So with two team entering MLS in 2015 it is time again for one of the most stressful times for fans, players and staffs of MLS teams, it is no different for Real Salt Lake. In fact with former coach Jason Kreis in charge of one of the expansion sides NYCFC, maybe it is a bit more stressful, this time around as most of the players on our roster are guys that he knows well and many of them are guys he brought to RSL. It should come as no surprise that he has already signed former RSL backup keeper Josh Saunders and former RSL defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and I expect he will be looking to add more.
One other major fact in the stress levels heading into this expansion draft are the many unknowns of that the roster rules and salary cap might look like next season, with the CBA between the players and league expiring a couple weeks after the expansion draft. There is one thing that should reduce the stress level of RSL fans, the reality is that we can only lose two players via the expansion draft, I guess that is an upside.
So the current RSL roster has 29 players on it, according to the MLS website, but I believe the reality is that Sebastian Saucedo’s HGP deal doesn’t actually kick in until 2015. So if the rules are same as the last couple of expansion drafts, HGP (Home Grown Players) are exempt, so for RSL that would mean the following players are automatically protected:
- Jordan Allen
- Lalo Fernandez
- Justen Glad
- Benjamin Lopez
- Sebastian Saucedo
So either way that leaves 24 players that would be eligible for the expansion draft pool. Current Generation Adidas players are also automatically protected, Luis Gil used to be on the Generation Adidas roster, but I believe he graduated the program a couple years ago.
In the past teams have been allowed to protect 11 players, and when a player is taken a team gets to add another player to their protected list. If a designated player has a no-trade clause that player has to be protected (at least according to the last rules). There are some other additional rules, such as players who are out of contract still have to be protected if you want to keep them but just protecting them doesn’t mean you have to re-sign them. At a high level that is what we know about what will likely be the rules for the expansion draft.
So a little over a month ago I made my list, I made it based on who I thought would be critical parts of RSL going forward. With being knocked out of the playoffs, I may change my mind a bit as I think we are faced with the reality of trying to get better. Let me be clear again, RSL is a damn good team, 7 straight playoff appearances (longest current streak) and 5 straight years of 15 wins/50 point seasons (only done twice in MLS history – RSL & LAG current streaks). As I asked in my last post is that good enough? I know a lot of teams that would be happy with that, and maybe the continued success had tainted our viewpoints over the last 5 seasons. I also think that should either Seattle or LA win MLS Cup and RSL get a CCL spot that we go forward with as few changes as possible for 2015. I have made my thoughts on this topic known and I am in the minority that hopes we don’t qualify so we can do some rebuilding and get ready for the next 3-5 years.
So on my list of 11 +1 are players that I think RSL need to not only continue their current success but those what will be the core of what I hope will be a team that not only competes for trophies each season but wins some. I look at what a player makes (according to the released salary numbers), positions, age, ability and impact on the pitch, and overall impact on the club off the pitch.
- Joao Plata – Just 22 years old, he contributed 1985 minutes with 13 goals and 9 assists for RSL this season and established himself as one of the stars of MLS. His 2014 salary was $70,000 and I expect he will get a raise soon. The future of RSL is 5’2″, speedy and has one of the most infectious personalities we have seen in years.
- Nick Rimando – Nick may be 35 years old, but had perhaps his finest year as a soccer player, not only with RSL but with a long overdue role with the USMNT. In 2014 Nick made $235,833 and was worth every penny of it, he is a general on the field and to be honest without his play early in the season RSL doesn’t make the playoffs this year. While his style of play is physically demanding, he has shown that he is very resistant to injuries and can go every weekend if needed.
- Kyle Beckerman – Since joining RSL, Kyle has become the face of the franchise and at 32 burst back on to the USMNT and was one of the stars for the US at the World Cup, as the world saw what we in Salt Lake have known all along. Kyle’s salary has him just below the DP level, at $378,750, that is a bargain compared to what New England is paying for his US midfield teammate Jermaine Jones. I expect that Kyle will be in Claret and Cobalt as long as he wants to be.
- Luis Gil – If Kyle and Nick are the faces of RSL today, then Luis Gil joins Joao Plata as the face of RSL’s future, just 20 years old if it seems that we have watched him grow up it is because we have. Luis isn’t cheap, at $315,083 he is probably one of the best paid 20 yr olds in MLS, and one of the top 5 paid players for RSL. His minutes at his best position, the point of the diamond, have been limited but I believe he showed the final weeks of the season what he is capable of and I expect a breakout year in 2015. What will be rough is that at 20 he probably has the most trade value of any player on the RSL roster, I really hope we can keep him here long enough to see him come into his own.
- Chris Schuler – He may be wearing a mask right now, but he is anything but hiding from the attention that many are paying to him. Last winter he turned down a USMNT call up to get surgery on his foot and be ready for the 2014 RSL season, that type of commitment is noteworthy. He is quickly becoming a top centerback in MLS and at 27 he has years of top level play left, his salary was $162,000 this year and his 25 games started and played in are both career highs as were his 3 goals. Just as Nat Borchers has been the anchor of the RSL backline for several years, Chris will be that anchor for years to come.
- Carlos Salcedo – This one is controversial as I have heard a lot of rumblings online and from some folks I trust that Carlos is looking for a chance to play more to improve his standing with the Mexican National team, even if that means leaving RSL. I hope not as this 21 year old has immense talent, and while still young this year he took several big steps forward as a player. He showed well at centerback against some of the best forwards in MLS, he also showed that he can play on the outside of the backline and that versatility is a great asset for a team. I sure hope that given the potential of this future star that his $48,500 salary is boosted heading into next year if not by RSL then maybe by the CBA raising the minimums.
- Sebastian Jamie – He has been a target of RSL’s scouting for several years and while we only saw very limited minutes from him this year, he appears to be a guy you can build around. Decent size (5′ 11″), good speed, and what looks like a great first touch, again limited minutes make it hard to say what he will be like in a full season, but what I saw from the sidelines has me excited about 2015.
- Javier Morales – This is where my list gets sticky, at 34 years old and making $300K a year (which clearly isn’t right as Javi is listed as a DP by the league) but he had a season where he played more minutes 2645 than any season with RSL, he scored 9 goals, also a MLS career high and added 12 assists the second most of his career. There is no doubt in my mind that he can contribute to RSL for at least a couple more years and he plays a huge role in helping Latin and Spanish speaking players adjust to life at RSL, a value that you really can’t put a price on. With Luis Gil waiting in the wings to play a more offensive minded role, I am hoping that maybe we see our formation change into something where both Javi and Luis can both be working just behind our forwards, where both seem to be the most dangerous.
- Luke Mulholland – this pick might surprise some folks but and it is a risk as we have seen before that 1 year of success doesn’t always lead to a long career in MLS. Still when I think about Luke, I considered a couple of factors that made me include him on my list. First, at just 26 years old he has experience at various levels and while he played at the outside of the diamond but I think he probably could play a number of positions. Second, his salary is very low, he made just $56,250 this year and while I expect his contract will probably count for a decent raise going forward but I think taking a risk is worth it.
- Sebastian Velasquez – It was a big year for Sebastian, both good and bad, both on and off the pitch, but there is something that the staff saw in him when they drafted him and I believe that going forward we will probably see a lot more of Seba in action. While the DUI marks one of the first time a RSL player has gotten in legal trouble, Sebastian stepped up, owned his mistake and has learned from it and I think it will make him much more serious about things. When you combine that with the birth of this first child, I expect the maturity level will rise and I think that will impact his on pitch performance in a very positive way. Still just 23 years old, the upside again is worth protecting.
- Nat Borchers – So Nat is out of contract and I think at 33 Nat has the ability to play many more years, he is a fitness guy and like Javi he set a career high for minutes played at 2856, with highs in both starts and games played. If there is a sticking point for RSL it could likely be pay, Nat made $236,968 this year and I would expect will be looking for a raise as part of a new contract. His partnership with whomever is playing beside him at centerback or on the outside of the back line consistently leads RSL in being one of the top defenses in the league. I also think he makes a great mentor for the younger players, and I expect that will continue until he is done playing and I could see him easily transition into coaching at some level. The other thing that kept Nat on my list is his amazing relationship with the fans, win or lose he spends time after every match shaking hands, taking pictures and interacting with fans. Age will eventually catch up with Nat, but he is still a very special player and one that makes RSL better.
So this is the exact same list that I shared with a couple people online over a month ago, and while I think some changes are necessary to make RSL a better team, I think if you want to protect a core of players that will make a difference the next few years this is the group I would go with. So I expect that we will lose a player early in the draft, the expense of having a very talented group as well as dealing with one team that has a lot of inside knowledge of our roster. When one player is taken, a team gets to protect another player, for me that player should be:
- Abdoulie Mansally – Yeah I am sure that will raise some eyebrows, but folks forget that despite playing 8 years in MLS he is just 25 years old and plays with a toughness and pace that are hard to find in the league. When you combine that with the fact that he can play several positions makes him a very valuable player for RSL, and at a salary of $72,000 he is very affordable, but again as a player out of contract he will probably be looking for a raise.
There you go, I expect many of you will have different ideas about who to protect. Share you lists in the comments. Remember that Garth hit it on the head the expansion draft is the one day you know your team will get worse. For me it is about trying to minimize the impact as much as possible, and that is what I tried to do.
That’s How I See It