The list of eligible players for the 2020 Expansion Draft is out and Austin FC will soon be on the clock on Tuesday (6 pm ET).
There are myriad rules to the process of protecting players (which you can peruse here) but, essentially, teams protected 12 players from possible selection. Generation adidas players who have not been graduated at the end of the season and Homegrown Players (ages 25 and under – born in or after 1995) on a club’s roster at the end of the season were automatically protected. Players signed after the season are not up for selection either. Austin cannot select two players from the same club in the pool of 16 teams, while 10 teams who had players selected in last year's expansion draft are exempt.
The comprehensive list of eligible players isn't just of interest to Austin. Any other club around MLS can begin calling to orchestrate a trade for a player they fancy, though Austin sporting director Claudio Reyna told media on Friday that he mainly expects to use the draft for adding players rather than fielding trades. He'll be listening to offers, though.
Extratime debate: Who should Austin pick in the Expansion Draft?
For instance, Nashville SC selected Brandon Vazquez last year and traded him to FC Cincinnati as well as Zarek Valentin, who they sent to Houston; Cincy took Kei Kamara and traded him to the Colorado Rapids in 2018; the year prior, LAFC selected Jukka Raitala and Raheem Edwards and traded them to Montreal.
Selecting players in this draft isn't as binary as judging the best five players available. Factors like age, value, contract length, etc. shape the decision. They may have their pick of the entire slate even despite making five trades on Sunday, which sometimes come with an agreement not to select a player from the selling team's roster but Reyna didn't comment on that possibility.
The following list also (generally) stays away from using a selection on free agents, like Matt Besler, Reto Ziegler, CJ Sapong and other intriguing players for the expansion side.
Anyway. Here are some of the best options, assuming everyone is truly on the table:
Rosell has had a mixed return to MLS with Orlando City, sometimes playing like the midfield constant he was in Sporting KC and other times something less. Orlando left him exposed after making eight starts this season and beginning both playoff games.
The midfielder could make sense for Austin given his MLS experience and his fit into Josh Wolff's stated desire of playing possession-based, exciting soccer. Rosell is classy on the ball and would be a snug fit as a deep-lying distributor. He'd require a more defensive-minded midfield partner, though.
A dependable rotational forward with MLS experience and a great locker room presence, Akindele is an appealing option for Austin. Put him next to Rossel on this list given Austin are not able to select two players from any team, so they can't have both Akindele and Rossel.
Akindele, 28, has 37 goals over 178 MLS appearances (97 starts). He enjoyed his best season in 2019 with 10 goals for Orlando but eventually lost his regular starting role to first-round SuperDraft selection Daryl Dike.
Another option from Orlando whose profile makes sense. The 23-year-old defender can play both center and left back and has made 28 appearances so far in MLS with Orlando. He is a Canadian international, too.
Miller's age, likely team-friendly contract and versatility render him a strong option.
Essentially every team aside from FC Cincinnati have grabbed a keeper in their Expansion Draft in recent years. (I say "essentially" because Nashville didn't technically select one, though they did use one of their picks to trade for starting GK Joe WIllis.) It'd be a good bet to see one go to Austin given the names available.
Bingham, 31, has been a starting keeper in MLS for the past six seasons, split evenly between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy. His time in Los Angeles may be coming to an end, though, given the club opted to leave him unprotected, rather than Jonathan Klinsmann, who isn't technically yet under contract for 2021.
Another goalie available for selection is longtime Red Bull keeper Ryan Meara.
Meara, 30, was originally the club's starter in 2012 before Luis Robles took over. He remained the backup for several years before receiving the chance to start again in 2020, making 13 appearances as he was limited with injuries.
The Red Bulls also left fellow GK David Jensen unprotected.
Canadian international center back Derek Cornelius is available from the Whitecaps. Cornelius' profile given his age (23) and MLS experience (30 games over the last two years for Vancouver after signing from FK Javor Ivanjica) and contract (team options through 2022 season) make him a potential add.
Austin traded for center back Julio Cascante from the Portland Timbers on Sunday, though. Every squad needs plenty of defenders.
An MLS veteran option and one who just experienced a successful expansion season with Nashville, Badji is available for selection.
The 28-year-old started just under half of Nashville's 2020 matches and can play anywhere across the front line. He has 33 goals and 17 assists in 141 MLS appearances between stints with the Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas then Nashville.
Another option from Nashville, Anibaba is a hugely respected MLS veteran. He has played for five different MLS clubs and is a versatile defender, able to play right back and center back.
Anibaba, 32, has made 231 MLS appearances since originally being drafted No. 9 overall in the 2011 SuperDraft. He made 12 appearances for Nashville in their expansion campaign this year.
This one is a bit complicated given the Dynamo didn't exercise Tomas Martinez's, meaning he can technically sign elsewhere outside MLS freely. But if Austin can agree to a contract with the Argentine before the selection, he's an interesting bounce-back candidate.
Martinez joined Houston in 2017 as a young Designated Player from Braga and is a product of River Plate's famed academy. He enjoyed a strong 2018 season (with five goals and 13 assists in 32 games) but became less productive in 2019 before completely falling out of favor in 2020. He made just three starts this year.
Still, he's only 25 and has plenty of pedigree. If they can agree to a reasonable contract for both parties, perhaps there are worse options than taking a flier on the once-rising talent?
Another tricky one given there have been reports that Trapp is expected to sign with Minnesota United once he hits free agency. How much in allocation money might that trouble be worth?