For the most part, players left unprotected by their clubs either didn’t see much time in 2018, had their options declined, are older or have contracts so prohibitively high that it’s unlikely FCC use one of their five picks on them. Most of the biggest names eligible for selection fall into one of those final two categories, but it’s still worth taking a closer look at some of the more marquee players available to Cincinnati to explain why their teams left them unprotected.
Let’s dive in.
Jeff Larentowicz, Atlanta United
Jeff Larentowicz has had a fantastic MLS career, and he was a rock for Atlanta United in their run to MLS Cup. With a 2018 salary of just $210,000 according to the MLS Players Association that shouldn’t rise too much after Atlanta picked up his option on Sunday, the 35-year-old would be good value for a Cincinnati team that badly needs some MLS know-how.
So, why’d Atlanta leave him available? Simple. They just have too many other valuable assets. They were never going to protect Larentowicz over Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, Hector Villalba, Brad Guzan, Darlington Nagbe, Greg Garza, Eric Remedi, Julian Gressel or Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Even though it seems likely Miguel Almiron will leave this winter, not protecting him would've meant letting Cincinnati have his transfer fee. That would've been madness. Larentowicz contributed more than Franco Escobar this season, but the Argentine is 23 and on the rise. Larentowicz is 35 and presumably near the end.
His age could play a factor in this, by the way. It would not be shocking if Larentowicz made it known to Cincinnati that he’d retire if they take him away from Atlanta. Even if that doesn’t end up being the case, FCC will likely want to use their limited selection on younger players, if all else is equal.
Michael Parkhurst, Atlanta United
If Michael Parkhurst weren’t eligible for MLS Free Agency, he most likely would’ve been protected. He is and wasn’t, so here we are. Atlanta on Sunday declined their contract option on their soon-to-be 35-year-old captain, but they announced that they’re in negotiations to bring him back. Even if they re-sign him for the exact number that his option would’ve paid him in 2019, that was a shrewd move.
Here’s why: By declining his option and making him eligible for free agency, Atlanta eliminated the consequences of him being taken in the Expansion Draft. Even if FCC select him, Parkhurst can turn around and sign a new deal with Atlanta, where he’s said he wants to remain. By leaving him unprotected, the Five Stripes allowed themselves to protect another player – likely Escobar – who otherwise would’ve been available for selection and wouldn’t have been so easy to get back.
Reto Ziegler and Marquinhos Pedroso, FC Dallas
Pedroso is one of the more intriguing names available Tuesday | USA Today Sports Images
These were two of the more puzzling names on any club’s unprotected list. Both Reto Ziegler and Marquinhos Pedroso were solid performers for a stingy FC Dallas backline in their first seasons in MLS. Ziegler started 29 regular-season games and paired well at center back with Matt Hedges, while Pedroso was a more-than-capable replacement at left back following Anton Nedyalkov’s surprising departure in the spring. Both would be instant starters in Cincy.
As outlined in this piece on the club’s website, Dallas are taking a calculated gamble by leaving both unprotected. They’re betting that FCC will stay away from Ziegler due to his age (he’ll be 33 in mid-January), salary ($800,000 in 2018, per the MLS Players Association) and international status. At 25, Pedroso is the right age, but, like Ziegler, he’s a Targeted Allocation Money player and an international.
Dallas’ line of thinking is understandable, but I think leaving both Ziegler and Pedroso exposed ends with one being selected. They’re not cheap, they’re not domestic and Ziegler isn’t young, but they might be too good for Cincinnati to pass on both.
Haris Medunjanin, Philadelphia Union
Haris Medunjanin was effective for Philadelphia in 2018, but his age, contract and style make him unlikely to be selected on Tuesday. The Bosnian made $545,000 in 2018, per the MLS Players Association. That’s not a prohibitively high number on its own, but it’s quite a bit for a deep-lying midfielder who A) Turns 34 in March and B) Is limited defensively due to his inability to cover ground. Throw in Cincinnati’s stated plan to be “fiscally responsible” in 2019, and it’s unlikely the Union are too worried about losing Medunjanin.
Borek Dockal, Philadelphia Union
Dockal is unlikely to return to MLS in 2019 | USA Today Sports Images
For those who haven’t been following the Union this offseason, it doesn’t look like Borek Dockal will return to the club next year. A source recently told MLSsoccer.com that Philadelphia don’t plan to pay the high purchase option to permanently acquire him from Chinese club Henan Jianye, who loaned him to the Union in 2018. Added to this report from last month, and it sounds like a longshot that Dockal will come back to MLS.
Cincinnati, who have already said they don’t plan to add a DP this winter, anyway, would be wasting a pick if they chose Dockal.
All the Portland Timbers, Portland Timbers
Rest easy, Timbers fans. It appears that no one on your unprotected list is going to Cincinnati.