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Capital Construction: The Expansion draft

Questions linger over United's player protection going into 2011

WASHINGTON — The MLS Cup Playoffs kick off in a matter of days. But after Saturday’s season finale against Toronto FC, the next competitive action for D.C. United will be in the more abstract realm of the expansion draft on Nov. 24, when the club will try to hang onto their best building blocks for 2011. 

United have been stripped of talent in nearly every expansion draft, with important players like John Maessner and Brian Carroll plucked away. Even current assistant coach Kris Kelderman was picked up by the Miami Fusion in 1997 at DC’s expense. 

Given this year’s woes, United’s present roster might not look quite as tempting for Vancouver and Portland when they make their selections on the Wednesday after MLS Cup. But DC still have difficult decisions to make regarding their protected list, and they will likely do so without the input of next year’s head coach, who is yet to be hired.  

Then there’s the fact that the Whitecaps’ director of soccer operations, Tom Soehn, is familiar with United’s roster, as he was once DC’s coach. Thankfully, the Black-and-Red’s crown jewels are out of reach, with Andy Najar, Bill Hamid and Conor Shanosky exempt from the expansion draft as homegrown players.  

So which 11 players will DC protect? Here’s one guess:

  1. Branko Boskovic* – seen as a centerpiece of next year’s squad
  2. Marc Burch – injured for most of 2010, but valued by DC
  3. Jordan Graye – still raw, but a local-bred talent on modest wages
  4. Dejan Jakovic – Canadian international would be tempting to Vancouver
  5. Julius James – rugged center back earned his spot over the past 14 months
  6. Troy Perkins – much was invested in the veteran GK’s reacquisition last year
  7. Chris Pontius – crucial, versatile cog in United’s youth movement
  8. Santino Quaranta – DC’s locker-room leader and captain-in-waiting
  9. Clyde Simms – steady vet remains a vital midfield linchpin
  10. Rodney Wallace – another 2010 injury casualty looking to rebound
  11. Jed Zayner – has impressed since his August arrival from Columbus 

*assuming his designated-player contract contains a no-trade clause  

This list would leave the Whitecaps and Timbers with some appealing options. Devon McTavish has proven himself as a reliable utility player over his five-year pro career. Experienced strikers Danny Allsopp and Adam Cristman can lead the line. Argentine Pablo Hernandez has shown abundant talent since his midsummer arrival, though his loan deal with Uruguayan side Defensor Sporting only runs until July 2011 and might have a hefty buy option attached.

All four stand a good chance of being added to the protected list, as per this year’s rules, if one of United’s other players is selected.  

Soehn drafted Brandon Barklage in the 2009 SuperDraft and often spoke highly of the midfielder’s talent, though two major knee injuries in two years might make Barklage less attractive.  

Considering the importance of leadership and creativity for expansion sides, might Soehn even spring a shock move for the departing Jaime Moreno? If he doesn’t retire this winter, United’s longtime hero will probably play a brief stint in his native Bolivia, but his old coach could try to coax him up to British Columbia instead. It wouldn’t necessitate burning an expansion draft pick on him, however. 

Compiling a protected list can pose a devilish task. DC general manager Dave Kasper and his staff must make candid judgments about his players, then ensure that those left exposed are reassured of their value and brought back in the fold.  

It’s just one more item on United’s lengthy offseason agenda.