FRISCO - The MLS offseason is in full swing as the 2018 Expansion Draft is set to take place on Tuesday at 1 PM CT. Leading up to the draft, MLS has released the full list of eligible players for FC Cincinnati to take.
FC Dallas is in a precarious spot with 16 players who are under contract for next season and eligible for the draft, but only able to protect 11 of them. I’ve long said that Dallas in all likelihood stands to lose someone in expansion. It’s just a matter of playing the odds to prevent it as much as possible.
Here’s a look at how FCD likely weighed those odds for their protected list.
First, Dallas is required to protect at least three international players. From 2018’s squad, it’s a no-brainer to want to protect the likes of Michael Barrios, Carlos Gruezo and Santiago Mosquera. The first two on the list have been two of the most consistent contributors over the last three seasons, with Mosquera showing spurts of brilliance when he was able to get a healthy, consistent run of games. All three carry a high value as young, talented players - Mosquera reportedly a multi-million dollar acquisition just last year. You don’t want to lose them for next-to nothing.
As with past Expansion Drafts, the young, up-and-coming players have an upside, not only for the expansion team, but other teams looking to make deals with the new team. For Dallas, Pablo Aranguiz and Jacori Hayes fit the bill as high-risk players with relatively low salaries at their positions and plenty of growth potential. If either were left available, it would likely mean the end of his time in Dallas.
In terms of the regulars within the lineup, it’s also crucial to protect the likes of Dominique Badji (who Dallas spent heavily on in the trade window last summer and given a sudden hole at the striker position), Jesse Gonzalez (your starting goalkeeper) and Matt Hedges (team captain and leader over the last five seasons).
Eight spots down, three to go.
Now, you’re left with names like Victor Ulloa, Ryan Hollingshead, Jimmy Maurer, Reto Ziegler and Marquinhos Pedroso as your players left. Regardless, a decision is going to have to be made and at this point you really start playing the game of probabilities.
Ulloa and Hollingshead are low-cost, domestic MLS veterans with a lot of upside for a brand-new team. Maurer is a proven MLS starting goalkeeper with a run of games at the start of 2018 and the position is a popular one among Expansion Drafts (four of the last 15 players taken in expansion were goalkeepers). Cincinnati Technical Director Luke Sassano also has a strong familiarity with Maurer, working on the technical staff at the New York Cosmos during the goalkeeper's tenure. If any of the three are exposed, there’s a good chance they’re taken.
Ziegler and Pedroso were crucial starters in 2018, but when considering a couple factors, perhaps carry the least risk, in comparison. First, each requires a coveted international slot. As of Monday's expansion release, Cincinnati already has three international players on its roster for next season. The reason the league requires at least three internationals protected by each team is because there’s an inherent benefit to domestic players in MLS.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, each carries a high, TAM salary for a team looking to build a roster entirely from scratch.
According to the 2018 MLS Players’ Association salary guide, Ziegler had a guaranteed compensation of $800,000, not including bonuses and other incentives not factored in. That places the veteran among the top 10 highest-paid defenders in MLS last season and at 33 years old next season is a proven commodity, but not one that traditionally fits the mold of young, low cap-hit players taken through the Expansion Draft in recent years.
For Pedroso, his 2018 guaranteed compensation is listed at $330,000, but only playing a half season in MLS, you can expect his true salary over the course of a full year could be somewhere in the range of double that. He is a TAM player, so we at least know that his all-in cap number (salary, transfer fee, etc.) is north of $500,000. He’s also someone coming off of a core muscle repair injury a few weeks ago and, despite its commonplace among injuries, anything is a potential cause for concern.
The third factor in all of this is that Cincinnati has already committed over $500,000 each of their 2019 GAM and TAM to bring in Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe in the last few months. The money required to buy down Ziegler or Pedroso to non-DP money is even more scare than with expansion teams of the past, making it even less appealing to spend heavy at the back.
For comparison’s sake, last year, according to the MLSPA, LAFC had two defenders in a similar salary range. Center back Laurent Ciman garnered $660,000 at the same age of 32, compared to Ziegler’s salary almost $150,000 more. Both require international spots. The second was outside back Steven Beitashour (exposed this year by LAFC), making $300,000 but not requiring a coveted international spot. Pedroso, as we said, could require nearly twice that in 2019. Neither LAFC player was acquired directly through the Expansion Draft, where players are selected sight-unseen and without a feel for how one might fit in the new club’s locker room. If you’re spending that kind of money on a defender as a team with limited resources, you want to make sure it’s the right fit.
In fact, we’ve seen a preference from expansion teams over the last several years to spend big money up front in the formation and build more economically through the back.
It’s a risk, no doubt, but one Dallas felt most assured in taking.
As for the other three left exposed by FCD, Cristian Colman is on the shelf for at least half the season in 2019 with a torn ACL. At a DP or TAM salary, it’s a lofty investment for a player who won’t be immediately available and hasn’t played up to his potential to date in MLS. Moises Hernandez and Kyle Zobeck, although great depth options for FCD in 2018, aren’t in consideration for the finite spots on the protected list. Similarly, without a heavy amount of playing time and at 26 and 28 years old, respectively, they don’t carry a high risk of being taken on Tuesday.
Regardless of who Dallas protected and didn’t, the odds were never in their favor to retain the full allotment of players through expansion. In the end, it’s a game of risk and this season, they felt that two, higher-priced defenders yielded the lowest chance of being taken.