Stats, salaries, #analysis: 2020 Expansion Draft pool

Nashville SC front-office braintrust Mike Jacobs and Ian Ayre at last year’s event. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Earlier today, Major League Soccer announced teams’ available player lists for the 2020 Expansion Draft that Austin FC will participate in tomorrow evening.

I’ve crunched the numbers (with a major assist from American Soccer Analysis), and you can find the whole pool with 2020 stats and 2019 salaries here:

Field playersGoalkeepers

What it means for Austin

There are some good players available – as is bound to be the case every year, given that teams can only protect 12 guys. Some value picks that jump off the page to me. Keep in mind these are guys who look like good choices to draft and keep, whereas there’s a very strong likelihood that Austin makes some picks in order to deal assets.

Nashville SC winger David Accam. This one depends on how much he was making in 2020, because he carried a hefty pricetag in 2019 (just over a million bucks). But a guy who performed well when on the field, but dealt with personal (inasmuch as a tornado is “personal,” in addition to the birth of his child) and injury issues… could be a “buy low” proposition for Austin.

Orlando City striker Tesho Akindele. He may have been the N+1th banana in a very good Orlando striker pool. But he’s on just 150K salary as of 2019, a top-10 available player in xG+xA, and still only 28 years old.

Nashville SC centerback Jalil Anibaba. Please don’t take him, Austin. But Anibaba’s contributions in leadership and versatility make him worth the $100k salary even if the stats don’t love him.

Nashville SC striker Dominique Badji. He’s about $50k more in salary than Akindele, and the injury issues he had with Nashville this year are worrisome (as were some finishing troubles). However, reasonable salary and good xG+xA production – for a guy who’s likely a little undervalued because of recent injuries – may not be a bad pick.

Chicago Fire winger Elliot Collier. He can play multiple positions and is only 25 (and domestic, despite being a New Zealander). Goals added liked him a lot (+0.30) for a guy who played under 700 minutes. If healthy, a good pick.

Montreal Impact GK Clement Diop. I don’t know how a team with a keeper this good on such a low budget hit ($98k in 2019 – maybe that number went up this season?) risks leaving him unprotected. Seems like an opportunity for Austin – at the very least to make a deal to not take him. Of course, a French dude may be not hyper-happy to leave Montreal, so you have to keep personal considerations in mind for chemistry, etc.

Houston Dynamo centerback Maynor Figueroa. The top Goals Added player available in the Expansion Draft, and on a senior-minimum salary (as of 2019). At a position that can be important to success, that sounds like a good pull. Also it stands to reason that you’ll upset players less by making them not move halfway across the country, so picking from Dallas and Houston seems wise.

Orlando City left back Kamal Miller. Miller only played sparingly with João Moutinho dominating left back playing time early in the season, and then being part of a multi-guy rotation at both fullback spots. LB is a value spot, and Miller has one more year of eligibility for reserve-minimum salary.

FC Dallas winger/forward Santiago Mosquera. Mosquera was pretty good in xG+xA terms on very limited minutes played. While he’s on a DP budget hit, the opportunity to have a smooth path to playing time as he proves he’s back to full health could be worthy of a reduced salary. Plus you’re only making him move driving-distance, which may make for a happier player.

Toronto FC winger Pablo Piatti. TFC is ready to move on from Piatti, and a DP hit is a lot to take in the Expansion Draft. But he was a massive part of a very successful Toronto FC attack this season, and players of his quality are rarely available without massive transfer fees (or trade assets intra-league).

Orlando City GK Brian Rowe. Still in negotiations with the Lions, he’s proven very capable of being a starter-caliber player, but is stuck behind Pedro Gallese on the OCSC depth chart. A starter-caliber keeper making under $100k salary (as of 2019) is a good pick, to me.

Orlando City right back Kyle Smith. A guy on senior-minimum salary who was one of Goals Added’s top players available. He only got about half of OCSC’s minutes this season, so might be ready to take on a bigger role (of course, Austin has already traded for Ben Sweat, so “minutes at right back” may not truly be on offer anyway).

New York Red Bulls striker Jared Stroud. We don’t know his salary, but presumably it was pretty low for a first-year MLS guy who played four years of college before coming through NYRBII. Stroud was a top xG+xA guy and Goals Added guy and presumably very cheap for a goal-scorer.

So, given that Austin can only select one guy per team (and with the understanding that this is far from a comprehensive list), I might select:

  • Anibaba
  • Collier
  • Figueroa
  • Rowe
  • Stroud

That’s two defenders, a keeper, and two attacking players (both of whom can play multiple roles along the front line). More likely, we’ll see asset acquisitions and some post-trade deals, rather than five guys to keep.

What they should definitely not do is draft a guy who wasn’t in MLS last year (a la FC Cincinnati picking Hassan Ndam from NYRBII. Imagine spending an Expansion pick on a guy you can get for free literally 20 minutes later if you just wait. It remains incredible how bad FCC’s original front office was).

What it means for Nashville SC

Unless Austin finds the same type of non-quantifiable value in Anibaba that Nashville does, it doesn’t look super-likely that a player gets picked from the Boys in Gold (at least not among guys they want to keep).

There are starting-caliber goalkeepers in the Expansion Draft. Why take guys who haven’t played pro minutes yet? There are some really good fullbacks (imo the deepest position in this Draft with value picks). Maybe a Nashville guy makes sense there, but it’s not an obvious “can’t pass on him versus [other option]” type of choice. The attacking players in the Draft are largely more-accomplished than Nashville’s options – though history of success for Accam, Badji, and possibly even Abu Danladi can make them realistic options.

If it’s not Anibaba (or a player Nashville wouldn’t really mind losing), Nashville players don’t seem to be likely picks from a value perspective. Given the dealmaking nature of Nashville SC’s front office, I wouldn’t be sweating it.

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