The Protected Eleven: Ken's Opinion

This year there will be an MLS expansion draft for Atlanta and Minnesota in mid-December. One of the provisions of this draft is that each extant MLS club can name eleven protected players that are not able to be selected by the two expansion teams. 

Toward the end of the season I discussed with a couple of other social media types about each of us putting together a list of who we thought Jason Kreis might put on his "protected" list. I have heard back from my friend Luis, and I have posted his list in another post. In this one I will publish my own speculation as to the names that the coach will put on his list. In the table below I post a photo of each player along with a few facts about the player's time with Orlando City and some reasons I could be right or wrong about each player.

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Kaká
  • Role: Midfielder
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 24; Starts - 23; Goals - 9; Assists - 10
  • Why he's a keeper: He is the captain and even with the success of some younger players like Cyle Larin, Kaka is still the main star power attraction for the club. He is a leader on the pitch, on the training field, and in the clubhouse, who inspires his teammates and helps them be better players. He also seems to be a personal favorite of majority investor and owner Flavio da Silva, who is also from Brazil.
  • Why I could be wrong: The move to Orlando was not personally easy for Kaka. It has been a factor in the dissolution of his marriage and it means that he is living in a different country from his children. He also missed several matches in both 2015 and 2016 with injuries, and at some point the enjoyment he gets from the game will cross a line with the pain it causes him and he'll decide it's no longer worth the latter to gain the former.
Cyle Larin
  • Role: Forward
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 32; Starts - 29; Goals - 14; Assists - 3
  • Why he's a keeper:Larin has been the leading scorer for Orlando City in both of his two MLS seasons with the club. He can be a dynamic scorer and has the ability to score multiple times every game. And when he keeps moving without the ball, he can find ways to get open and in position to make one-touch strikes on goal that are hard for any keeper to stop. There's always talk about Larin having interest from Eurpopean clubs. If that is true, then it is more financially beneficial for Orlando City to wait until after the end of the current European season to sell his rights overseas: because of his status as a Generation Adidas player, the club will get a higher share of any money that is generated from selling Larin's rights to a team in another league.
  • Why I could be wrong:Larin can be a streaky player, and that mainly has to do with his gameday attitude. If he comes out focused and intent on staying in the game on and off the ball, he can be amazing. However, if he starts getting lost in thought off the ball or stands around watching the game when the ball is not on his feet, he can look just awful. And it seems that when he gets in a funk it sometimes compounds by taking him more out of the game. Jason Kreis may not put up with that kind of intermittent focus, and may think the team is better off without a player that is extremely talented but not 100% focused every minute he is on the pitch.
Carlos Rivas
  • Role: Forward
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 21; Starts - 8; Goals - 3; Assists - 4
  • Why he's a keeper:Rivas played dramatically better in 2016 than 2015, but he did not get into as many games or play as many minutes as I would have liked. Between his first MLS and second MLS season with Orlando City, Rivas developed a much better habit of reading the pitch and deciding when it was better to shoot or to pass. He seemed so eager to shoot in 2015 that he often took wildly ill-advised strikes that went way too high or too wide to ever have a chance. In 2016 he took much better shots, and he proved himself to be a very accurate mid- to long-range passer, and could put the ball on the feet of an open teammate with a great chance to score. He also possesses blazing speed.
  • Why I could be wrong:At this point I still think Rivas has more potential than he has shown. It depends on the mix of devlopment with long-term investment in young players and the immediate needs to win that Jason Kreis has in mind for building the team going forward. Rivas would be a tempting acquisition for an expansion team, as he looks like he is on the verge of having a breakout season. If Kreis believes he could get someone with a little more experience and a little more proven scoring ability, he might decide to leave Rivas unprotected.
Tommy Redding
  • Role: Defender
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 18; Starts - 16; Goals - 0; Assists - 0
  • Why he's a keeper:He is one of the two best defenders on the team. Period. Yes he is young, and yes that means he makes youthful mistakes by being fooled into falling for the wrong feint by experienced attackers, but he has amazing closing speed and plays his heart out every match. Often he was assigned to mark the speediest and most dangerous striker on any opposing team, and Redding often prevented that player from getting any good shots on goals for the whole match. Defense is our weakest area, and so we need to have players with a lot of raw talent as well as great experience back there.
  • Why I could be wrong:He is young. It's similar to the argument I made with Rivas. Depending on who is on the market that Jason Kreis believes he could bring to Orlando, it's possible that he might leave Redding unprotected, because he would be a great young player for an expansion team to add to their roster.
Rafael Ramos
  • Role: Defender
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 12; Starts - 12; Goals - 0; Assists - 3
  • Why he's a keeper:Along with Redding, he is the other best defender on the team, and he has a bit more experience to help mentor a younger player like Tommy. He's a speedy player and he is a good passer to boot, and can steal the ball and start counter-attacks that can lead to an Orlando City goal.
  • Why I could be wrong:Ramos is a great defender, but he is young, and still has more skill to develop to go along with his natural athletic talent. If Jason Kreis wants a top defense in 2017, he might be willing to go after more seasoned players in trades or free agency and allow an expansion team to take a dynamic young player. I don't much buy that, but it could happen.
Antonio Nocerino
  • Role: Midfielder
  • Seasons with OCSC: 1
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 21; Starts - 19; Goals - 0; Assists - 0
  • Why he's a keeper:Nocerino was one of several players that Jason Kreis named during the second half of the season who really seemed to "buy in" and "be excited" about the new direction that the coach wants to take the club. He also played his best soccer of the year after Kreis arrived. This could be due to simply more time acclimating to the Orlando weather and his OCSC teammates, or it could be that some subtle change in the position or way Jason Kreis wants to use Nocerino allowed him to use his talent more effectively than he was able to display under Adrian Heath. He proved to be a very effective "safety valve" for the defense, and displayed great vision all season in terms of being able to see where the ball could be placed to help the team build up an attack.
  • Why I could be wrong:Nocerino did not have the kind of immediate impact that fans and coaches were hoping we would see from him in 2016. I have a feeling that he was brought here more because Flavio wanted him than the coaches or soccer operations people wanted him here, and if the calculus of the front office thinking changed during the season with the hiring of Jason Kreis, then it's very possible that the same people who thought they wanted Nocerino here during last offseason may not be feeling the same way now.
Servando Carrasco
  • Role: Midfielder
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 31; Starts - 21; Goals - 0; Assists - 2
  • Why he's a keeper:Carrasco is one of the players who leaves everything on the pitch. In some ways I feel like he is a player in the mold of the NFL's Wes Welker. Carrasco is not the fastest defender on the roster and he doesn't always reach the ball to make the play, but he never leaves anything on the pitch. He gives full effort in going for every slide tackle, every block, and trying to close down every opportunity the other team has to attack. Also, along with Nocerino, Jason Kreis named Carrasco as one of the players who really was buying into his vision and helping other players buy into his vision for the team.
  • Why I could be wrong:For all his efforts, one look at Servando's twitter feed is all you need to know. He fully embraces the fact that many people know him as Alex Morgan's husband, and I believe that now that the couple have had a chance to live and play in the same city, I don't think they will be eager to play in other places again. There have been a lot of rumors this offseason connecting Alex Morgan to French side Lyon, and if they offer her enough money (and offer Servando an opportunity to play on the men's team), then they could both be gone from our city.
Joe Bendik
  • Role: Goalkeeper
  • Seasons with OCSC: 1
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 34; Starts - 34; Clean Sheets - 5; Saves - 114
  • Why he's a keeper:He ended the regular season with the most saves in MLS. He also made some amazing plays during the season, including winning the MLS Save of the Year. His peers on the club also voted him team MVP at the annual awards gala last month, so it's clear he is beloved in the locker room as well as in the stands.
  • Why I could be wrong:I really don't think I am, but there could be something that Jason Kreis has seen in practice that makes him think we might be better off keeping Earl Edwards, Jr. (who has always performed well when we have had a chance to see him) and let Bendik go. In any case, I think both keepers are capable of being MLS starters, so I think one will be left unprotected in case one of the expansion teams would like to build around a solid goalkeeper.
Matías Pérez García
  • Role: Forward
  • Seasons with OCSC: 1
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 13; Starts - 10; Goals - 0; Assists - 2
  • Why he's a keeper:MPG, as he is known, was by far the most effective acquisition the team made during the season. I was sad to see Darwin Ceren leave the club, but he did not have a great season, and apparently he did not fit into the plans that Jason Kreis has for the club going forward. MPG's speed and skill have been great for the club. He's also a fantastic passer and has great instincts to dispossess opponents of the ball as well.
  • Why I could be wrong:I really don't think I'm wrong on MPG either, but it's possible that as an international player he could have some sort of pressure from family back home, like the situation that caused Adrian Winter to leave the club early in the season and return to Switzerland. Beyond that, I think that as someone who contributed a lot to the team after Kreis came in, I don't think he's likely to be left unprotected.
Cristian Higuita
  • Role: Midfielder
  • Seasons with OCSC:
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 21; Starts - 16; Goals - 1; Assists - 1
  • Why he's a keeper:Higuita could be considered the emotional spark plug of the team. He is also a very good holding midfielder, with a passer's skill and a defender's talent. I think he may be the player who displays the most raw passion of anyone on the roster. He was very frustrating to watch last season and early this season because he seemed to pick up at least one yellow card every other match he played on the pitch. But I noticed that he seemed to quickly figure out where the line was and stay on the legal side of it after the first time he was suspended in the Jason Kreis era. I have a feeling that it wasn't any kind of threat or negative reinforcement that the new coaches gave him, but they may have helped him figure out how to more positively channel the impulse and energy that makes him want to react poorly.
  • Why I could be wrong:Like so many others on the roster, Higuita is young. He's talented, but he still probably has more potential than production at this point and it's possible the club will want to open a roster spot to bring in a player with more experience.
Brek Shea
  • Role: Midfielder / Defender
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 27; Starts - 22; Goals - 3; Assists - 2
  • Why he's a keeper:Shea is a fan favorite and he shows flashes of brilliance. He is capable of making lovely long-range shots and has the speed of a gazelle that lets him play the entire length of the pitch. Shea can also make great passes from deep into the attacking area, and he is not a selfish player--he will shoot when he is the best option, but he seems to want to find a teammate with a better shot on goal before trying for glory for himself.
  • Why I could be wrong:Shea did not have a chance to play much after Kreis arrived due to injury, and he has missed portions of both of the last two seasons with injury issues. The coach may decide he's a bit too injury-prone to warrant his relatively high salary and may choose to allow him to be unprotected for one of the expansion sides.

What about you? Who do you think Jason Kreis will protect in the expansion draft? And do you think my reasons for keeping or potentially losing any of these players is incorrect? Let me know in the comments below!