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Who could Toronto FC lose in the MLS Expansion Draft?

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Two new clubs join the league this winter and when you have the Reds’ depth, someone is going to be at risk.

MLS: Conference Semifinals-New York City at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days E Pluribus Loonum and Dirty South Soccer, SB Nation’s new blogs for Minnesota United and Atlanta United respectively, will be publishing their mock expansion draft ahead of the real thing on December 13.

As part of the experiment, Waking the Red was asked to put together a protected list for Toronto FC. The Reds will be allowed to protect 11 players from their first-team squad, with Generation Adidas players and homegrown players on the supplemental or reserve roster excluded from the process and not requiring a place on that list.

Here are those automatically protected players:

Generation Adidas: Alex Bono

Homegrown: Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, Chris Mannella, Ashtone Morgan, Quillan Roberts

You’ll notice that none of those players have made a playoff appearance this season, and none are likely to against the Seattle Sounders. That means the bulk of TFC’s first-team squad is part of the expansion process and when you’re an MLS Cup finalist with the depth the Reds currently enjoy, chances are you’re losing someone.

Before we go into our mock protected list, a recap of a few key expansion draft rules:

  1. Teams can only lose one player each.
  2. Free agents and loan players are part of the process, with Atlanta and Minnesota able to acquire their rights. That’s relevant for guys like Will Johnson and Armando Cooper.
  3. Atlanta and Minnesota are obliged to offer players selected from another club’s supplemental or reserve roster a senior roster position.
  4. Players with no-trade clauses must be protected but designated players are not automatically protected.
  5. Clubs can only leave unprotected a maximum of three fewer than their total number of international players. Any team with four or fewer international players may only expose one. So if you have 10 international players, you can expose seven.
  6. As both expansion clubs are American, Canadian players are considered international for the purposes of this draft (to my knowledge, no at-risk TFC player’s status is changed under the new rules announced this week).

Got all of that? Good. Here are our choices for Toronto’s protected list, split into three groups.

The designated players

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

There’s not a whole lot of explanation needed here. There is no chance whatsoever of Sebastian Giovinco or Jozy Altidore being exposed. I suppose there is a very small possibility the club decides to roll the dice and risk leaving Michael Bradley open in the hope that neither expansion club will be willing to take on his $6.5 million salary, but I don’t see it.

The core five

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

These next five players are almost as certain to be protected as the designated players and are likely to continue to be integral members of TFC’s starting lineup in 2017.

Despite the emergence of Alex Bono, Clint Irwin’s experience and assurance make his position as the club’s No.1 goalkeeper secure. Justin Morrow is probably the best left-back in MLS, and Drew Moor is one of the league’s best centre-backs.

Ahead of them, in midfield, Jonathan Osorio keeps getting better as our most notable local success story. We don’t actually know if Armando Cooper’s loan deal will be made permanent, but of-course-it-will-be-don’t-even-worry-about-it.

Cooper’s status is perhaps slightly less certain than the others given (a) he’s 29, (b) he’s on loan and (c) he earns a decent salary of $193,333 a year. But if we assume his desire to play in MLS extends beyond Toronto, someone’s going to jump at the chance to add a starting-quality midfielder at a reasonable price. Even if it doesn’t, Atlanta or Minnesota could take the chance to grab a free asset by selecting him and trading him back.

The affordable depth

MLS: Conference Semifinals-New York City at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s where it starts to get interesting. There are three spots left at this point, and several players Toronto would like to at least have the option of keeping next season.

I’m going to stick my neck out and expose a few veterans by predicting Toronto will want to keep some affordable, reliable depth locked down. That means that on my list, Nick Hagglund, Eriq Zavaleta and Marky Delgado are getting protected.

There are two things to consider when making these selections: first and foremost, of course, is each player’s role in Toronto’s success, but there is also the matter of how attractive a pick they are to Atlanta and Minnesota.

All three of these players are 24 or younger, currently earn $100,000 or less (Delgado is likely to have earned a pay rise in his new deal) and have been starters for an extended period of time at some point or another this season. Every team needs players like that to be successful; no matter how good your first 10 players are, if the 11th is a liability, things can fall apart very quickly.

There are others - who we’ll get to shortly - who may be playing at a higher level now, but there is a route for Hagglund, Zavaleta and Delgado to establish themselves as regular members of the team for several years at an affordable cap number.

And that’s 11. We’ll go through the remaining, unprotected players one by one.

The protected list in full: Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Clint Irwin, Drew Moor, Justin Morrow, Jonathan Osorio, Armando Cooper, Nick Hagglund, Eriq Zavaleta, Marky Delgado.

Who’s at risk?

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Will Johnson: Johnson is probably about to start in an MLS Cup final. But he’s also a free agent at the end of the season and may have been considering looking elsewhere anyway; though he could stay in Toronto and remain an important contributor, he won’t get the assurances over minutes he did last winter or the $395,333 salary. It’s hard to see Johnson being taken and immediately signing with an expansion club instead of exploring the open market unless he gets offered the kind of deal by Atlanta or Minnesota that Toronto wouldn’t match anyway.

Tosaint Ricketts: The downside of Ricketts’ outstanding form off the bench is the interest he could generate in the expansion draft as a result; he now has the second-best minutes-per-goal rate (103) in MLS in 2016 among players with at least five goals. There are three reasons the Reds could get away with leaving him unprotected:

  1. He’s 29, hasn’t really shown a scoring touch like this in his career until the last couple of months, and it takes people longer than that to change their minds on a player.
  2. Atlanta and Minnesota may judge that he has found his niche as a super-sub in a high-powered Toronto team and would not be as effective as a starter (which is what they should be looking for out of this draft).
  3. He’s Canadian, and so would count as an international player on their rosters and again, is not guaranteed starting material.

Steven Beitashour: Beitashour is a more-than-serviceable MLS player, but I’ve left him unprotected for a few reasons. Firstly, I think right-back might be the easiest position on the pitch in which to find a semi-reliable option - Mark Bloom, if he can stay injury-free, is a potential internal replacement. Secondly, he turns 30 in February and earns $244,000. Beitashour is one of those players the front office is probably fine with keeping next season, but after crunching the age-cost-quality equation they might also have half an eye on possible future upgrades.

Tsubasa Endoh: Toronto’s most recent first-round draft pick had a great start to life in MLS but has fallen off the radar since. There’s talent there and he’s super cheap on his rookie $51,500 contract so it’s not impossible someone takes a flyer on him, but pretty unlikely given the other players TFC will be forced to leave exposed.

The rest

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Toronto  FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

That leaves Daniel Lovitz, Benoit Cheyrou, Josh Williams, Clement Simonin, Mo Babouli and Mark Bloom. I don’t think any of them are at risk of being selected, either because of their salaries (Cheyrou, Williams) or their recent body of work (the rest) compared to the other unprotected Toronto players Atlanta and Minnesota will have to choose from.

What do you think? Let us know who’d be on your protected list in the comments.