The Union made some surprising choices in deciding which players to protect or leave available for FC Cincinnati’s upcoming expansion draft.
C.J. Sapong was notably protected despite falling down the depth chart last season. He had just five goals and three assists in 36 games, playing a combination of striker and winger while carrying a $525,000 salary.
Winger David Accam was also protected, a sign that the Union believe he’ll bounce back from his injury-riddled year and justify his $1.25 million salary. After registering 14 goals and 8 assists with the Chicago Fire in 2017, he had just two goals and no assists in 28 games this year.
Late in the season, the Union revealed that Accam had been hindered by lingering effects from sports hernia surgery last winter, and he was shut down for the year after a further operation.
Veteran defender Ray Gaddis was protected even though he’s out of contract after this year, and the Union have not yet signaled whether they want him back.
Also protected were goalkeeper Andre Blake; defenders Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo and Keegan Rosenberry; midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Ilsinho, and forward Cory Burke.
All of the Union’s homegrown players were automatically protected: defenders Mark McKenzie, Matt Real and Auston Trusty and midfielders Brenden Aaronson, Anthony Fontana, Derrick Jones and Adam Najem.
Left available for the taking were goalkeepers John McCarthy and Jake McGuire; defenders Fabinho, Richie Marquez and Josh Yaro; midfielders Warren Creavalle, Borek Dockal, Marcus Epps, and Haris Medunjanin; and forwards Kacper Przybylko and Jay Simpson.
That list is somewhat deceptive, though, because Medunjanin is the only player on it who is officially under contract for next year. McGuire, Fabinho, Marquez, Yaro, Epps, and Simpson had club options for 2019 declined; Przbylko’s club option hasn’t been decided on yet; Dockal’s loan from China expired, and the odds are slim that he’s coming back; and McCarthy and Creavalle are out of contract.
FC Cincinnati joins MLS next year after a wildly successful few years in the USL, attracting crowds to the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium that exceeded some MLS attendances. They’ll pick five players from the expansion draft pool on Tuesday, with no more than one player from any opposing team.
Five teams are exempt because they had players taken in Los Angeles FC’s expansion draft last year: Columbus, Kansas City, San Jose, Seattle and Toronto. LAFC is eligible to have a player taken. Portland reportedly will be spared, according to the Oregonian, as the result of a trade it made with Cincinnati earlier this year.
A full list of players available in the draft is available on MLS' website. Some names to watch are:
— Goalkeeper Brad Knighton (New England, and formerly of the Union).
— Defenders Steven Beitashour (LAFC), Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), and Efrain Juárez (Vancouver).
— Midfielders Sacha Kljestan (Orlando), Tommy McNamara (New York City FC), and Perry Kitchen (Los Angeles Galaxy).