Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Individual player evaluations for the FC Dallas expansion draft discussion

As discussed previously, FC Dallas has to expose 11 un-exempt players for the upcoming Expansion Draft where Orlando City and New York City FC will be filling part of their rosters. Those exempt or no-brainer protection players are: Ulloa, Hernandez, Acosta, Zimmerman, Gonzalez, Craft, Garcia and Zendejas; and Diaz, Akindele, Castillo, Kennedy, Hedges and Loyd.

So those remaining players are: Perez, Seitz, Hollingshead, Keel, Michel, Span, Watson and Texiera. Let's go through those individually, with the idea in mind that five of the eight will be protected, meaning three will be exposed in the expansion draft. I am not going to give a "yes or no" on any of these, but rather discuss the variables at play for each player.

First, let's break out Span. He is the one player who did not get any significant time for FC Dallas in 2014, although he played a key role for Orlando City at times last season in the USL Pro. As Orlando City is one of the two expansion teams that might value Span because of his history with the team, there is reason to think he might get drafted. Then again, they may know him well enough and have assessed him as not being ready for MLS yet and decide not to spend a pick on him. But that totally depends on what other options their are out there.

Second, let's look at Michel. Frankly, the Brazilian is one of a few in this group that are so borderline I thought about putting them in the first group, but there are some variables that ought to be discussed. In Michel's case, the question is do other MLS clubs value a player who is insanely talented on free kicks, but has to work harder than others to be effective in the run of play?  Michel uses his well above average understanding of the game to mask weaknesses that, frankly, don't usually play well in MLS. He also is a little older and has not been able to play a full season the past two years. Personally, though, I think the Dallas Brain Trust remembers the first seven games of the year last season, especially how dangerous the team was with both Diaz and Michel on the field. Go ahead, foul Diaz to slow him down. Pretty please, with sugar on top.

Like Michel, Seitz is practically a no brainer, but again, variables. This time, largely from the perspective of the expansion teams, but also from other MLS clubs. Seitz clearly showed value this year and you are taking a big risk to leave him open. Then again, he hasn't played a full season since his year in Philadelphia (for an expansion team, and it was not a good year for club or player) and some teams might be cynical enough to hold that against him. And like most keepers in MLS, he has strengths and weaknesses and some teams may look at him and think they can do better from other pools of talent. But one thing is for sure - Jason Kreis, the coach for NYCFC, knows Seitz well and between them and Seitz's former club, RSL, there is a much greater than zero chance that Seitz would get taken. Seitz and Michel are the closest things you will see from me saying it is highly unlikely that they are left exposed.

JeVaughn Watson is pretty close to that group of two. While after the 2013 season many thought Watson might not be long for the team considering that he didn't find a consistent role for the club, this year saw him be versatile and valuable, playing well at both wing midfield and outside fullback. The fact that Pareja felt comfortable enough to play him as an emergency centerback and it worked relatively well speaks volumes. Jack of all Trades type players are immeasurably valuable to teams in a tight cap league like MLS. That being said, with everyone healthy and 100%, I am not totally sure that Watson is in this team's First XI, especially if the team goes out and fills the George John slot with a solid MLS-quality player. In fact, a number of centerbacks have been rookies in MLS and been very productive. So if that spot is filled (even possibly by a re-negotiated John), and Loyd moves back to right fullback, I can see Watson being on the bench. Bottom line, though, it would be surprising to see Watson exposed.

Blas Perez is also a player that brings so much to this team, but has a few variables worth discussing, especially considering the way the team handled Fernandez. In my article for, Clavijo made it clear that international absences do play a part in how the team evaluates potential production from a player, and that makes sense. You have to weight the costs and benefits of having a player who is quality enough to play international soccer against how often that player will miss games because of it. In the case of Robbie Keane, it is a no-brainer. And while not exactly at the same level, I think Perez is similarly valued... except for the fact that he is getting older and has picked up a few knocks across the season. Again, like most in this group, not enough to leave exposed, but enough that there are at least variables worth discussing. Then again, as I was working on my upcoming article for about the FC Dallas recap for 2014, it struck me that it didn't feel like Perez had led the team in goals and assists, yet he did. The perception sometimes this season was he wasn't as productive as people might want, but looking at the numbers he put up, added to all the hard work he does off the ball and his professionalism in the lockerroom, its tough to leave a player like that exposed, even if you think other teams may or may not make the same evaluation.

That completes the list of players who played basically no minutes for the team this year (Span) and those who played a major role (Perez, Watson, Seitz, Michel). Now lets get into the remaining three. This, frankly, is where things get really murky.

Stephen Keel is a veteran journeyman MLS player who showed often in 2014 that he can be a contributing player. In fact, it seemed to me that he was a key part of the team's early chemistry and communication at the back. I did an interview with him that unfortunately didn't run where he and teammates of his discussed how important his communication was at organizing the back. An argument could be made that such a level of communication didn't really return to the back line until Loyd moved inside to play with Hedges. Two players talking is better than one in most situations. But Keel is older, and has picked up some injuries that may make teams hesitate. It may depend on how much teams know about his veteran presence in the lockerroom and the example he sets as a professional - something that many clubs need considering how many players come to MLS from either college or the USSF Development Academy rather than an established professional environment where it is your *job* to be a soccer player and there are no other distractions or priorities.

Ryan Hollingshead has a high ceiling. A Pac-12 player of the year from UCLA is someone who has legitimate potential. The challenge with Hollingshead is that, from a professional evaluation, his personal decision to take a year to help establish his brother's church raises all kinds of questions. Luckily for FC Dallas and the player, Dallas gave him a chance to fulfill his dream of helping his brother and then come work to make the team, and the player rewarded the club with a work rate that revealed he can produce at an MLS level, answering a majority of those questions. I am not sure we saw enough from him this year to think he is a lock for a starting role for next year, but we saw enough that I wouldn't count him out of fighting and possibly winning one. A free draft pick where he showed he wouldn't be a bust? If I am one of the expansion clubs, yes please. There is definite danger here that if he is left unprotected, he will get drafted. On the other hand, I am not sure that other MLS clubs will be willing to try to trade for him if an expansion team takes him with an eye towards moving him because they have that spot filled on their particular roster. I mention that, though, only in the fullness of the discussion. The danger of him being drafted by an expansion team for their own roster is very real.

And that leaves the big enigma, David Texiera. We saw him finish chances in such a professional, goal-scorer's way in a number of games. His first goal against Seattle on September 24 was pure instinct. The work that Texiera put in to be that good at scoring is not to be underestimated, and is something that we rarely saw from many FC Dallas players in 2014, including Blas Perez. There is real value here. On the other hand, he really struggled to find the field for large swaths of the season, and the times that he did play, it was a double edged sword. He clearly developed a relationship with Andres Escobar that led to quality goals, but at the expense of other things that the team relied on for their overall shape. Either way, it seems the transition most international players have to go through to succeed in MLS is still a work in progress with him. Add in his high cap number and the fact that he is an international player and I think you have someone that is high risk, high cost - the recipe for someone unlikely to be taken by an expansion team or wanted by another club - therefore likely to be exposed. But Governor Tarkin, we've analyzed their attack, and there is a danger.

So, to sum up, FC Dallas has eight players who they have to consider exposing in the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft, and I think you can break them into two groups. The first group are unlikely to be exposed, but there are at least reasons to consider: Perez, Michel, Seitz and Watson. The second group of four have more questions than reasons to retain, but each have enough value that it would be unfortunate to lose them: Keel, Texiera, Hollingshead and Span.

FC Dallas has to leave three of those eight exposed, and at most can lose two. Considering that Dallas will have at least 15 proven starting quality players protected or exempt, it is safe to say that whatever they decide, they are in really good shape for 2015, although it is never good to lose a player for free, and each of those eight players has some clear value to the team.

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