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MLS Expansion Draft 2016: What it means for the New York Red Bulls, part 2

In which the easy decisions are made.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Over in Part 1 of this look at the implications of the 2016 MLS Expansion Draft for the New York Red Bulls, a lengthy and speculative review of draft rules, roster rules, and player salaries concluded that the team's six Homegrown players are probably automatically protected.

And it also concluded that the rules stipulating that three international players must be protected won't have much impact on RBNY because RBNY is likely to protect a great many more than that anyway. Finally, it noted players with no-trade clauses must be protected, but it is difficult to say which players in the squad might have such we're not giving that one too much attention.

But Once A Metro still needs to come up with a list. Two lists, in fact: the players RBNY will have protected and those who will therefore be left unprotected.

First, though there are good reasons to have doubts about whether Homegrowns Sean Davis and Connor Lade are in fact automatically protected, OaM is sticking with its faith in Ali Curtis. For current purposes, the assumption is all six RBNY Homegrown players will be automatically protected, because on paper it looks like they can be and evidence suggests if you or I can see it, it is because Ali already made it happen.

Since we're looking at all 28 players the Red Bulls currently have on MLS contracts, that leaves 22 to think about.

This year's Expansion Draft only allows Atlanta United and Minnesota United five selections each. And it only allows for each team getting picked over to suffer one loss. So the trick for RBNY will perhaps be less to protect the 11 payers it definitely wants to keep and more to leave unprotected 11 players neither team will want to choose as one of the five it can take from the draft. Players do not stick around forever with any team, but any club prefers to manage departures on its own terms, not because MLS decided to invite a couple more to the party and is handing out welcome gifts to the latecomers at the door.

The rules state that any player selected must be signed to the expansion team's "Senior Roster": all selections will be part of the 20-man roster (per this year's MLS roster rules) that counts toward the Expansion Uniteds' salary budget. With only five picks, one suspects there will be more focus on finding players who are ready to contribute to the first team right now, or who have clear trade value. There is probably less incentive to take a flyer on a player who might have potential or could respond well to a fresh start. For the Expansion Uniteds, this draft should be about finding five solid starters.

With that in mind, the building of the unprotected list begins with seven players the Red Bulls might feel safe leaving exposed.

Seven who RBNY can risk exposing to the Expansion Uniteds

Anatole Abang: it's not entirely clear that he will even be considered eligible for the draft, since he is on loan to Hobro IK until next summer. It seems probable RBNY would like to trade Abang in the summer transfer window of 2017. And leaving him unprotected risks missing out on whatever windfall might come from moving along a player who has been frozen out at RBNY but still has a lot of obvious potential - both in ability and market value. But if Atlanta or Minnesota want to burn a pick on a player they probably can't have immediately and whose future prospects now rest on performances on the other side of the Atlantic: let 'em take their chances. It would be a weirdly speculative move for a draft intended to stock start-up rosters with starting caliber players from First Kick.

Gideon Baah: he's on the long-term injury list and isn't expected to be ready to start training again until at least November, per initial estimates. In 10 appearances for RBNY he showed some promise, but he's a rehab project now. One the Red Bulls are surely happy to take on, but there should be more obviously ready defensive options on other team's lists (and probably on RBNY's as well). And those other options probably won't have salaries in the region of $300,000.

Karl Ouimette: he's on loan to the end of the NASL season with Jacksonville Armada, but can't get regular minutes. If he's eligible for the Expansion Draft, he's some distance from an attractive prospect at the moment. A player who ought to be able to find a club if (as seems increasingly probable) he is released by RBNY at the end of the season, but he'd be a strange move for either of the Expansion Uniteds in the draft.

Shaun Wright-Phillips: he doesn't play much and is probably of greatest value to the squad as a mentor to the great many young players RBNY has coming through who would be very happy to emulate his achievements (international caps, UEFA Champions League appearances, Premier League and FA Cup titles). And he's the brother of one of RBNY's all-time greats and current all-time leading scorer. He has a role at RBNY that doesn't seem likely to be found at other MLS teams. He'll be top-five in the Expansion Draft for name recognition, but it will be a surprise if either Atlanta or Minnesota feel the need for SWP.

Kyle Reynish: he's the first-team's near-permanent back-up to starting 'keeper Luis Robles, and fills a very important role in the squad. Ryan Meara is the regular starter for the reserve team and likely the man the club hopes will stick around long enough to succeed Robles as starting 'keeper. But Meara is also tradeable for value, especially now he has a very solid season in USL under his belt. Reynish is the right-now back-up to Robles, on the off-chance Meara isn't ready or able to go when starting opportunities arise. As a career MLS back-up, Reynish is of less-obvious trade value, and also deserving of a shot at a start elsewhere if that's what Atlanta or Minnesota would like to explore. It's almost a moral imperative to put him on the unprotected list and let him fly to a greener pasture if there is one there for him.

Justin Bilyeu: he's had a solid rookie season, mostly looking good in USL, with occasional and creditable performances for the first team. But sufficient to turn the head of an expansion team with only five picks from the existing MLS rosters? It seems unlikely, not least because it isn't entirely clear that he'll stick with RBNY for another year. He isn't Kemar Lawrence, and Connor Lade has become an almost equal challenger for the left back position. If you can't expose your third-string left back in the Expansion Draft, you may have hoarding tendencies that need to be addressed.

Omer Damari: there's no reason for Damari to even feature in this draft. His loan is until the end of the MLS season, and the Expansion Draft is three days after the MLS Cup final, which seems like it ought to count as the end of the season. And he's on loan from RB Leipzig, carrying a large contract through 2018, and has been held back by injury problems at RBs Leipzig, Salzburg, and now New York. If by some technical glitch he ends up on RBNY's protected list (a no-trade clause in his contract and not yet returned to Germany by the time the draft rolls around), it will be a waste of a spot and another player needlessly exposed to the Expansion Uniteds. Most likely, Damari is back in Leipzig before the draft. Second most likely, he's unprotected because it's patently obvious he doesn't need to be protected.

So far, so good. Six Homegrowns assumed to be automatically protected, and seven players already identified who are probably safe bets to be ignored by Atlanta and Minnesota in the Expansion Draft. Only 15 players left to account for, and 11 of those can be protected.

Next up are the must-protects: the players there should be no doubt will be on the protected list come December 13. There is often a surprising casualty of the salary cap in the off-season, but allowing certain players - those with key roles and eye-catching achievements - to walk away for nothing would be uncharacteristic of Ali Curtis and somewhat out of sync with RalfBall. (And Curtis has already expended his quota of surprising trades for the season by shifting Lloyd Sam for no immediately obvious gain.)

These are the easy names to pencil into the must-protect list: those whose current value to the team and in MLS (at the very least) is high. If they are to leave, they should be traded for value, not allowed to leave without compensation for the club.

Seven who RBNY will protect

Bradley Wright-Phillips: remember when RBNY let its all-time top scorer walk away from the club for nothing? It wasn't a great look. But Juan Pablo Angel was slowing down (a little - he still had goals, and titles, in him) and the club had acquired Thierry Henry. Unless there is a blockbuster move announced the next day, and we are not led to believe RBNY is any longer in the market for blockbuster moves, floating BWP in the Expansion Draft would be madness. He's the most productive scorer in RBNY's history, and the history of MLS over any one, two, or three-season stretch. If he's going somewhere, let it not be for free to one of the Expansion Uniteds.

Dax McCarty: he was TAM'd up to 2019 in the off-season. Trade for value, if at all. The club captain is too valuable an asset to gift to Atlanta or Minnesota.

Luis Robles: stop it. Stop even thinking about it.

Sacha Kljestan: after what the club did to get him and what he's done since? Nope. Not going anywhere. Not in an Expansion Draft.

Felipe: the other part of the big deal that signaled Ali and Jesse weren't kidding about rebuilding the team. Felipe has repaid his coach's confidence with a surprising transformation from a promising attacking midfielder to one of the league's more effective d-mids. Madness to risk letting him go for nothing.

Daniel Royer: he was just signed, he looks like he might be a very good fit with the system and the team, and the team dropped a fan favorite and club legend to clear space for him. He stays.

Kemar Lawrence: he hasn't had the season he'd hoped for after his breakout 2015, but he is still clearly the team's starting left back, and arguably the only full back in the squad even close to being what RalfBall wants full backs to be (super human). And at 24 (on September 17), he has significant trade value if he gets back to top form. Not at top form, he's merely the team's first-choice left back through 2022.


Six protected Homegrowns; seven should-be-safe players who can be unprotected; seven who must be protected: 20 players accounted for, only eight more to consider. And that consideration will come in the third and final part of this first run at evaluating what the 2016 Expansion Draft has in store for RBNY.

Who is on your safe-to-offer and must-protect lists? Let us know in the comments.