CARSON, CA - JUNE 04: Could Valentin be headed to the other end of the continent? (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Following yesterday's announcement of the various MLS clubs' protected lists for Wednesday's 2012 MLS Expansion Draft, the usual reactions were present, ranging from confident nodding in agreement for some teams to folks tearing their hair out at the selections of the official list.
Guess which camp Chivas USA belongs in?
Yes, indeed, the general consensus among fans, journalists and bloggers is "WTF?" concerning Chivas' list, which you can find here. Several starters and seemingly key players were left unprotected by the front office. While I have no illusions concerning this team, I think potentially losing one of these guys could leave Chivas worse next season (and perhaps beyond). Now, perhaps before we jump to conclusions, it is worth remembering that Chivas can lose no more than one player tomorrow to the Montreal Impact.
With that, while waiting for word to come down, let's speculate over the potential Chivas players who could be selected tomorrow and why.Zarek Valentin: There were several notable players around the league who were left unprotected, including almost-Chiva Freddy Adu, Colorado Rapids full back Kosuke Kimura, Houston Dynamo forward Brian Ching, San Jose Earthquakes defender/midfielder Bobby Convey, and Sporting Kansas City forward Omar Bravo. But most of those guys make a lot of money or are old or are not content in their current clubs. Valentin was quite possibly the most surprising player left unprotected in the league. He was the fourth overall selection in January's SuperDraft, came from the powerhouse University of Akron program, signed with the Generation Adidas program, and is a youth U.S. international. With Chivas, he started 24 matches in 2011 and played the fourth-highest number of minutes on the team. He seemed to have a strong rookie season, and looks like a promising player for the future. Considering he graduated from Generation Adidas, his contract will increase dramatically, as the program essentially subsidizes top prospects' salaries for one to two seasons. But I don't know if anybody thinks Valentin isn't worth the increased salary hit, assuming he develops further as a defender.
It seems extremely likely Valentin will be selected by Montreal. Even if the Impact do not want him, he will likely be coveted by other teams around the league, and can pick him up as trade bait. If Valentin's picked tomorrow, will this be an early turning point in the Robin Fraser/Jose Domene tenure with Chivas?
Blair Gavin: Gavin was the other Generation Adidas player with Chivas in 2011, and he has also graduated the program, despite missing significant time this year with a severe hamstring injury. As a result of the injury, his 2011 season never really got going, as he was pushed down the depth chart and had to work to get back to match fitness. He is a young creative midfielder, something that could be coveted by a team. In fact, although Chivas were able to score goals, often in spite of themselves in 2011, they may want to hold onto a player who provides an attacking role with skills that no other midfielder possesses on the roster. Unfortunately, they may not be able to keep him. In their defense, Gavin may very easily fly under the radar of the Impact, so while I think it would be a decent selection, I doubt he will get picked, especially with Valentin dangling out there as well.
Ante Jazic: I incorrectly assumed Jazic would be protected for two reasons: he had a very good 2011 season at left back, and he is a Canadian international. Despite his advanced age (35) I still think he could get a couple of good seasons in MLS, and seeing as he is from Nova Scotia, could be something of a regional local guy. Perhaps Chivas are counting on his relatively high salary ($115,000 base salary in 2011) to keep Montreal away. Still, I think there would be good sentimental and soccer reasons for picking Jazic, as a good experienced MLS defender, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was selected. And despite his good 2011, it would ultimately be good news for Chivas, as Valentin would still be part of the set up (I guess - who knows for sure?).
Laurent Courtois: I think the three guys above are much more likely to be selected, but Courtois is French. Is Montreal willing to language-profile to get a guy? I wouldn't be surprised. Also, he looked pretty good in the short time he's been in MLS, but there's no way of knowing if he's on anybody's radar for soccer reasons. His base compensation in 2011 was pretty low, at $60,000, so the Impact may be willing to take a flyer on him.
Michael Lahoud: I really doubt he'll be picked, but he's gotten buzz around the league ever since Chivas selected him in the 2009 SuperDraft, and I think he's a decent MLS pro, although I'm not sure if he's a starting-caliber player on most teams. That said, his versatility in playing as a full back and in midfield could be useful for a building Montreal.
Of course, it's entirely possible that any of the other players will be picked, or that nobody at all will be taken. It's also possible that Chivas and Montreal could have a handshake agreement that nobody will be taken. I find that unlikely, however. It seems the front office really wants to make changes, and are therefore willing to let anybody go in the expansion draft who was left unprotected. We'll let you know what happens after the draft tomorrow afternoon.