July 21, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United forward Brandon Vazquez heads the ball past a D.C. United defender during a 2-0 victory in their soccer match on Sunday, July 21, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: compton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: compton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Ranking the Atlanta United players in the MLS expansion draft

The MLS expansion draft will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Atlanta United’s list of players available for selection were released by the league on Saturday.

Neither Atlanta United President Darren Eales nor Vice President Carlos Bocanegra have provided any insight into why some players were protected from being selected by either Inter Miami or Nashville, and others weren’t.

Though there weren’t any surprises on Atlanta United’s lists, there were a few curious selections among those who weren’t protected. Among the reasons the players might have been are they are out of contract, too much salary, retirement, free agency, lack of production, or don’t fit into future plans.

Here is a ranking of likelihood (in inverse order) of a player being selected on Tuesday:

14. Michael Parkhurst: The centerback is retiring. According to MLS rules of expansion, retiring players are not part of the expansion draft.

13. Jeff Larentowicz ($210,000 salary in 2019): He’s a free agent. There’s no point in wasting a pick on him. Were he not a free agent, he would be invaluable to an expansion team as a leader and example of what it takes to win in MLS. He has won two MLS Cups, two U.S. Open Cups, a Campeones Cup and a SuperLiga. He brings a professionalism and work ethic that can help a team that has players with the right attitudes.

12. Jose Hernandez ($140,004):  It was a curious signing when announced two years ago and the left fullback’s one appearance for the first team in past two years show why. He’s already posted his goodbyes on social media.

11. Kevin Kratz ($222,750): He’s 32 years old. He played one minute in 2019. He’s a good guy in the locker room and is fantastic at free kicks but at this point he is more of a role player and that’s a big salary for a role player. His contract is expiring.

Brek Shea chests the ball during the first half of a match between Atlanta United and Saint Louis FC at Kennesaw State University July 10, 2019, in Kennesaw. 
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta/AJC

10. Brek Shea ($225,000): He’s 29, has a relatively big salary for MLS and is recovering from a knee injury that was either devastating, according to manager Frank de Boer, or not, according to Shea. Unfairly vilified by some Atlanta United supporters earlier this season for inexplicable reasons, he served the club well with 19 appearances, including 10 starts. He can play left fullback, left wingback or left midfielder. He can sometimes appear to be on roller skates when defending, but it needs to be remembered that for most of his career he was an attacking player. Only when he returned to league and Orlando was he turned into a defender.

9. Justin Meram ($678,754): He’s ranked this low only because of his salary. The 30-year-old energized Atlanta United’s offense during the summer before his mojo started to disappear in September. To be fair, he was still learning a new position at left wingback, one that required more from the legs that arguably any other position. He may have run out of steam. He finished with four goals, one after July 7.

8. Brendan Moore ($70,250.04): The goalkeeper is ranked this high because of his modest salary and his background in the lower leagues in England. He didn’t make an appearance this season with Atlanta United.

7. Luiz Fernando Nascimento ($56,250): He only signed with Atlanta United during the summer. He’s versatile, but not eye-popping. His salary makes him intriguing. His lack of bona fides make him a mystery.

6. Jon Gallagher ($70,250.04): Atlanta United has an interesting habit, for lack of a better word, of selecting strikers in the SuperDraft and eventually turning those players into defenders before giving up that tactic and allowing them to be strikers again. Gallagher is one. Gordon Wild was another. An effective striker at Notre Dame, Gallagher was selected, used a striker for a bit with Atlanta United 2 before asked to play defense as a fullback. Eventually, he was turned back into a striker before being sent on loan to Aberdeen in Scotland. He is playing well at Aberdeen as a left-winger. He might be worth a flyer.

5. Dion Pereira ($56,250): This was another curious signing by Atlanta United, but one look at his salary, age (20) and resume (Watford) shows why the left-winger was worth the effort. He got a run with Atlanta United with eight consecutive games from May-June, and then made just six more appearances, including one start, the rest of the year in league games. It seems he may not fit into the team’s plans. He finished with one assist. He seems like a player that is stuck between first team and second division, but you never know when something will click and potential will be used. I think he has a lot of potential, he just hasn’t shown enough yet.

4. Mikey Ambrose ($72,351.60): The fullback posted his goodbye to the club last night, which means that he was told that the club wasn’t going to give him a new contract, he didn’t want to return to the club or he already knows that he’s going to be selected by one of the expansion clubs. He is a great guy in the locker room, can play fullback or wingback. His offense isn’t as good as his defense, but he’s a solid player with some experience (25 games played, 17 starts) the past four seasons.

3. Flo Pogba ($324,000): He’s huge, good with his feet and young enough (29) that he has several quality years remaining. He also has a decent salary for MLS and at that salary a team has to decide if Pogba is a lock-down, every-game centerback. I think he can be. I also would be surprised if Atlanta United wants to let him go considering its tenuous depth at centerback with Parkhurst’s retirement and no news on Leandro Gonzalez Pirez’s future with the club. If the club isn’t going to give Gonzalez Pirez a new contract, it would be stunning to see the club exercise his option on 2020 and potentially let him walk after the season in exchange for no revenue. 

Florentin Pogba will add depth at centerback for Atlanta United. (Atlanta United)

2. Alec Kann ($100,008): He could be a starting goalkeeper for many other MLS clubs. He has been a backup to Brad Guzan for most of the past three seasons, other than his 18 starts in 2017. He’s tall, young (29) for a goalkeeper, has a great likely salary for a starter and is a good locker room guy. His contract is expiring. He’s improved with his feet the past three seasons. 

1. Brandon Vazquez ($166,000): MLSSoccer.com predicted on Saturday that Vazquez would be the first selection off the board, by Inter Miami. I think Vazquez has a lot of potential. He’s big, young (21), has a cheap salary (though his contract is expiring) and has been productive when given a chance. Atlanta United would not have won the U.S. Open Cup if not for his goals in the earlier rounds. The issue for Vazquez is that he plays behind Josef Martinez in a mostly single-striker system. He’s likely not going to get to consistently play for Atlanta United. A move would be in his best interest. What doesn’t make sense is if he’s taken by either Inter Miami or Nashville, Atlanta United will only receive $50,000 in General Allocation Money. Vazquez is worth more than $50,000 in GAM, especially when considering the club received $100,000 in GAM from Columbus in exchange for Romario Williams earlier this season. If Vazquez is selected, Atlanta United has no backup for Martinez going into a season in which it is scheduled to compete in the Champions League, U.S. Open, and league.

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About the Author

Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson covers the Atlanta United and Major League Soccer.
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