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OPINION: If I were picking…

The 2019 MLS Expansion Draft is Tuesday night, and it’s a chance for Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC to assemble their rosters ahead of their league debuts in 2020.

It’s an exciting day – as FC Cincinnati fans should remember from 2018.

But it’s slightly more stressful one for MLS general managers as they decide which players to protect, which players to leave available and which players they might even want to acquire via trade. Consider this the rumor season.

So, let’s have some fun with it.

I’m not a GM who decides the future of an MLS franchise, but if I was, here are five players I’d take in the Expansion Draft.

This is based off their performance and 2019 salary, per the MLSPA. I don’t have insight into available players’ 2020 salaries or contract statuses, so I’m just going off what’s been publicly released.

No. 1: Sebastien Ibeagha, New York City FC - CB

The order of these picks doesn’t matter, but the selections do (in my mind, at least). Ibeagha would be a starting center back and helped NYCFC to finish first in the 2019 Eastern Conference standings.

Used frequently as a sub in 2019, his base salary was only $74,250, which is a good value for any player – let alone your starting center back. Even if he was used as a substitute, like in 2019, he’s proven he can produce in that role, and at a bargain price.

No. 2: Justin Meram, Atlanta United FC - M

There was a rumor Meram would join FC Cincinnati in 2018, but nothing came to fruition. Now that he’s available in the draft, he’s worth pursuing.

Meram made 20 appearances for Atlanta this season, scoring four goals. He also provided three assists. (For a comparison, Kekuta Manneh had similar statistics.)

What makes the Iraq international a good pickup, though, is his consistency.

Since 2011, he’s made 243 appearances in MLS and has 43 goals. He also has 37 assists. He’s a winger who can produce, and has a history of doing so. Maybe he won’t score 13 goals like he did in 2017 for Columbus Crew SC, but he’s someone who could start for the majority of clubs around the league.

No. 3: Tsubasa Endoh, Toronto FC - M

FC Cincinnati should remember Endoh from when he scored a hat trick at Nippert Stadium in 2018. While those were USL days, Endoh can generate MLS productivity.

In 2019, he made 13 appearances as a midfielder and scored three goals. He also only made $70,250.04. Again, money matters, and having him and Ibeagha in the same starting lineup means shrewd business with a nice return.

No. 4: Mohamed El-Munir, Los Angeles FC - LB

El-Munir was a backup for LAFC in their record-setting season, but he would’ve started almost anywhere else. The Libya international provides speed and can transition between being influential in attacks and effective as a defender.

As MLS teams transition toward playing a more possession-based approach, why not draft someone who fits that mold and can start from day one?

No. 5: Alvas Powell, FC Cincinnati - RB

Select Powell and you have your outside backs covered. Also, both are fast and have similar player profiles.

Personally, I wanted to see more of Powell this season. Once Mathieu Deplagne no longer had to cover at left back, Powell’s minutes plummeted. He never played under coach Ron Jans.

Sometimes Powell got caught too far up the field, but – to me – that’s not a reason to keep him from playing. If anything, maybe he doesn’t play right back, but he can play as a hybrid and transition into playing right wing. He’s done that effectively for the Jamaica National Team, and I’d draft him to do the same. Getting Powell in the draft could be a steal.

 

Other names worth mentioning…

  • Krisztian Nemeth scored eight goals for Sporting Kansas City, so you know you’re getting a proven scorer, but he had a seven-figure salary in 2019. That’s the biggest drawback for me.
  • Waylon Francis would be another candidate to start at left back, but I wouldn’t sign him if I already had El-Munir. Perhaps the Costa Rican left back gets taken instead. Regardless, he’s been solid for Columbus Crew SC.
  • Zarek Valentin is another good option at center back, as he’s proven for the Portland Timbers.
  • Matt Lampson probably won’t win Goalkeeper of the Year, but he comes at a good price and is a veteran who will at least be in your 18.
  • Haris Medunjanin is intriguing because he’s out of contract with the Philadelphia Union, meaning anyone who drafts him can negotiate a better salary than the $550,008 the midfielder made in 2019.
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