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MLS teams roll the dice with protected lists ahead of expansion draft

Last Updated Dec 12, 2016 at 7:37 pm EDT

Montreal Impact's Patrice Bernier celebrates after scoring against the Toronto FC during first half Major League Soccer sudden death playoff game in Montreal on October 29, 2015. Impact captain Bernier, Toronto FC goalkeeper Clint Irwin and Vancouver striker Giles Barnes were among players left unprotected for Tuesday's MLS expansion draft. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Montreal Impact captain Patrice Bernier, Toronto FC goalkeeper Clint Irwin and Vancouver striker Giles Barnes were among players left unprotected for Tuesday’s MLS expansion draft.

Atlanta United, which has first pick, and Minnesota United FC will be able to take up five players each from the list of 259 available. The existing 20 teams can each only lose one player in the draft.

Teams were allowed to protect 11 players from their 2016 roster. Generation Adidas players and homegrown players were automatically protected and do not count against the 11 protected spots.

Teams can strike deals to further protect their roster. But sometimes choosing your protected list comes down to a roll of the dice with teams hoping that a player’s age or salary might be enough to ensure they are left alone.

Bernier’s 2014 salary was a bargain US$140,000 but at 37, he is likely not attractive to the two expansion teams.

Irwin is a quality No. 1 but Atlanta has been linked to U.S. international Brad Guzan. Toronto also has goalkeeper Alex Bono, protected because of the Generation Adidas contract awarded to top prospects before the draft. By not protecting Irwin, Toronto can shelter another player.

“You only get (to protect) 11 and there are some calculations and some risk involved,” said Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko. “You have to weigh that … We already have one (goalkeeper) auto-protected. So are you going to protect two goalkeepers? That’s just a difficult situation.

“There’s certainly risk there. Every team is exposed. The question is how much. And the good news this year is you can only lose one. Now for me losing one is too much. So what can do you to not lose any?

“When you make MLS Cup, you’re going to draw interest. When you have a goalkeeper who’s steady and makes the saves, (including) on penalty kicks, he’s going to draw interest.”

There are other ‘keepers available in the draft including Steve Clark of Columbus, Chris Seitz of FC Dallas, Josh Saunders of New York City FC and Jeff Attinella of Real Salt Lake.

Barnes’ salary — his pay was listed at US$756,250 this season — is likely too rich.

The unprotected list also featured some big names headed out of the league or into retirement: Didier Drogba (Montreal), Frank Lampard (New York City FC), Landon Donovan, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane (Los Angeles) among them.

Other Toronto FC players left unprotected were goalkeeper Quillan Roberts, defenders Steven Beitashour, Mark Bloom, Clement Simonin and Josh Williams, midfielders Benoit Cheyrou, Will Johnson and Daniel Lovitz and forwards Mo Babouli and Tosaint Ricketts.

Irwin and Beitashour started for Toronto in Saturday’s MLS Cup final while Cheyrou, Williams, Bloom, Ricketts and Johnson were on the bench. Beitashour is a big-ticket fullback at US$244,000,

Johnson, who made US$395,000 this season and was starting until sidelined by injury, is entering free agency and will be able to pick his team. But he is likely interested in staying in Toronto, where he has close ties to captain Michael Bradley, providing the offer is right.

Under the rules of the draft, Toronto had to protect three international players and opted for Sebastian Giovinco, Tsubasa Endoh and Armando Cooper.

Toronto elected not to exercise options on Simonin, Lovitz, Cheyrou and midfielder Chris Mannella. Williams and defender Ashtone Morgan will be out of contract at the end of the year. Lovitz, Morgan and Williams are eligible for the MLS re-entry draft.

Cheyrou, Johnson and Ricketts were all important TFC squad members in 2016.

“We’re taking very closely with Benoit,” said Bezbatchenko, who is also talking to the agents for Ricketts, Morgan, Williams and others.

Williams may look elsewhere, to find playing time. Ricketts, whose salary was a modest US$81,300, might be an attractive pick in Tuesday’s draft after a useful showing in Toronto.

Nelson Valdez, Tyrone Mears, Erik Friberg, Herculez Gomez and Andreas Ivanschitz, all part of Seattle’s matchday 18 in the Sounders’ MLS Cup win, were left unprotected.

Other unprotected Whitecaps were goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi, defenders Marcel De Jong, David Edgar, Brett Levis, Jordan Smith and Cole Seiler, defender-midfielder Fraser Aird, midfielders Pedro Morales Deybi Flores, and Cristian Techera, and forwards Blaz Perez and Masato Kudo.

Aird and Smith, who were on loan, are slated to return to Scotland’s Glasgow Rangers and Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa, respectively.

Morales, the club captain, had already said goodbye to the Whitecaps. Perez is out-of-contract.

Other unprotected Impact players were goalkeeper Eric Kronberg, defenders Donny Toia, Amadou Dia and Kyle Fisher, midfielders Kyle Bekker, Calum Mallace, Lucas Ontivero, and Harry Shipp, and forwards Dominic Oduro and Michael Salazar.

Oduro and Kronberg are free agents.

Shipp, who made US$129,500 this season, never really found a home in Montreal after coming over from Chicago and could draw interest as a playmaker.

Other unprotected players across the league included Jermaine Jones (Colorado), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia), Bobby Boswell (D.C. United) and Sal Zizzo (New York Red Bulls). Brad Davis of Sporting Kansas City was on the list even though he has announced his retirement.

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