- PROTECT: De Rosario, Jakovic, Kitchen, Pontius
- EXPOSE: Barklage, Burch, Cronin, Davies, Korb, McTavish, Morsink, Ngwenya, Woolard, Zayner
- BUBBLE: Boskovic, Brettschneider, da Luz, King, McDonald, Quaranta, Simms, Willis, Wolff
- N/A: Hamid, Najar, Shanosky, White
Four of the twenty-seven players on the roster don’t need to be sheltered from the rapacious grasp of L’Impact de Montreal by virtue of their being home grown talents. I identified four others that seemed like obvious candidates for protection (De Rosario, Jakovic, Kitchen, Pontius).
Now, in the final set piece, we pop the bubble and find out which seven of those nine make it onto the final list for protection1.
Almost immediately, I’m going to push Boskovic to the protected list based on the assumption that he wants to come back and that the FO is willing (as Goff’s interview with KP suggests) to bring him back. Simply put: a healthy and committed Boskovic brings tools and talents to the table that simply don’t exist elsewhere on the roster, tools and talents that were sorely lacking over the course of this season. Maybe Montreal isn’t interested in taking a risk on him, but I’m not willing to chance that.
I’m also going to add McDonald and Quaranta, solid and reasonably-compensated MLS vets in their prime who can cover multiple spots on the field and always put forth maximum effort even if they’re fundamentally limited as players. You need those type of guys to form the bedrock of a roster, particularly in MLS, where the salary cap and limited senior squad size play such a large role.
So that fills seven spots, leaving six players competing for four spots. Before we move on to the final reckoning, I’m going to make one last set of assumptions. Assumption #1 being that Benny is going to persist with a 4-4-2 of some variety that features Boskovic and Kitchen in central midfield with De Rosario up top2, and assumption #2 being that Simms and Wolff don’t negotiate their salaries down.
So where then does that leave us? We’ve got four players on modest salaries: Brettschneider (a rookie forward with a different toolset than our other forwards, but whose forte, hustle and athleticism, aren’t rare commodities in the American game), da Luz (a wide man in potentially the Brad Davis mold who contrasts well with Najar and Pontius, our dribble-first wingers), King (a limited, but generally reliable central midfield option), and Willis (rookie netminder who shined in limited appearances). And we’ve got a pair (Simms and Wolff) who each pulled down what those previous four made combined.
Obviously, Simms and Wolff both sucked up big minutes this year, though both performed at a level relative to their salaries that left me nonplussed. Granted, Wolff posted better numbers that I thought he had and can’t be faulted for effort, but my lasting impression is the subjective one that he always seemed to pop up in connection with killing attacking moves through poor control, underhit passes, or a failure of vision.
Could he still be a useful player? Probably. But I think a healthy Boskovic and a full season of De Rosario means he finds his opportunities more limited, and his cap figure is starter-money, not pinch-hit specialist3. Likewise, I think Kitchen installed in the d-mid role makes Simms too highly paid for a backup. Now, if they are willing to negotiate their salaries down (and I’d be more interested in Wolff than in Simms doing this), I think you protect both and expose Brettschneider and King, two players who would seem to be eminently replaceable via the draft, cuts from other teams, or trades, keeping Wolff and Simms available as cover or trade-bait.
With all that said, however, I’d lean more towards protecting the cheaper, younger players as part of the core of this team that is going to be growing together. Willis and da Luz would make the list nine, and I’d add Brettschneider simply because of that knack for goal he displayed in pre-season, the fact that we currently don’t have anyone in his mold at the club, and because I’ve already exposed most of the forward corps. That makes ten.
So who gets that final spot? Given the previous arguments I’ve laid down, I think you’d assume King, but I’m going to go with Wolff, perhaps surprisingly in the context of my previous criticisms. So why? Well partially it’s those goals and assists, partially it’s the veteran presence in the locker room. He’ll also be decent cover for De Rosario’s World Cup qualifier absences.
But then I’ve gone and left both Simms and King exposed, haven’t I? Ah, but Montreal can only filch one from us, can’t they? Even if we lose one, we still have the other as cover and Shanosky has to be ready for minutes next year, doesn’t he? As I’ve said, I think Simms is past it physically, not nasty enough for his position, and carries too high of a cap hit. And King? Simply not good enough to protect. If they don’t take him, you’ve got cheap depth. If they do, he’s replaceable.
So in the final reckoning, we have the following list of protected players and players who are automatically protected by virtue of being home-grown (denoted by hg):
Boskovic, Brettschneider, da Luz, De Rosario, Hamid (hg), Jakovic, Kitchen, McDonald, Najar (hg), Pontius, Quaranta, Shanosky (hg), White (hg), Willis, Wolff
In, of course, the demented universe where my input actually counts for something. ↩
Whether that be two flat banks of four behind a traditional little-large forward pairing, a diamond midfield, or something a bit more progressive that looks like a 4-2-3-1 with De Rosario free to operate as a third central mid or as a second forward depending upon the game scenario I leave unexplored (though I obviously hope for that last option). ↩
Besides, his current skill set isn’t one that makes him ideal for a super-sub role. ↩