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Key contributors left unprotected by Crew SC ahead of MLS expansion draft

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Sauro, Saeid among others available to Atlanta and Minnesota in Tuesday’s draft.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Columbus Crew SC
Columbus Crew SC defender Gaston Sauro is among the players left unprotected in Tuesday’s MLS expansion draft.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

With the next round of Major League Soccer expansion about to become reality — Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC are set to begin their MLS lives with the 2017 season this spring — the league announced protected and unprotected player lists for each of the existing teams on Monday.

The expansion draft will take place Tuesday. It will be streamed live at 2 p.m. EST/1 p.m. CST on mlssoccer.com.

Here’s what the protected/unprotected list looks like for Columbus Crew SC:

There are not too many surprises here, but a couple of notable choices.

Mohammed Saeid and Gaston Sauro are the two most notable players left unprotected by the Black & Gold.

Saeid has been a regular and important contributor to the Crew SC midfield in his two seasons with the club, playing as a bit of a Swiss army knife, though most often filling in for either Wil Trapp or Tony Tchani as a defensive mid.

Following the release of the player list, Saeid tweeted the following:

Sauro, meanwhile, has spent an injury-plagued season and a half in Columbus. He was hailed as a difference maker thanks to his contributions at center back in 2015 during the team’s run to MLS Cup, and his 2016 campaign seemed promising before he was lost to a season-ending injury in May.

Nicolai Naess was brought in during the summer window and proved to be a strong addition to the defense, whether playing alongside Michael Parkhurst in the middle of the defense or playing as a defensive midfielder.

Now, with Parkhurst already having been traded to Atlanta United for allocation money, it appeared that a pairing of Sauro and Naess was the starting selection for 2017, but leaving Sauro unprotected leaves that in question. With the CCSC front office forced to make decisions heading into the expansion draft, it appears that Sauro’s injury history left him on the outside looking in. Should Sauro be selected in the draft, it would leave an already thin back line even thinner.

It’s unclear if there was any verbal agreement between Columbus and Atlanta as part of the Parkhurst trade that would keep AU from picking a Black & Gold player in the draft.

Waylon Francis is the only other unprotected player currently under contract who had a big influence at the club, and his role was greatly diminished last year after sustaining a shoulder injury. He had been a key starter for Gregg Berhalter’s first two seasons in Columbus.

Wit the announcement that the contract option had not been picked up on goalkeeper Steve Clark, it’s no surprise to see his name on the unprotected list. However, many supposed that Brad Stuver might be next in line, should the team not acquire an experienced keeper. He, too, has been left unprotected, though the odds of him being selected are rather low.

Zach Steffen was the only keeper protected by CCSC, which means the club is clearly comfortable with the potential of either moving forward with Steffen in goal or bringing in an an outside player.

Striker Adam Jahn, who was brought in late last season, is someone Berhalter clearly values, as the backup has been protected. Meanwhile, young winger Christian Martinez is left available after only getting a handful of opportunities to make an impression last season.

Of the unprotected group, it was already announced that contract options had not been picked up on Cedrick Mabwati, Clark, Corey Ashe and Matt Pacifici, while Tyson Wahl had previously announced he will be retiring. So no surprises that those players are available, with their Columbus future already up in the air.

So what does all this gibberish mean?

In order to grasp the ramifications of the protected/unprotected lists, one has to understand how the expansion draft works. Here are the basics:

  • Minnesota and Atlanta each get to select five players from the pool of unprotected players. The clubs alternate picks, with Atlanta getting the first selection after winning a (highly-scientific) coin flip.
  • Each existing team gets to select 11 players that are protected (i.e., ineligible to be selected in the draft)
  • Only 10 total players will be selected in the expansion draft. Each team will walk away with just five players via the draft. Minnesota and Atlanta will have to rely on other mechanisms to fill out there roster more than expansion sides in the past, which selected as many as 10 players in the expansion draft.
  • Once an existing team has one player selected off its unprotected list, that team is now exempt from the rest of the expansion draft. In other words, no team can lose more than one player via the expansion draft.
  • Homegrown and Generation Adidas players are automatically protected and don’t count against a team’s 11 protected players ... as long as they’re not a part of the team’s senior squad. Hence the safety of Chad Barson and Ben Swanson (not regular senior squad members) while Wil Trapp had to be protected, despite his Homegrown status.

Those are the rules.

We know that most of Crew SC’s first-choice players from the regular starting 11 will remain. We know that no more than one of those unprotected players can be selected, if any.

In reality, it seems unlikely the ramifications of the expansion draft will be very far-reaching for Columbus. Half the team’s in the league won’t even have a player taken.

While there is the possibility that a solid contributor could be lost, this will simply influence how the club addresses things in the offseason, rather than force wholesale changes to its approach.

You can find a full list of protected/unprotected players for every club in MLS here.