The Expansion Draft lists are out; New York City FC and Orlando City SC will have 240 players to pick through, but only 10 selections each. So the vast majority of players have nothing to worry about, if indeed many are worried about the prospect of playing alongside Kaka or David Villa.
It is entirely possible the New York Red Bulls won't lose any players at all in the draft: every team has at least one or two players to tempt the expansion teams, and one or two players on 18 teams is plenty more than the 10 each expansion team is allowed to select.
It is also the case that every team has a few players it would appear highly unlikely any clear-thinking coach would want to add to their roster. RBNY has its share of those as well.
Who might NYCFC and OCSC really be considering from RBNY's unprotected list?
A case can be made for any player to be selected, largely because these are players on the rosters of active MLS teams. If they were worth signing once, they might be worth signing again. But some are less desirable than others.
The Red Bulls have 14 players available in the Expansion Draft, of which at least five (Thierry Henry, Bobby Convey, Saer Sene, Richard Eckersley, and Kosuke Kimura) we don't expect to see back for 2015. Fair to assume, RBNY wouldn't be too upset if NYCFC or OCSC filled its roster from that shortlist - especially for the comedy value of seeing someone try to explain to Henry that he'd been "drafted" by a team that isn't yet actually a team and has no way to compel him to play for it.
Of the remaining nine players who have not been protected, it is also fair to assume RBNY would prefer not to see any of them picked off for one reason or another. But that is out of the club's control (we think; backroom deals may have been struck and there is no necessity for anyone to tell us about them).
As we while away the hours to the Expansion Draft, here's an attempt to second-guess NYCFC and OCSC thinking about RBNY's available players.
Four who are probably not even being considered
On all the lists there are number of players who just don't make sense for either expansion club: too expensive, too injured, too unreliable, or too unlikely to ever want to play in MLS again. RBNY seems to have four that fit that bill.
Second-year midfielder who played 95 minutes (four appearances; one start) in his rookie year. His sophomore season was ended in August by ACL surgery, which suggests he might be ready to play again in time for the 2015 pre-season.
Does either NYCFC or OCSC want to take on an unproven rehab project, even a young one, in its first year? OCSC almost certainly doesn't: it has five midfielders not named Kaka on its roster already, and they are all under 25. NYCFC could use a little youth, and it will need some midfield depth, but players taken in the Expansion Draft have to be added to the senior roster.
If Bustamante could be stashed on the off-cap part of the roster and looked at as a long-term project, maybe he'd get a look. But he can't. In his current condition, without sufficient playing time this year to build much of a reputation, he should be safe.
RBNY has declined his option for 2015, and Convey hasn't featured in the Red Bulls thinking since he opted for surgery to correct a deviated septum at the end of August. He didn't impress in his time in Harrison.
Still, he's the sort of player you'd think some team would be inclined to take a chance on: 46 caps for USMNT; US Soccer's Young Male Athlete of the Year in 2002; MLS's Comeback Player of the Year in 2010. He has pedigree.
But he's a risk. A six-figure salary in MLS implies a proven performer, and Convey has struggled to be consistent in any role for any of the four teams he's played for in the five years since he came back from Europe.
Creative left-footers are not so easy to find in MLS, but is the upside on a 31-year-old misfit so compelling either NYCFC or OCSC would burn an Expansion Draft pick to be certain of having first crack at negotiating with him? Unlikely.
RBNY has reportedly been trying to trade him for some time. If Convey were even a lukewarm commodity in MLS, he'd be with a different club. Low trade value and a discouraging recent history suggests he's a guy to talk to at a later stage in the off-season, if at all.
Did he leave RBNY to join NYCFC or OCSC? Doubtful. Henry has been very careful with his career to date: he left Monaco for Juventus; left Juve for Arsenal; left Arsenal for Barcelona; and left Spain for RBNY. He hasn't historically been interested in having another crack at the same league in a different shirt. And he would damage his legacy in New York for what? A year or two playing in a baseball stadium for fans who signed up to see Frank Lampard?
The prospect of playing with Kaka might be more tempting, if Henry appeared at all tempted by another run in MLS - which he doesn't. He left the Red Bulls talking about Arsenal. The only thing more surprising than seeing him selected in the Expansion Draft would be seeing him actually sign a contract and play for the team foolish enough to try to commit him to another season away from North London.
The 2012 season is not so far away that people cannot remember the time Sene was a double-digit goal scorer in MLS. But he spent two years dealing with serious injuries, and has never recovered to reach the sort of form he showed in his first year in the league.
RBNY gave him opportunity to prove himself in CONCACAF Champions League, and if he hadn't missed a penalty in El Salvador, maybe he would have retrieved his reputation. Or not: he never looked fully fit or fully confident in his outings for the Red Bulls.
If he gets another shot in MLS, it will likely be as a rehab project with low expectations all round. In terms of the Expansion Draft, he's another guy with minimal trade value and little reason to believe he can be an out-of-the-gate contributor in 2015. Not a player one would expect NYCFC or OCSC to consider one of the best 10 bets out of a pool of 240.
Six who probably aren't going anywhere (yet)
The next six players are guys who have something to recommend them to a club in start-up mode, but for whom the risks ultimately appear greater than the benefits.
As he demonstrated in RBNY's late-season charge to the Eastern Conference final, Eckersley is a starting-caliber MLS right back. As he demonstrated in his lamentable early-season cavalcade of gaffes, he is also capable of making some very costly mistakes.
Still, he's 25 and carrying more experience in and out of MLS than most players of a comparable age in the Expansion Draft. He's also got a $250,000 contract hanging over him. That is an entirely reasonable sum for a player like Eckersley in the global market. Plenty of MLS clubs would take him at a lower price, but he might have done just enough for RBNY at the end of the year to have a shot at persuading a team in a different league to give him a shot at something close to his current level of earning.
Unless NYCFC or OCSC is absolutely certain he is agreeable to a salary they consider reasonable within whatever cap-framework they are working with, he's a negotiation headache you'd expect them to avoid at this stage in their off-season.
Both teams could use an experienced center back. But if they are minded to burn an international spot on such a player, there are perhaps too many other options available for Armando and his $120,000 salary to be considered the best bet.
He carries a reputation for reckless play that seemed to be the primary reason Mike Petke had to ease him out of the starting lineup, and the possibility he'd get the same treatment from referees on another team ought to be sufficient to give both expansion clubs pause. RBNY appears to have decided he does have a future in the league, but that is in the context of needing to find a replacement if they let him go.
OCSC has just signed the poster-boy of MLS card-magnets, Aurelien Collin. It would be surprising to see the team reach for a similar accident-waiting-to-happen. NYCFC needs back line grit and experience, and Kreis likes a physical defender: we have him to thank for Jamison Olave's presence in MLS. But Armando's best doesn't look close to Olave's best, even at this late stage in the Colombian's career.
He's not yet 20 (that will change before the end of the year), and has two seasons in MLS under his belt. An irrepressibly attacking player with best days still ahead of him. He's an interesting depth option for any team in the league.
But only a depth option. He was on the league minimum this year, and got 41 minutes of playing time in the regular season - less than he managed in his rookie season. RBNY has declined his contract option, but suggested it was negotiating to bring him back for 2015. Hard to fathom why either OCSC or NYCFC would be hot enough on him to gazump the Red Bulls and hand a senior roster spot to a young, unproven talent.
You want an experienced defender who will probably cost you a low six-figure salary and an international roster spot? Pick Armando: he's younger than Perrinelle, and has seen more time in MLS.
Perrinelle didn't do anything greatly wrong in a handful of CCL appearances and seven minutes in the league for RBNY this season, but also didn't do anything spectacularly right. The Red Bulls have indicated they're thinking of bringing back for 2015, but not under the terms of his original contract option. And only the Red Bulls can really say why that is: no other team in the league has seen enough of Perrinelle in action to make an informed decision about his talents.
Fun fact: Sekagya and Obekop share a birthday - December 19. Both are also currently in negotiations with RBNY to see if they find agreement on terms that will make it worth their while to spend another year at the club.
For Sekagya, who will be 34 by the time MLS 2015 kicks off, the question probably weighs heavier: even his $190,000 salary is likely a lot less than he was earning as a key player for Red Bull Salzburg. He presumably doesn't need the money, it's just a question of whether he can summon the motivation to keep playing for steadily dwindling financial reward.
He brings a number of high-quality intangibles to any squad: leadership, professionalism, understanding of the game. But for how much longer? If he's not certain to be hanging around RBNY for another year, it seems unlikely NYCFC or OCSC would want to take over the chance of him retiring before he ever hit the practice field in 2015.
The Red Bulls appear inclined to hang on to him for another year at least, and he showed well in four CCL appearances, including two starts. But he wasn't exceptional. And if either NYCFC or OCSC is picking through the Red Bulls' roster for young midfielders, there is a more obvious choice available. Why pick Stevenson when you could have Ruben Bover?
Four who might go
Only two players can be lost to the Expansion draft process, and once one is selected, the club can protect one more. So, at worst, RBNY stands to lose two guys, and it will be able to guarantee itself the continued service of at least one currently unprotected player as soon as one is picked off by NYCFC or OCSC.
If these are indeed the four players who really are in danger of getting whisked off to the Bronx or Orlando, then the Red Bulls can only lose two - and they'll be able to actively protect one.
Younger than Stevenson, higher up the depth chart, has a (fortuitous) MLS goal to his name, and coming off another season on league minimum: Bover is the best young midfield option available in RBNY's Expansion Draft offering.
Is he better than comparable players on the unprotected lists of other teams? That is a matter of opinion. His best years are ahead of him, for sure.
He looks an unlikely prospect for OCSC, where there are already a cluster of young midfielders on the half-formed roster. But he could be interesting to NYCFC. A long-shot, but perhaps less so than most of the other players described already on this list.
The big surprise on RBNY's unprotected list for the Expansion Draft, largely because his availability means he was not signed with a no-trade clause. (By the same logic, so too was Thierry Henry, but since he is out of contract, it is more likely he's on the unprotected list because he literally isn't constrained by any active clauses at all.)
Cahill's future at RBNY has been uncertain since he stopped being a certainty in the starting lineup, and since he started giving non-committal answers to the question of whether he would be a Red Bull in 2015.
We assume he's in the market for a move. He has a year left to run on his DP contract, so no uncertainties over what money he would require. Nor does it seem likely either NYCFC or OCSC doesn't haven't room for more big-money signings.
He never seems to want for motivation on the pitch, but the desire to prove RBNY wrong for failing to find a place for him in 2014 might be the little bit extra he needs to get to the form he was showing in MLS 2013.
The problem, one imagines, is that if you pick him, you need to play him. Otherwise he's an excessively expensive bench option - as he was for RBNY by the end of this year. His obligations to his national football team can be expected to ease up in 2015, since Australia has to move on to grooming its next generation of international-class forwards before the next World Cup cycle starts in earnest, so he's likely to be less often called away for international duty. He will be expecting to play more often for his club team, and he will be around more often to make that expectation felt.
The Red Bulls will be anticipating all of these issues: if Cahill stays for 2015, the team needs to be built around him just like it was previously built around Thierry Henry. Otherwise, both parties are wasting each other's time.
Ultimately, with OCSC committed to what is best for Kaka, and NYCFC all-in on building around Villa and whatever is left of Frank Lampard when Manchester City is ready to let him go, one expects the expansion clubs to skip the chance to add Cahill to their list. He isn't an obvious complement to the Villa-Lampard pairing, and while he would likely flourish as a target for Kaka in Orlando, it is difficult to imagine the club knew he'd be available in this draft. OCSC has Kevin Molino on its books - the man who took over Dom Dwyer's single-season scoring record in USL Pro.
Dwyer did very well in MLS in 2014. It would be odd to see OCSC bring in a guy who might stand in the way of Molino's continued development.
Nonetheless, he's Tim Cahill, he's available, and he seems to be in the mood for a change. His agent has probably taken a call or two since the unprotected lists were released.
One MLS Cup and one Supporters' Shield tells you everything you need to know about Kimura. He isn't a top-tier player, but he isn't going to get in the way of a title run. For RBNY, he had several chances to take the starting right back position, but never held it for long. But he was also an invaluable bench option and stand-in for injured starters.
He's a team player and a MLS lifer. What's not to like?
Well, he's 30 years old, and RBNY has declined his 2015 option. Is he such an asset it is necessary to reach for him now, as opposed to later in the process when his salary expectations (his contract with the Red Bulls was $105,000 in 2014) might be a little more flexible? Probably not.
But he's a solid, what-you-see-is-what-you-get pro, with a good track record. Picking him doesn't commit a team to playing him, but he's not going to embarrass a coach who does put him on the field. In many ways, he's the perfect expansion draft selection.
He's the best-value player RBNY has put out there. Yes, he's old (he'll turn 36 in 2015). Yes, no one knows what his form will be like without his old friend Thierry on the field. The two men had an understanding of each other's tendencies and preferences that made them both more effective together than apart (for RBNY; they have each, of course, built successful careers without ever playing for the same club until Peguy landed in Harrison).
But he is on a ludicrously low salary for a player of his experience and skill: $90,000 in 2014. And he has proved himself to be adaptable in his time at RBNY, working within different systems as required by a tactical plan that was never about getting the best out of him. He's a star player willing to play a supporting role.
He'd be a useful piece at NYCFC: good enough to contribute right away; cheap enough to be considered a bench option if he's not working out; old enough to be short-term cover while younger players find their feet. All of which is why one assumes RBNY would like to keep him too.
He looks less enticing for OCSC, since Peguy would be little more than a Kaka back-up in their presumptive system. But that low salary and potential for high return must have him under consideration by both expansion clubs.
Who do you think is at risk in the Expansion Draft? And do you think they'll actually get picked when the time comes? Let us know in the comments!