Atlanta United’s plan for MLS expansion draft

There are some big names – Robbie Keane, Didier Drogba – some local names – Chris Duvall, Chris Klute, Jack McInerney, Mark Bloom and Jordan McCrary – and some intriguing names – Clarence Goodson and Jermaine Jones — available for Atlanta United to select in Tuesday's MLS expansion draft.

But good luck getting Atlanta United President Darren Eales, technical director Carlos Bocanegra or Director of Soccer Operations Paul McDonough to tip their hand as to who they might select when the draft starts at 2 p.m.

“We are pretty open to anything,” Bocanegra said.

The draft will work like this: The league’s 20 teams were allowed to protect 11 players. The remaining players – other than those who are Generation Adidas or Homegrown Players – were left unprotected and therefore open to be selected by either Atlanta United or Minnesota FC, the two expansion teams that will begin play in 2017. Once a team loses a player, the rest of its players are pulled back and not eligible to be selected. The draft will consist of five rounds, so 10 MLS teams will lose just one player.

Atlanta United has 14 players: one goalkeeper (Alex Tambakis), one defender (Michael Parkhurst), eight midfielders (Hector Villalba, Miguel Almiron, Junior Burgos, Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin, Chris McCann, Kevin Kratz and Harrison Heath), and four forwards (Kenwyne Jones, Brandon Vazquez, Romario Williams and Jeffrey Otoo).

It would seem natural that Atlanta United might target defenders in Tuesday’s expansion draft.

Again, Atlanta United wouldn’t say who they are considering in a conference call on Monday.

“We have five picks and we want to get the best we can out of the five picks,” Eales said.

It’s unlikely that Atlanta United would select Keane, a standout with the Los Angeles Galaxy, or Drogba, a standout with Montreal, because they are both at least 36 years old and have already expressed interests in playing elsewhere. Eales has said that he wants to avoid signing players to “dead money” situations in which the players can’t be potentially sold.

With that thinking, the local players are interesting.

Duvall, a right back and native of Duluth, started 52 games in the past three seasons for the Red Bulls. He has a salary of $63,000, which represents good value at 25 years old. Plus, he is in a position of need for the club, whether or not any of the executives care to say that.

Klute is a left back who turned a good season with the Silverbacks in 2011 into an MLS contract with Colorado. The former Clayton State standout was then traded to Columbus, which moved him and McInerney on to Portland before the 2016 season. Klute, 26, has started just 16 games the past two seasons, and sustained injuries during the 2016 season. He has a combination of size (6-1) and speed that would seem to fit well within Gerardo Martino’s pressing system. He had guaranteed compensation of $91,921.80 in the 2016.

McInerney, 24 and who grew up in Atlanta, has played for four teams since being selected by Philadelphia in the first round of the 2010 draft. He has scored 43 goals in 167 appearances, which is a solid scoring rate. He hasn’t been able to secure a starting spot at any of the clubs: Philadelphia, Montreal, Columbus or Portland. He had guaranteed compensation of $270,000 in 2016.

Bloom, 29 and a native of Marietta, is a defender who made 37 starts for Toronto in the past four years. Most of those happened in 2014. He also came up with the Silverbacks. He had guaranteed compensation of $101,848.89, according to the MLS players union salary database. McCrary is a fullback who was selected by New England in the first round of the 2016 draft. He didn’t play for the Revs this season.

Eales said that a player’s ties to Atlanta wouldn’t be very important when deciding who to select.

Atlanta United has been working on the expansion draft for months. McDonough said he thinks they did a good job estimating who would be available. He has experience with the draft from his previous job in Orlando. Bocanegra said Sunday was a late night spent going over the available players, but he didn’t think Monday would be as long of a work day.

Free-agency will open at 5 p.m. Atlanta United again wouldn’t tip its hand as to who it might pursue. The list of players is very small compared to the expansion pool. The team has already been able to convince several notable players, Jones, Almiron and Villalba, as well as manager Martino, of the franchise’s potential with a new stadium and training center under construction.

A waiver draft will be held Thursday and the re-entry draft will begin Friday as other mechanisms that Atlanta United can use to build its roster.

“Our goal is to come out of the block and be very competitive,” McDonough said.

Key dates for Atlanta United

Tuesday: Expansion draft starts at 2 p.m.

Tuesday: Free agency starts at 5 p.m.

Thursday: Waiver draft

Friday: Re-entry draft

Jan. 13: SuperDraft