Crew's Andres Mendoza celebrates his goals against Colorado, June 26, 2011.

Mendoza, O'Rourke head Columbus' unprotected list

COLUMBUS, Ohio – MLS career goals leader Jeff Cunningham, 2009 team MVP Danny O’Rourke, and this year’s top Crew scorer Andrés Mendoza were among those made available by Columbus for Wednesday’s Expansion Draft by the Montreal Impact.

The Crew’s 11-player protected list included rookie midfielders Rich Balchan and Bernardo Anor as well as US national team midfielder Robbie Rogers, who is out of contract and seeking a move to Europe.

“We hope he does well, but if he doesn’t, we want to be able to retain his rights,” Crew technical director Brian Bliss said. “It’s a calculated risk.”

He used the same words to describe leaving Mendoza unprotected. The Peruvian forward had 13 goals, but the team’s only Designated Player has had a rocky relationship at times with the fans, teammates and coaches.

Bliss thinks Montreal probably won’t gamble on Mendoza.

When asked if not protecting Mendoza was an indication the big striker wouldn’t return to the Crew next season, Bliss replied, "Not necessarily.”

The Crew had to readjust when they were informed that midfielders Dilly Duka and Tony Tchani graduated from the Generation adidas program and thus were eligible for the Expansion Draft if not protected.

“Frankly, when Dilly and Tchani graduated, that threw us for a loop,” Bliss aid. “We had to make a move or two we didn’t anticipate.

“We had had three scenarios – none graduating, one graduating and the other one not, and both of them graduating,” he added. “We thought based on the information we were given that it wouldn’t be both.”

Bliss said leaving defenders Josh Gardner and Shaun Francis exposed were also tough choices because left backs are hard to find.

It is probably less of a gamble putting O’Rourke out there because of the left knee surgery a year ago that reduced him to only six games in 2011.

“If you’re thinking of the Danny of ’08 and ’09, yeah, it’s a risk. But I don’t think many people are thinking back that far,” Bliss said.

The Crew protected goalkeeper William Hesmer but not backups Andy Gruenebaum or Alex Riggs because of the numbers.

“It’s tough to cover up two goalkeepers when you’re protecting only 11,” Bliss said.

Making veteran forward Jeff Cunningham available was not a surprise. He scored only two goals – the second on Aug. 27 was his 134th to set the league scoring mark – but he played only 591 minutes in the regular season.

Balchan was protected as expected, while Anor was a dark horse candidate to many. But the Crew liked the Venezuelan’s play, and he gives them another option on the left flank if Rogers leaves.

“Anybody who was paying attention to some of his league games, but certainly paid attention to the reserve games, would have seen what he can do,” Bliss said. “It shows what we think of the kid and maybe somebody else would be thinking the same thing.”

Fellow rookie Justin Meram, however, was left exposed. Meram was used at both left midfield and up top, seeing regular minutes with the first team.

Out of contract midfielders Emmanuel Ekpo and Kevin Burns were not protected. Ekpo is trying to land a contract in Europe, while Burns’ future status is up in the air.

Columbus' Protected XI:

Goalkeepers: William Hesmer
Defense: Chad Marshall, Julius James, Sebastián Miranda
Midfield: Rich Balchan, Dilly Duka, Tony Tchani, Bernardo Anor, Eddie Gaven, Robbie Rogers
Forwards: Emilio Rentería