Didn’t sit through the Major League Soccer expansion draft with bated breath on Tuesday afternoon?
Spoiler alert: Columbus Crew SC had a player selected.
With the fourth of five selections in the 2017 expansion draft, Los Angeles FC took Crew SC left back Jukka Raitala.
What does that mean for Columbus?
Obviously the front office felt comfortable with the prospect of losing the Finland international, or it wouldn’t have left him unprotected.
Raitala played approximately 2,000 minutes in his one season in central Ohio, appearing in 28 of the team’s 34 games and starting 20 matches. Although he shared time at left back with both Waylon Francis and Hector Jimenez, he was clearly Gregg Berhalter’s first choice there for much of the year — the only defender to feature for more minutes was center back and designated player Jonathan Mensah.
Raitala never contributed on set pieces the way some thought he would when he was signed last offseason, and he finished with one assist on the year while contributing steady two-way play.
In the context of MLS, Raitala fits somewhere in the middle among left backs — solid but not spectacular. The positive for Columbus was that his base salary of $125,004 (and guaranteed compensation of just under $162k) is quite reasonable for a starting-caliber defender.
To put that in some context, Hector Jimenez, who was also left unprotected by the Black & Gold and played both left and right back throughout the season, had a base salary of $150,000.
The question is: Is Raitala truly starting caliber for a team with aspirations to compete for MLS Cup?
A look around the league shows that outside backs like Real Salt Lake’s Demar Phillips, Atlanta United’s Greg Garza, and Sporting Kansas City’s Seth Sinovic all had cap hits of similar or lesser amounts, showing it’s very possible to get even better values at the position.
All of this paints a picture of a player who was steady but unspectacular and looks eminently replaceable.
The biggest challenge for Columbus is that depth at left back has quickly been destroyed, with Raitala’s selection and the decision to not pick up the option on Francis (a wise choice, considering the amount of money Francis was on compared to his contributions).
The only potential left back on the roster is Jimenez, who seems best suited to being a versatile piece off the bench.
In the end, Crew SC will have to bring in a starting left back in the offseason, and very likely a backup at the position as well. Taking a look around MLS, though, reveals that as far as value and quality goes, Raitala likely won’t be terribly difficult to replace.
Between the departure of Raitala and Francis, CCSC has freed up $413,545.67 that had already been earmarked to left back. That is more than enough to not only upgrade on Raitala but also bring in a solid backup (perhaps bringing back Francis at a much more reasonable price).