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A Way-Too-Early Look at Orlando City’s Approach to the Upcoming MLS Expansion Draft

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Who should the Lions protect and why?

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The MLS Expansion Draft is just under two months away. On Nov. 19, beginning at 2 p.m., Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC will have the opportunity to add up to five players to their rosters from existing MLS teams as they prepare for the 2020 season.

FC Cincinnati selected five players during the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft — one each from D.C. United, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, and the New York Red Bulls. Because those teams had players selected, they will be exempt from the draft in November. The other 19 clubs will be afforded the chance to protect 12 players from their senior, supplemental, and reserve rosters.

So, who will Orlando City protect from being picked up by one of the expansion clubs? The only requirement that the club will have to observe is the international player rule. Since the Lions currently have nine international players, the rules of the draft state they must protect a minimum of three of those players.

Here are my thoughts on who we might see OCSC protect.

1. Nani — I feel like this probably went without saying, especially after the Portuguese international player carried the team on his back last weekend. The winger has brought a level of play to the club that was sorely needed. He makes the players around him better, and I just can’t picture any scenario where he’s not protected.

2. Robin Jansson — The Swedish center back has added so much to Orlando City’s back line and he’s just joined the team as part of the James O’Connor and Luiz Muzzi game plan.

3. Mauricio Pereyra — I mean, the Lions just got him! What little glimpses we’ve been able to see, I think his attack in the midfield is something that the team needs and will continue to need moving forward.

4. Ruan — The Brazilian will need to have his contract extended, but his speed is crucial to both the team’s defensive and attacking play. He still has room to grow but I’m betting he’s protected to continue to grow with the Lions.

5. Lamine Sané — I went back and forth with my husband on this one. He says Sané’s getting older and costs too much, so seeing him go wouldn’t be the worst thing. I disagree. I believe that he’s the best defensive player Orlando has now that we’ve seen what a healthy Sané brings to the back line.

6. Sebas Méndez — The Ecuadorian international hasn’t seen as much playing time as others, but his talent is there, he’s younger, and he adds depth to the roster.

7. Cristian Higuita He’s an original. We haven’t seen much of him until recently but the wild, aggressive injection in the midfield has been exciting to watch. I think he’s proving his value now that he’s healthy enough to play. However, a protection for Higuita means we need to see more minutes of game play for his salary.

8. Tesho Akindele — His time with Orlando City has been perhaps the burst he needed to find his form again. His nine goals and an assist this season have helped Orlando hover near the playoff line. If I had one criticism it would be his first touches. They can be horrible and you must hope he has the space to come back from them.

9. Brian Rowe Last year we saw all too well what a shaky keeper can get us, as Joe Bendik’s play contributed to a record for most goals conceded. While Rowe certainly makes some questionable keeping decisions sometimes, where do you go if you lose him? He was the best the club could acquire in the off-season.

10. Robinho — He’s a young piece who has shown his abilities in his few minutes, and the passion he has for the club and the team is clear.

11. Santiago Patiño — They wanted him as a Homegrown Player, but he was just short of the required time at the academy. If Dom Dwyer isn’t going to produce the way he used to, and the way the team needs him to, perhaps Santi can rise to the challenge.

12. Carlos Ascues — The Peruvian international player is finding a way to be a menace in the midfield while finding himself in favorable positions during attacking opportunities. Now the coaching staff must work with Ascues on finishing his chances. How many goals would we have seen from him this season? I think the key to Ascues’ continued improvement is unlocking his potential in front of the net.

Notable Omissions

João Moutinho — MLS rules can be clear as mud sometimes, but it is my understanding that Moutinho is automatically protected as a Generation Adidas player.

Benji Michel — It is also my understanding that as a Homegrown Player he is automatically protected. The rules state that Homegrown Players on the supplemental roster are protected, though he’s listed on the reserve roster. However, if that were to make him eligible for selection, he would replace Santiago Patiño on my protection list.

Dom Dwyer You already know how I feel about Dom, and I can’t believe I’m not putting him on the list. His potential and past performances haven’t given the team what they needed this season. If Dom is selected it opens a DP slot and gives him the chance to regroup, reassess, and start fresh with a new team — likely finding his form and humiliating Orlando City next season, because of the OCSC curse and all.

Chris Mueller — This one was hard for me and I’ll probably get a lot of pushback for my opinion on it. He’s young, he’s cheap, and he’s the perfect super-sub to add energy and opportunity into the dying minutes of a game. He’s inconsistent on the pitch when he starts, he tends to lose focus and forgets to look up, and he spends a lot of time looking for calls when the game is playing on. He’s passionate, he’s likable, and he works hard, of that there’s no question, I just think he has some growing up to do.

Will Johnson This was a hard one for me as I was between WillJo and Ascues for that last protection spot. My thinking is just this, Ascues is five years younger than Johnson and costs a little bit less. Will Johnson is going to give 100% every second of every match, but how many more years can Orlando get out of him?

Those are my first-run thoughts on what it could look like. Who would you protect if you got to make the official list? We’ll have an opportunity to see who has been officially protected on Nov. 16.