Like many other nerds around soccerdom, I have been slowly picking through MLS rosters, trying to figure out certain draft rules and roster rules, internalizing salary cap numbers and playing at being an armchair (heh) general manager.
The point is that I'm thinking about the Expansion Draft, in which Atlanta United and Minnesota United FC will both pick five players to help fill out their rosters. Some of those players will likely never play a game in their new colors, while others will become mainstays. Your team is thinking about this, too, and on a much more granular and immediate level than I am.
I'm gonna tweet through it, though. So here are five players who I think will be A) available, maybe; and B) selected. Maybe.
What follows is rank speculation. I have no inside information as to who's going to be protected and not, but I can take some big, honking guesses:
Gonzalo Veron, F, RBNY: The Argentinean winger/forward is a DP, but his cap number is pretty manageable and could be easily paid down with the TAM and GAM available to them.
"Great," you're thinking. "He won't be a DP. But he's still been a bust."
Kiiinda, but less of one than you may think. His 4g/2a in 1127 MLS minutes is actually a better-than-respectable per-90 haul for a winger, and he showed real signs late in the season that he finally had the measure of the league. He also was instrumental to RBNY qualifying for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. So he won't put up Ignacio Piatti-type numbers, but if you stretch his productivity out over the course of a season, 10g/6a isn't out of the question.
Given New York's wing depth (Mike Grella, Daniel Royer and Alex Muyl all seemed to be ahead of Veron for good chunks of the year, and Derrick Etienne, Jr. may join them in 2017), Veron is probably expendable. Other guys aren't, so I suspect he'll be left unprotected.
The Argentinean connection with Atlanta manager Tata Martino also won't hurt, right?
Makes the most sense for: Atlanta
Brad Evans, M/D, Seattle Sounders: This one will hurt for Sounders fans, but in looking at their roster makeup, their salary cap situation and their positional and age-related needs, I really do think that Evans goes unprotected in the draft. And with that as the case, I think there's a better than decent chance that he gets taken by one of these teams.
Evans, who turns 32 in April, is in the autumn of his playing years but the finish line is still several seasons away. You're not going to build around him for the better part of a decade like Seattle did, but if you're looking to be respectable for the first year, and then improve the next two – while emphasizing a locker-room culture of accountability – Evans is an easy choice.
Two things most expansion teams struggle with are "can we deal with the daily grind of the season?" and "do we have meaningful depth?" Evans, because of his experience and versatility, answers both of those questions at a pretty reasonable cap hit.
Makes the most sense for: Minnesota, primarily as an overlapping right back... and as a guy who knows what it's like to come through in high-leverage moments:
Clint Irwin, GK, Toronto FC: I promise you I'm not just trolling the fans of teams who are in next weekend's MLS Cup, but the fact is that Irwin may very well hoist silverware on Saturday then pack his bags on Wednesday. So it goes.
The 27-year-old hasn't been himself since returning mid-season from an injury, but he's still put up wins, made big saves and is a well-regarded locker-room presence. Plus he is on one of the most team-friendly contracts in the entire league, which would make him an easy target if he's in the draft.
Why, then, would TFC leave him exposed? As with everyone else, it's a numbers game. The Reds will have to protect three of their five internationals, and then the rest of the protected list sort of chooses itself... until you get to the last two spots, which probably come down to Nick Hagglund, Steven Beitashour and Irwin.
Hagglund is young, cheap and has no proven backup. Beitatashour isn't either of those first two, but there's no clear right wingback behind him on the Reds' roster.
That leaves Irwin. As young and affordable as he is, there is a younger and more affordable backup in Alex Bono who proved, for two months this season, that he can do the job as a No. 1 'keeper in this league.
Makes the most sense for: Minnesota, since Atlanta's about to trade for Sean Johnson
Clint Irwin 's pic.twitter.com/83R5Rcs1i9— Toronto FC (@torontofc) May 21, 2016
Christian Dean, CB, Vancouver: Dean hasn't yet broken through as an MLS regular of any sort, but consensus around the league seems to be that the talent is still there. The goal will be getting the 23-year-old into a new environment, getting him healthy, and getting him a run of games in order for him to prove that he either is or isn't a guy who can play 2000-plus minutes a year in this league.
For those of you who haven't seen Dean – and that's probably most of you, since he's played only 414 MLS minutes since being drafted in 2014 – he's a big, agile, left-footed center back/left back with soft feet and the ability to pick a pass. The reason he hasn't broken through? In spite of his size and physical gifts, he can be bullied, and in spite of playing for very good defensive coaches in both college and in MLS, he still sort of just lets the game happen around him instead of imposing his will upon it.
Perhaps that can change? I like taking a bet on talent in this case because it's also a bet on your club's ability to develop said talent. That is arguably the most crucial part of building a successful MLS team.
Makes the most sense for: Atlanta, where Carlos Bocanegra can come down from the front office and teach him how to be a boss
Harry Shipp, AM, Montreal: If this happens, Shipp would end up being on his third MLS team in the last three years. And if that happens, I'll chalk it up less to a lack of talent and more to a hard-wired inability of MLS coaches to trust domestic players in attacking, creative positions. There is still something like a communal mental block when it comes to trusting Americans or Canadians to wear the No. 10.
I think that's misplaced, and I think that Shipp has shown more than just flashes of the ability to be a primary chance creator when played centrally. Too often, though, both in Chicago and in Montreal, he's been shunted to the wing.
That's not his spot. And it needs to be said that he's not going to be a high-usage, Javier Morales-esque No. 10, either. It's actually somewhat instructive to look at a few of the names around him in terms of open play chances created per 90 this past year – guys like Giovani Dos Santos, Shkelzen Gashi and Sebastian Giovinco. Guys who are really more second forwards or floating creators rather than midfield orchestrators.
Know who else plays like that? Kaká. Know who Kaká played for in Orlando? New Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath. Know who probable No. 1 SuperDraft pick Jeremy Ebobisse reminds many of? Orlando City striker Cyle Larin.
I'm not sitting here saying that Shipp is as good as Kaká. But I do still 100 percent think he's good enough to run a team in MLS if he gets his fitness right, and if he has a coach with a history of believing in young, relatively unheralded attackers:
I think about the attacking players Heath has developed: Dwyer, Molino and Larin.— Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow) November 29, 2016
It took until age 27 for someone to give the keys to an MLS attack to Lee Nguyen – the established MLS playmaker I think Shipp is most like. Let's hope somebody takes a chance on this current generation a few years ahead of that particular schedule.
Makes the most sense for: Minnesota