Come Wednesday, it's possible that two current Union players will no longer be with the team.
It's also possible that the roster could remain untouched.
Or, perhaps one player will leave the team.
With the MLS Expansion Draft slated for this Wednesday, November 24th, any number of scenarios could take place. But there is one guarantee: 20 MLS players will leave their current teams and don the colors of the Portland Timbers or Vancouver Whitecaps. Piece by piece, the two new expansion sides will make their selections -- Portland will pick first as a result of a coin toss -- fleshing out the foundation of their very first rosters.
Union Manager Peter Nowak, Coach John Hackworth, and Goalkeeper Coordinator Rob Vartughian have the unenviable task of creating their protected list, a group of 11 players who cannot be selected by Vancouver or Portland.
It's a bump in the road for a coaching staff that has worked diligently to build a young squad from the ground up. Fortunately, no one is better equipped to manage the process after having gone through it from the other side just a year ago.
So how does the technical staff go about paring down the list?
"You start off with one mock draft, if you will, then you go in next week and it changes a little bit," Hackworth said in a recent interview with philadelphiaunion.com. "Portland signed four players, so that gives us an even better idea of what they have and what they'll be looking for. We're trying to figure out who Portland and Vancouver would potentially pick in the Expansion Draft, what their players look like, and that's an ongoing process."
While there were some missed opportunities in last year’s edition -- Kevin Hartman and Bobby Convey were available, for instance -- it’s hard to argue that the Union pulled off anything short of a coup. Philadelphia managed to find a Best XI member in Sebastien Le Toux, as well as seven other players who are still on the squad. Brad Knighton, selected from New England, was the starting goalkeeper at the end of the season. Jordan Harvey, taken from Colorado, led the team in games and minutes played. Shea Salinas was a spark plug off the bench and is primed to break out in 2011 with more minutes. Alejandro Moreno and Stefani Miglioranzi were invaluable veteran influences, contributing on the field and helping the youngsters with their own development. Andrew Jacobson was more than steady as an emerging holding midfielder, and Nick Zimmerman showed potential in limited minutes.
[inline_node:288117]A strong foundation is in place, but now the Union are on the other side of the fence, trying to keep their roster in tact while navigating the tricky intricacies surrounding the draft. We’ll know just who is protected and who is available by 5:00pm on Monday, after lists are submitted to MLS at 2:00pm. Generation adidas members Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, and Amobi Okugo are exempt, effectively enabling the Union to protect 14 players. The Union don’t currently have any Home Grown Players, who are also exempt.
Who exactly Philadelphia protects will come down to the wire, even though the core of the list is likely already in place.
“It changes daily and I think this weekend obviously we will conclude, but a lot of the business away from the field is going to take place in Toronto this weekend,” Hackworth said on Thursday. “I think we have a really good idea, but something could probably change.”
Expansion Draft rules state that no MLS team can lose more than two players. If a team loses a player, they may then add an additional player to their protected roster before Portland and Vancouver have an opportunity to select another. In effect, if the Union lose one player, they’ll be able to protect 15 before another could potentially be snatched.
There are limitations in terms of the number of international players any given club can make available. The MLS rules state the following:
“A team with more than three internationals can only leave three fewer than their total of international players unprotected. Teams with three or fewer international players cannot leave more than one international player unprotected.”
[inline_node:288119]What does that mean in the Union’s case? Philadelphia currently have four players with international status: Toni Stahl, Roger Torres, Eduardo Coudet, and Juan Diego González. As it stands now, that means the club can only leave one of the four available, thus needing to protect three.
Another important consideration is salary. It goes without saying, but players with lower salaries are more attractive to burgeoning franchises – or any franchise for that matter. A younger player with upside and a $40,000 salary is often times preferable to a veteran on a bigger contract, even if the older player may have the potential to make a larger impact in 2011.
The loss of either one or two players would certainly hurt, but it shouldn’t be crippling. The Expansion Draft is just one element of a long offseason, a time where technical staffs are constantly trying to strengthen their rosters.
"We're always looking to figure out a way to make our team better,” Hackworth said. “While we feel really good about the group we have right now, we know there’s going to be some turnover and some changes. It's just a matter of truly being able to identify individuals who will come in and make us better. We do have a lot of young guys, and the fact that they’ll have another year under their belt is a big plus. So, you also have to be patient and let that growth occur."
You can bet the technical staff is also hoping the opportunistic claws of Vancouver and Portland are focused on the other 15 MLS clubs when Wednesday rolls around.