A Best XI Of Possible Expansion Draft Targets / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

This started as a suggestion from twitter to make a team built from players left exposed in the expansion draft. I'll be honest, as much as I love writing these sort of things and doing the research; I'm rather terrible at these kind of things. My opinions are not often in line with teams and professional analysts that at this point I kind of figured I'd save myself the embarrassment and keep what little dignity I had.

I look at just two metrics (expected goals and duels won) coupled with the player's salary to make my decision using SBNation's mock expansion protection list, found here, to determine whether that player would be available or not. The bottom line here is simple, create a starting line-up that could conceivably make a run for the playoffs and abiding by the rules of the MLS expansion draft (e.g. not drafting multiple players off the same team). Insane? Can't be done? A complete waste of time? Probably all the above.

All the basics should be covered and anything else I'll mention on the fly. Let's get started.

GOALKEEPER  (~$49,000 spent)

Jeff Attinella, Real Salt Lake, Goalkeeper - $48,825

We don't have a ton of data on Attinella, but the best things to know are the following three: 1) he's cheap, 2) at 26 he's also young(ish), and third, with the two years of data and 82 total attempted shots against him, our expected goal model has seen him perform 4.50 goals better than the average keeper. He may not be the sexy pick considering that there are three or four more experienced keepers, but he's the most interesting from an advanced data/economic stand point.

DEFENDERS (~$380,000 spent)

Jair Beneitz, FC Dallas, Left Back - $97,875
I feel like Beneitz gets overlooked despite his ability for two reasons. First, Michele. Second, because he's not an overly athletic athlete and those players for tend to be overlooked in general. He's the top expected goals creator (0.19, per 90 mins) from a back line position and the top duel winners (8.18, per 90 mins). He may be the biggest no brainier of this whole process.

Jalil Anibaba, Seattle Sounders, Central Defender $159,620
David Horst, Houston Dynamo, Central Defender - $72,750

I choose both Anibaba and Horst as a team. Anibaba is a good possession/passer out of the back line and that shows from his .11 expected goals per 90. A long with that Horst is an awesome ball winner in central defense with over 6 duels won per 90.

If I learned much about central defending in the past year, it's this: you have to have a tag team with qualities that balance each other out. The two might not be enough win an MLS Cup but together should be enough to get you to the playoff spot.

Also, there wasn't much depth here... the pickings were slim.
 

Alvas Powell, Portland Timbers, Right Back - $48,828 (Drew's note: Sorry dude, there is a 100% chance that the Timbers protect him)

Okay, I cheated a tiny tiny bit on this selection. He was covered by the original mock expansion draft protection list submitted by Stumptown footy. However he was the last one chosen for on the roster and since the team just traded for Nat Borchers I feel that bumps him from the list and makes him a candidate here. Which is great because decent defensive depth pertaining to MLS is thin let a lone the bottom of the rosters.

The Jamaican is a poor man's DeAndre Yedlin in some ways. Young (only 20 years old), lots of speed down the right wing but also seems very capable to use his gifts to track down the ball and regaining possession (7 duels won per 90 minutes). But he also has the highest expected goal creation (.21 expected goals per 90 minutes) marks outside on the list. It was Benetiz before I cheated. But now... yeah. Exceptional young talent for the future.

MIDFIELDERS (~$384,000 spent)

Soony Saad, Sporting Kansas City, Left Midfielder - $51,500
Kansas City has a bit of attacking talent on the roster that won't all be protected. I really was drooling all over the nearly 9 duels won per 90 minutes by CJ Sapong but the fact is that he costs nearly twice as much as Saad ($112,000 vs $51,500)  and creates less on the attacking end (.33 compared to Saad's .39 expected goals created per 90 minutes).

Leo Fernandes, Philadelphia Union, Central Midfielder - $120,000
With exception to the one guy that I love, who also hasn't yet been mentioned, I wonder if Fernandes could be the steal of the draft for me. Fernandez was marvelous in the matches I watched.  His goal creation numbers (0.61  expected goals per 90 minutes) are very similar to Javier Morales (.56) and Brad Davis (.54) within the same filter. The biggest problem here is that it's an extremely small size of just under 1,000 minutes over two years. He could flop, he could blow away the league. Oh, he also averages over 5.68 duels won per 90 minutes. Which is also really good.

Khari Stephenson, San Jose Earthquakes,  Central Midfielder - $68,336
He's a veteran and while that kind of label draws tons of yawns and eye rolls there is something to having experience. He uses his speed to win balls, 5 duels per 90 minutes, and can aid the attack with .23 expected goals created per 90. Sure, kill me over this pick if you want. There aren't a lot of  central midfielder that are the right blend of xGoals, Duels and still cheap. He's the best bang for your buck here.

Sebastian Fernandez, Vancouver Whitecaps, Right Midfielder - $143,000
I liked Fernandez this past season. I liked him more when he came out of the midfield than at striker as he didn't seem to be the "scoring" type. He averages roughly .30 expected goals per 90 minutes and while that's okay you need more (really, a lot more) out of your striker. Though the near six duels won per 90 is really nice.

FORWARD (~$228,000 spent)

Patrick Mullins, New England Revolution, Midfielder/Forward - $100,000
Not sure if you've seen my tweet coverage in the build up to MLS Cup, but it's pretty much had bits of Mullins through out it. I can't get enough of this guy and while I was mostly on the fence about whether he could be a legit starter in this league, his performance in the MLS Cup pushed me over the line. I think Mullins is probably the best available player in this draft and he's my #1 overall pick here. .49 expected goals per 90 (just a touch higher than Lee Nguyen) and 5.56 duels won per 90 both lead the Revolution for individuals that saw more than 1,000 minutes on the pitch.

Luke Moore, Toronto FC, Forward - $128,000
True story, Luke Moore collected more expected goals (13.45) than the following:

Jermaine Defoe (13.14)
Quincy Amariwka (12.67)
Joao Plata (12.24)
Fabian Castillo (11.79)

Moore was one of the few reasons I thought Chivas could pin ball through some teams and cause some chaos by just playing a brand of wrecking ball. I was excited that they went after someone outside of their "brand" and was hardly disappointed when they traded him to Toronto just a few months into the year. Moore also grabbed 6.6 duels won per 90, which ranked him inside the top-20 of MLS starters.

FINAL TALLY (~$1,041,000 spent)

There are a lot of really interesting players on this list that just are too big of risks and unknowns to take a chance without knowing who A) your drafting for and B) how you plan to fill out your roster beyond the expansion draft.

A prime example is Krzysztof Król (Montreal Impact) who played 961 minutes produced .41 expected goals and won a little over 5 duels per 90 minutes. All solid numbers but I went with Horst because he's cheaper (kind of the point of this thing) and but also a more established commodity.

Also, you could have Jalil Anibaba easily enough because he's out of contract with Seattle. But trying to go into that much detail here defeats the purpose and really makes this whole process a bit more difficult than needed. I drafted because he's listed as available and he suits what I feel is the need in the situation.

Any thoughts or feed back on players you liked or wished I had mentioned? Leave your comments down below.