A conservative reading of the New York Red Bulls’ options with regard to which players to protect from the 2018 MLS Expansion Draft suggested that the one truly difficult decision would be whether to risk either Hassan Ndam or Cristian Casseres falling into FC Cincinnati’s arms.
Red Bulls Sporting Director Denis Hamlett would appear to have had a similar line of thinking: RBNY’s official list of players protected from the Expansion Draft was essentially most of the team’s preferred 2018 starters, plus starter-in-waiting Ryan Meara, and Casseres.
RBNY players eligible, exempt, or protected for 2018 MLS Expansion Draft
|Anatole Abang (INTL)||Alex Muyl||Luis Robles|
|Vincent Bezecourt (INTL)||Derrick Etienne||Ryan Meara|
|Hassan Ndam (INTL)||Evan Louro||Tim Parker*|
|Aurelien Collin*||Ben Mines||Michael Murillo (INTL)|
|Kyle Duncan||Kevin Politz*||Kemar Lawrence|
|Fidel Escobar (INTL)*||Sean Davis|
|Andreas Ivan (INTL)||Daniel Royer (INTL)|
|Ethan Kutler*||Kaku (DP, INTL)|
|Connor Lade||Bradley Wright-Phillips (DP)|
|Carlos Rivas*||Cristian Casseres|
|Marc Rzatkowski*||Aaron Long|
|Florian Valot (INTL)|
|*Players out of contract per 2018 roster update|
So Ndam is arguably the most notable RBNY player exposed to FCC for the Expansion Draft.
Not the most seasoned or proven center-back even available from RBNY in this draft - but Aurelien Collin is eligible for the MLS free-agency process that starts pretty much as soon as the Expansion Draft ends, so Cincinnati doesn’t really need to burn a pick just to have the right to talk to him.
Nor is Ndam necessarily the most attractive emerging player FCC might snatch from RBNY. But unlike Florian Valot, Vincent Bezecourt, and Kyle Duncan, Ndam isn’t coming off a season-ending injury - and Cincinnati may not be all that keen on spending one of its five Expansion Draft selections on a potential rehab project.
We don’t really know what Hamlett is expecting out of this Expansion Draft.
He could be simply hoping FCC passes his team by entirely: since Cincinnati only has five picks and can’t pick more than one player from any one roster, there’s a good chance RBNY will be one of the 13 clubs (five current MLS teams are exempt from this draft; FCC will pick five from 18 rosters) that doesn’t lose anyone at all. Hamlett has protected starters, MLS-ready ‘keeper Ryan Meara, and prized prospect Casseres: he’s not offering Cincy anyone it wouldn’t have expected to see available out of RBNY when it started analyzing its likely options from every team in the Expansion Draft.
Even Once A Metro’s conviction that Hassan Ndam is too hot a prospect to dangle in front of FCC at this draft is a somewhat flimsy proposition: Hamlett may well think it unlikely a team building a roster to be competitive in MLS next season decides it must have a 20-year-old center-back with two career appearances in two years in the league. RBNY wants to develop young players, enjoys and embraces that challenge, but Cincy’s immediate priorities are arguably a little different from those of the Red Bulls.
Alternatively, maybe Hamlett is hoping a player like Anatole Abang - seemingly toxic at RBNY for most of the last three seasons, but allegedly once fancied by FCC - will prove attractive and win the Red Bulls the $50,000 allocation money compensation provided by MLS to teams that lose a player in the draft.
The truth is likely somewhere in between. Unless RBNY has a deal done with FCC already and knows exactly how its Expansion Draft will play out, Hamlett has doubtless simply braced for the worst and hoped for the best. The Red Bulls have protected the players they absolutely don’t want to lose, they already released the players they could live without next season, and if Cincy picks up one of the eight Red Bulls under contract for 2019 exposed to the draft - so be it: the team has a full off-season ahead to find a replacement.