The Portland Timbers have left two key players exposed to this year's expansion draft, coming up at 11:00 a.m. today, and, barring some backroom dealing, the consensus around the league seems to be that at least one of them will be taken.
LRT: PTFC losses in mock expansion drafts: SI: Villafana, Alhassan MLS: Villafana Total MLS: Fernandez, Villafana. #RCTID— Chris Rifer (@ChrisRifer) December 10, 2014
Losing either Gaston Fernandez or Jorge Villafana would be bad for the Timbers. Arguably, it would be worse for the Timbers is Fernandez is plucked, leaving the team without a traditional playmaker in the center of the park. The Timbers, however, appear to be banking on the fact that Fernandez is still in negotiations with the team over a new contract after his first ran out following the 2014 season to keep the versatile attacker safe.
This would not be the first time a team has left a player out of their protected list during a round of MLS expansion, expecting them to be protected by circumstances or ignorance or some sort of deal.
Sometimes it has worked, sometimes it hasn't.
The most notable instance of a player being picked up despite the assumption that age, a huge contract, and an insistence that he would not play for an expansion team would keep him safe, was the Houston Dynamo's Brian Ching in 2012.
While there had been other instances of players being unexpectedly taken, Ching's selection by the Montreal Impact, then helmed by former MLS hardman Jesse Marsh, turned into a debacle that spanned weeks before he was eventually ransomed by the Dynamo. The Impact walked away from the move with both a 2013 first round draft pick from the Dynamo and the enmity of teams and fans around the league.
Beyond Fernandez, there are few key players being put at risk around the league. Still, let's take a look at the players available in the draft and pick the eighteen that would be the worst for their teams to lose.
Bakary Soumare (CHI) - Many of these picks, especially Soumare, are players that are just paid too much and their teams would love to be able to convince them to sign a nice, new, cheaper contract. Looking back to 2012, the Timbers declined the option on Rodney Wallace, only to resign him just before the Re-entry draft. Although the Timbers protected Wallace in the expansion draft the month before, his situation then will likely mirror what we see from several players on this list.
Marvell Wynne (COL)
Ben Speas (CCSC) - At the opposite end of the spectrum from the old, established, expensive players are those like Speas who have undeniable talent but have yet to prove it on the MLS level. In putting Speas up for grabs, the Crew have exposed a young, skilled player who could go on to have an excellent career in MLS.
Eddie Johnson (DCU) - Just kidding. DC would do well to get rid of that mess. Davy Arnoux, however, is another thing entirely. The veteran midfielder was a big part of the quick turnaround that DC saw this year, going from historically bad to the class of the Eastern Conference. He may not be the long-term answer for DC, but his is still a huge part of that team.
George John (FCD)
Omar Cummings (HOU)
Dan Gargan (LAG) - If the rights to Landon Donovan were on the list of available targets, then they would be the obvious choice here. Who really believes that MLS's favorite son is going to stay retired at the age of 32? As it stands, however, Gargan is just the sort of player that Bruce Arena builds championship teams out of: a versatile veteran, hungry for some success. Of course, Arena will likely just go pluck the next in a long line of solid players out of thin air and the Galaxy will start getting ready for their next playoff run.
Pass (MON) - I really can't think of any reason Montreal would miss any of these players.
Diego Fagundez (NER) - He had a down year, but Fagundez is still good. Really good. How he responds to not being New England's golden boy after the emergence of Lee Nguyen this season remains to be seen, but if the Revs lost their homegrown prodigy it would be a big hit for the club.
Thierry Henry (NYRB) - There is no way that Henry is coming back to MLS. This just makes sure that there really is no way that Henry is coming back to MLS.
Brian Carroll (PHI)
Gaston Fernandez (POR) - Caleb Porter may be saying that Diego Valeri is on track for a quick return, but does anyone really want to enter the season without a known quantity in the No. 10 spot?
Jeff Attinella (RSL) - Look, someday Nick Rimando is going to stop being amazing. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday. When that day comes, Real is going to wish they had Attinella around.
Khari Stephenson (SJE)
Zach Scott (SEA) - Some might put Jalil Anibaba, a long-term prospect for Seattle, but his departure would not leave nearly such a scar as picking the long-serving Scott. Would this put a real dent in Seattle's game plan? No. Would it cause anguish to their fans? Maybe a little.
Andy Gruenebaum (SKC)
Mark Bloom (TOR)
Sebastian Fernandez (VAN)
Who do you think would be the worst player for a club to lose in the expansion draft? Who would it really hurt to see taken?