MLS is known for its variety of drafts that it holds every year, but this year is going to be particularly interesting. With a total of 12 different drafts, there is a real chance that Real Salt Lake's roster will look much different from the roster the club field this year.
Of particular interest will be the Expansion Draft to accommodate New York City FC and Orlando City SC, and the Dispersal Draft to disperse the roster of the dissolved Chivas USA. What do these drafts mean for RSL?
2015 has been a much anticipated season for Major League Soccer since the announcement of two future Eastern Conference clubs, New York City FC and Orlando City SC. Just as before, many expected an Expansion Draft that could alter the makeup of the already established clubs in the league, but few expected the Dispersal Draft that was made possible by Chivas USA ceasing operations in light of the league's new vision for one of America's hotbeds of soccer.
While several expansion drafts have appeared in recent history of the league, the last dispersal draft was in 2002 after the failed Floridian Experiment. In the 2002 Dispersal Draft, clubs were allowed to select both players and draft picks from the defunct Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny. Similar to what the league did in 2002, MLS announced that the Dispersal Draft will be held on Dec. 1, in which teams will be able to pick at the bones of the fallen LA giant that was Chivas.
Nine days after the Dispersal Draft, MLS will hold the 2014 Expansion Draft. This draft, unlike its peer several days before, will see existing clubs loose members from their roster to New York FC and Orlando SC. A total of 20 players will be taken from existing 18 rosters in the league - as Chivas USA roster will have already been dispersed by this point - and be divided up between the two expansion teams. As former Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis is now at the helm of NYCFC, RSL has more to fear than any other team in the league.
Jason Kreis has worked with nearly every member of RSL's roster with a few exceptions and knows the talents on this squad. Kreis could be looking at Real Salt Lake to fill slots in his roster.
That being the case, the Expansion Draft should be first on the list of RSL's future strategy. Like a carefully maneuvered chess match, head coach Jeff Cassar should be preemptively planning three moves ahead. Like expansion drafts before, existing clubs will be able to protect 11 player from their senior rosters - roster slots 1-20 - with off-budget development players (i.e., Generation Adidas players and Homegrown Players) retaining immunity from the draft. In addition, only two players can be taken from a single team. So how will RSL approach this twist of fate?
After some research of who RSL has protected in the past and my own vision for RSL's future - not to be confused with the Official Real Salt Lake's club vision - I have made a mock list of players that I have protected. Since Sebastian Saucedo's contract does not come into effect until next year, I have omitted him from the list. I have also omitted Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, Benji Lopez, and Carlos Salcedo because they retain homegrown status and fill developmental slots on RSL's roster. Luis Gil, however, will no longer be eligible for immunity as he is no longer associated with the Generation Adidas joint venture since he likely occupies a senior slot on the RSL roster.
On my protected list I have retained the services of Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Olmes Garcia, Luis Gil, Sebastian Jaime, Javier Morales, Joao Plata, Nick Rimando, Alvaro Saborio, and Chris Schuler. I long debated if I would exchange Borchers and Jaime for Chris Wingert and Jeff Attinella, but I decided to stay with the prior for several reasons. I kept Nat Borchers because I see him filling a future administrative position in the club. As for Sebastian Jaime, not only is he a Designated Player, but he has shown flashes of brilliance that RSL could rely on during those summer goal-drought months that are all but inevitable.
As a result, Jeff Attinella, Rich Balchan, Lalo Fernandez, Robbie Findley, Ned Grabavoy, Cole Crossman, Abdoulie Mansally, Aaron Maund, Devon Sandoval, John Stertzer, Sebastian Velasquez, and Chris Wingert are left unprotected.
I could easily see Kreis enlist the services of veteran full-backs Abdoulie Mansally or Chris Wingert to strengthen the backline of a fledgling NYCFC roster. I could also see Kreis taking the talent of Devon Sandoval or Sebastian Velasquez, young players that he found and molded from past MLS drafts that could flourish under his continued mentorship. As for the Orlando management, led by Adrian Heath, they could easily pick off a seasoned veteran like Ned Grabavoy or young talent like Luke Mulholland with the season he has had this year.
As it stands, RSL is most vulnerable to the 2014 Expansion Draft in the midfield and along the backline. By virtue of finishing third in the West, Real Salt Lake will have late pickings - not to mention if they make a long playoff push or even win the cup. In addition, NYCFC and Orlando City may or may not get to choose ahead of RSL - the league has yet to release any information regarding this, but I suspect they will be amongst the first to pick.
So what is on the line for Real Salt Lake? What good could possibly come from the demise of RSL's sister 2005 expansion club Chivas USA? How about adding some quality players to the RSL roster at no charge.
As of Monday, the active Chivas USA roster consisted of 27 players. Of these 27 players, two player are off the table instantly, Eriq Zavaleta - on loan from Seattle Sounders - and Erick Torres - who will be distributed to another team via a separate mechanism than the Dispersal Draft after the MLS pays somewhere in the $7 million range to Chivas de Guadalajara. Three more were on loan from foreign clubs and will likely return to their parent clubs - Luis Bolaños, Leandro Barrera, and Felix Borja. Oswaldo Minda is a little bit different, he is a DP like Erick Torres, but his future is less clear as anything could happen.
After that, it appears that 21 players will be available to other teams in the league.
Real Salt Lake would benefit from a midfielder or a defender as discussed before and since RSL's attacking corps is so stacked. Likely being very far down list of picks, RSL will have slim pickings from the available players. I expect big name players like Dan Kennedy, Nigel Reo-Coker, Bobby Burling, and Agustín Pelletieri to be first to go so, therefore, unavailable to Real Salt Lake.
So who would be valuable to the Claret-and-Cobalt?
As discussed in a previous article by Matt Montgomery, Donald Toia would make an excellent pickup. With previous experience with Real Salt Lake and being RSL's first homegrown player, Toia understands the RSL system. Toia has also blossomed as a left-back and been one of the most consistent players on the Chivas team.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste could also be a valuable pick up. Jean-Baptiste has had little time to establish himself as a mainstay for Chivas - being traded from Portland earlier this year. Like Carlos Salcedo, Jean-Baptiste is a hybrid defender that can play as both a half-back and a full-back. He has a strong work ethic and has worked under Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers, who also employ a possession-oriented style of play. The 6-foot-2 defender would be a towering menace to RSL's opponents and would fill a spot that was recently vacated by Kwame Watson-Siriboe, who was traded to Kreis's NYCFC.
Another quality pickup would be Marco Delgado. This 19 year-old native of Glendora, California, is a Chivas homegrown player. Playing 20 matches this year alone, the youngster has already recorded two goals and an assist for a struggling side - imagine if he was on a team that could create better chances for him. Delgado might not be first team quality yet, but he would make an excellent member of the Real Monarchs that are scheduled to begin operations in 2015.
Delgado would make an excellent wide midfielder in a diamond formation, being able to stretch the opponent's midfield and defense. Delgado is also a potential member of the US U-20 side having be capped for the U-18 previously. Having up and coming U.S. talent enter the RSL pipeline is also never a bad thing. With solid training in the RSL system, Marco Delgado could be a great asset.
When planning for these two drafts what are your thoughts? Who are the players that you would protect? And should RSL pick up a player, a draft pick, or trade their Dispersal Draft for a more lucrative offer? What do you think Real Salt Lake should do? Share your opinions in the comments section below.