Jeff Larentowicz -- Close Up -- Atlanta United
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Warshaw: Intriguing options for FC Cincinnati in Expansion Draft on Tuesday

Congrats to Atlanta United, 2018 MLS Cup winners.

Ready for 2019? It’s here.

The list of available players for Tuesday’s Expansion Draft was released on Monday afternoon. FC Cincinnati will have five more players, give or take, on Tuesday, and five teams will be down a contributor after they make their five picks.

To frame the conversation on those players might be, there are two reasons to select a player in the Expansion Draft:

  1. To use him on the field.
  2. To use his value as an asset in the trade market.

Some players on the list might not make sense for how FCC want to build their team, but they hold value within the league. Two years ago, Atlanta chose Donny Toia with the top pick and then traded him to Orlando City for the No. 8 pick in the SuperDraft. They took Julian Gressel with the pick, which turned out pretty good for them. Last year, LAFC selected Jukka Raitala and Raheem Edwards and traded them to Montreal for Laurent Ciman.

Given FCC’s current roster makeup, I suspect they will go with Option 2. The available players are mostly mid-roster rotation players rather than starters (as teams can protect their top 11 options); since Cincinnati are bringing a number of players from the USL team, they already have spots 13-20ish pretty well covered.

Before we get into the players, a few notes.

  1. FC Cincy cannot select players from teams who lost players in last year’s expansion draft. Those teams are: Columbus, San Jose, Seattle, Sporting KC and Toronto.
  2. Reports suggest Cincy made a handshake deal with Portland not to select any Timbers after the trade to acquire Fanendo Adi.
  3. Per Sam Stejskal, players who had their options declined do not have their options automatically picked up when they're selected in the Expansion Draft.

Using that framework, here are seven players FC Cincy should be particularly interested in:

Reto Ziegler

Ziegler (left) in action against now-Cincinnati player Adi. | USA Today Images

The two most valuable commodities in MLS are game-changing stars (obviously) and center backs. When you make a list of “needs” for the league, almost every team could use a starting-caliber center back. If you look at the undoing of most of the teams that missed the playoffs, it was their center back play. Reto Ziegler doesn’t come cheap, at $800,000 per year according to the MLS Players Association, but it’s good value; you can’t pass up the opportunity to get a legitimate starting center back in MLS right now.

Jeff Larentowicz

Josef Martinez won MLS Cup MVP because he’s Josef and he’s a striker. But you could make a good case Jeff Larentowicz was Atlanta’s most important player on the field against Portland, along with Michael Parkhurst. Larentowicz will turn 36 next season, an obvious red flag, but he played at an elite level at two positions in 2018. He’s a potential starter and leader at two critical positions for only $210,000 per year according to the MLS Players Association (though probably higher given the bonuses he will have hit in 2018). Sounds like a risk worth taking for the Orange and Blue.

Wyatt Omsberg, Tomas Hilliard-Arce, Tristan Blackmon

Hilliard-Arce with the LA Galaxy | USA Today Images

Sticking with the “if you don’t have a solid center back you will lose” mindset, here are three players with high upside who haven’t had a chance to show it yet. All three players were first-round SuperDraft picks in 2018, all have the tools to become lockdown starters, and all come with reasonable price tags, and are therefore low risk. Tristan Blackmon played at right back in MLS in 2018 with LAFC, but got minutes on loan in USL at center back and could be in the process of being converted full-time.

Remember, LAFC took a flier on an untested Tyler Miller with the 1st pick in their expansion draft and he became a starter for a playoff team.

Florian Valot

Valot with the Red Bulls prior to his injury. | USA Today Images

Before Florian Valot tore his ACL in July, he looked like a solid MLS starter. He mixed the intensity and energy required of any Red Bulls player with composure and skill. All for a whopping $72,000 according to the MLS Players Association. It’s a risk because of his injury, but a healthy Valot is a potential starter for around a league minimum salary. The downside is that he takes up an international roster spot.

Mikey Ambrose

caption here | USA Today Images

Mikey Ambrose showed in his eight starts for Atlanta this year that he can start in this league. He just happens to be on the same team as Greg Garza and rising star George Bello. I bet someone in MLS is hoping to swoop on Ambrose and grab themselves an upgrade in the backline. FC Cincy already have a similar player in Blake Smith, but could take Ambrose to flip him in the trade market.

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