MLS is expanding next year with the addition of Atlanta United and Minnesota United. That means we will be treated with another expansion draft to help fill out those rosters. It will be a more conservative version of previous galas as the new sides will only be selecting five players each. In addition to that, no existing team can lose more than one player.
Each team can protect 11 players and Generation Adidas and homegrown players are automatically protected.
The Portland Timbers Expansion Draft Plan
With the rules laid down, who should the Portland Timbers look to hang onto and who can they afford to let go, should Atlanta or Minnesota come calling?
The Obvious Protections
There are some obvious players that need to be protected. There is no way the team is allowing Darlington Nagbe, Fanendo Adi, or Diego Valeri to leave the side without any sort of return. These players are the backbone of the team and will figure to be very productive in the immediate future.
Hanging onto their other designated player, Lucas Melano, would be a good idea, too. He may have battled with inconsistency for much of this season, but the club has seen enough of his good side to know they want to keep him around. He’s all of 23 years old and still has a lot of growth left in him. There’s a reason they made him a DP to begin with, it would be wrong to risk losing him now.
Captain Liam Ridgewell is probably safe as well. He provides much needed experience for the defense. Holding midfielder Diego Chara is so lauded by fans and players alike that he is sure to be protected. Despite his track record for accumulating fouls, he’s a wonderful shield for a back four that struggled for much of last season.
Surprisingly young Alvas Powell should also stick around. The 22 year old right back plays well beyond his years every time he steps on the pitch. Once he was healthy, he was the most consistently effective member of a very shaky back four.
Jake Gleeson stood out as a sometime heroic goalkeeper who didn’t get much recognition outside of the Rose City. It’s impossible to count the times he, almost singlehandedly, kept the Timbers in a close game. He’s only 26 years old and has a long future ahead of him between the sticks.
Hold Onto the Young
Recent draft picks Neco Brett and Nick Besler cannot be allowed to depart the side. Both spent the entire 2016 campaign down with the USL’s Portland Timbers 2 as they mature into MLS level players. Brett was second on T2 in scoring with seven goals in 28 games. Besler could serve as a replacement for Chara as he grows older. He’s more of a holding midfielder who can defend as well as start play up from the back.
Only One Spot Left
I’ve mentioned ten players I think Portland should try an hang onto. That leaves one spot left to dish out. I’m yet to mention the aging and injured Nat Borchers. He was wonderful during the 2015 title run, but really began to show his age before rupturing his Achilles tendon in the middle of the summer. I don’t think he will be nearly as effective when he returns from the infirmary. He will be 36 next season and coming off a pretty difficult injury. I’m inclined to leave him to fate.
Other members of the back line are also unprotected at the moment. Does the team protect its investment in 30-year-old former Newcastle center back Steven Taylor, or do they take their chances and figure Atlanta and Minnesota wouldn’t be interested in him? Jermaine Taylor also saw significant playing time with all the injuries in defense. Did he do enough to make the list? What about Lithuanian international Vytautas Andriuškevičius? He was a mid season acquisition who filled a very important void at left back.
Then there are attacking options like Darren Mattocks, Dairon Asprilla, and the oft moving Jack McInerney. Neither one of these three were all that important over the course of this season, so I think they aren’t worth protecting either.
Out of these options I am going to select Vytas. The difficult to pronounce left back filled the most important need on the team last season once he arrived. He showed enough glimpses of promise to give me enough faith in him. I think he will only get better and, while probably not reaching Jorge Villafana levels of success, will serve as a productive left back in the not too distant future.
Overall Protected List
With all that said, here’s the full list of players I fell Portland should hang onto for the expansion draft.
- Diego Valeri
- Fanendo Adi
- Darlington Nagbe
- Lucas Melano
- Liam Ridgewell
- Diego Chara
- Alvas Powell
- Jake Gleeson
- Neco Brett
- Nick Besler
- Vytautas Andriuškevičius
It’s entirely possible nobody gets selected from this side either. With each of the new teams only getting five picks and each current team only being allowed to lose one player, half of the league won’t see anyone depart. The Timbers very well could be in that half. Will Minnesota or Atlanta want to take a chance on an aging defender coming off a serious injury, or an inconsistent winger, or a journeyman striker? It’s possible both teams steer clear of Portland’s less than stellar offerings.
The expansion draft will take place on December 13 and Atlanta United has the first pick.