook is which P-40 players will graduate come the 2004 MLS Expansion Draft. The players who will graduate P-40 status will have to be protected if you want to guarantee their presence on your team in 2005. The Competition Committee is the group who determines which players will graduate from P-40 status. How much money a player makes or how much time that player has played are two things the committee will use to determine who to graduate.
We hope that this helps in educating you on how a team looks at which players to protect and which players to expose during MLS Expansion Draft. Please join us next week as we will post "MLS Expansion Draft Series - Part 4" which will list which players FC Dallas decided to protect and not protect for the Expansion Draft now set for Friday, November 19.