Karma’s a bit of a bitch, ain’t it? Two years ago, New York City FC fans were licking their chops over all the unprotected players in their expansion draft. Now, with the season over, we’re fretting over who NYCFC should protect.
But before jumping into the roster and the rationale, let’s review the rules, briefly (if that’s possible).
NYCFC may protect 11 players. Generation Adidas players who have not graduated are automatically protected (which means we don’t have to worry about Jack Harrison this go-round. Whew.) Home-grown players are also automatically protected (NYCFC doesn’t have any of those). And NYCFC must protect five of their international players (thanks to Dan Dickinson and Mark Fishkin for helping me straighten this last one out).
Oh and one more thing. In spite of the vociferous arguments to the contrary I endured in Manhattan last week, Designated Players are not automatically protected.
Let me repeat that in terms you can understand: David Villa and Andrea Pirlo are NOT automatically protected.
Those are essentially the rules. The format is a little different from when NYCFC drafted two years ago. This time, the most players a team can lose in the draft is 1 – after that, the team is removed from the pool. And also Minnesota United FC and Atlanta United FC will be drawing only ten players this year, which is down from the 20 NYCFC and Orlando SC drew in 2014.
Okay, now that we know the ground rules, who should NYCFC protect?
Let’s start with the ones we can all agree NYCFC should protect – David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Tommy McNamara. Right? No argument there. Losing these guys at this point would substantially alter the team – and for the worse.
After that, who NYCFC should protect gets a little more challenging. I believe RJ Allen, Ronald Matarrita, Maxime Chanot, and Frederic Brilliant should all be protected. This is your starting back line and the opportunity to see them actually, you know, play as a unit for something like a full season is reason enough to protect them, especially in MLS.
And let’s pause here for some good news/bad news. Good news? We’ve already satisfied our requirement to protect five international players. Bad news? We’ve protected seven players and we can only protect only four more.
Based on how last season ended, I’m assuming Patrick Vieira has made the decision that his starting goalie is Eirik Johansen. So the big Norwegian is number eight on the list of players NYCFC will probably protect.
That leaves us three spots. And who’s left?
Mix Diskerud, Shannon Gomez, Mikey Lopez, Jefferson Mena, Andre Rawls, Josh Saunders, Khiry Shelton, and Ethan White.
Let’s assume that the team doesn’t protect Mix Diskerud for reasons that I don’t think we need to go into at this point (though the marketing possibilities of a Norwegian in the greater Lake Wobegon area are tempting). And also let’s assume that they don’t protect Andre Rawls, with the theory that he’s an utterly untested young talent and neither Minnesota nor Atlanta are likely to spend a pick on someone that green.
I also wonder what the book is on Shannon Gomez since he barely played in 2016. Again is a team going to burn a pick on someone they haven’t seen play in 2016? Although to be fair, that’s essentially what NYCFC did when they picked Tommy McNamara, so you never know.
That leaves us:
Mikey Lopez, Jefferson Mena, Josh Saunders, Khiry Shelton, and Ethan White.
Three of these players have substantial MLS experience and that can be useful for a new team. Plus Lopez, Saunders and White have all played on multiple teams, so they’re familiar with what it takes to bring a side together.
The question is, does that make them potentially appealing enough to the expansion teams to force NYCFC’s hand?
My guess is that NYCFC should protect Lopez and Shelton, because they’re young, because I think they’ve bought into his system on a very personal level, and because they may be a significant part of the future.
And I think NYCFC should protect Saunders because Saunders is a good man, a solid teammate and because I think Vieira would be nuts to go into the season with just one goalie, especially one who’s essentially a rookie.
That means leaving Diskerud, Gomez, Mena, Rawls and White available.
Would fans be sorry to see them go? Yes. Could NYCFC live without them. Probably.
By the way it’s worth remembering that leaving a player unprotected doesn’t mean kissing him goodbye. Look back at some of the players that NYCFC and Orlando could have picked (and didn’t) who still had productive stints with their clubs: Damien Perrinelle with the New York Red Bulls, Brian Carroll with the Philadelphia Union, and Davy Arnaud with D.C. United to name just three. In fact, I recommend you go back and look who was available in 2014; it’s kind of fascinating.
So who knows what happens on December 13th? I know I’ll be listening in, just like I was in 2014. Just from a different side of the table. See you there.