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Philadelphia Union building begins
by Ridge Mahoney, November 25th, 2009 7AM
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[MLS] Regardless of when during its 2010 expansion season the Philadelphia Union plays its first game at its new stadium, the building process really starts Wednesday with the selection of 10 players plucked from the rosters of other MLS teams. Big names abound among those unprotected for the Expansion Draft: a two-time Goalkeeper of the Year (Pat Onstad), a league MVP (Amado Guevara), one of the most inspirational U.S. players in history (Frankie Hejduk), and all manner of current and former internationals and other members of Best XI squads.

Hejduk is just one of several attractive options on the Crew list, but Philadelphia coach Peter Nowak can take only one. Defender Andy Iro or forward Alejandro Moreno might be headed further east if Frankie isn't taken.

A solid keeper is always an asset for a new team, so might Nowak take Onstad, even at age 41, since the 2009 season was among his best? Is Kevin Hartman (Kansas City) a younger, 35, and better option? Is a precocious younger player like Josh Saunders (Galaxy) or Danny Cepero (Red Bulls) ready to step into the nets full-time in the big-time, or is a safer choice the somewhat experienced Jon Conway, a native of Chester, Pa., site of Philly's new stadium?

Seattle had the advantage of filling his huge need with a hometown player coming home from Europe in Kasey Keller; could midfielder Bobby Convey get somewhat the same treatment after playing a rather mediocre season in San Jose in his first season back from Europe? A most important factor is that Philly doesn't have to take a player at his current salary-budget charge figure (i.e., how much he counts against the salary cap) unless he's guaranteed that salary for the 2010 season.

By exposing Convey, the Quakes have devalued him, for if they thought he had any major value and believed Philly wanted him they'd protect him and talk trade. Or they have acceded to his wishes to play in Philly and are willing to lose him for nothing after facilitating his move from England and paying him a base salary of $222,000. But Nowak wants players willing to run through walls, and that ain't Bobby Convey, who might not mind going back to D.C. United, either, hint, hint.

The Union can negotiate a player's salary up or down and thus it makes sense to take a younger player and bump him up under terms of a long-term contract. Other "local" options are defenders Julian Valentin (Galaxy), Jim Curtin (Chivas USA), and Chris Albright (New England), and midfielder Stephen King (Seattle).

One of the most enticing options is Guevara, who has settled into a more two-way role with Dwayne De Rosario in the Toronto FC lineup, even though DeRo played as a second forward as well as attacking midfielder. Guevara turns 34 next year and would have to turn in a superman season to merit the $324,000 he earned this season. But at a lower number, well, maybe.

Nowak must be mindful of the salary-cap figure, which is still being discussed and hasn't been set for next year. (It isn't contingent on negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement, so disregard any reference to those discussions affecting the cap.)

Nowak must also be shrewd; teams must notify players by the end of the month if their options for 2010 will be picked up, and if he thinks a player might not be re-signed and could be waived, he might opt to use the expansion pick on somebody else. And with new coaches to be hired by Chicago, New York, D.C. United and Chivas USA, he can wait and see what shakes out on those rosters come waiver time. Red Bull Nick Zimmerman is on the watch list of many teams.

Also not finalized is how much allocation money Philly will receive as an expansion team; Seattle started with a kitty of $1.2 million, which can be used to acquire players coming into the league, or to re-sign current players, a classification that will include those taken in the expansion draft.

Even if Nowak could knock down Jesse Marsch from his $175,000 salary, his history of injuries and age (34) would make him a huge risk. Striker Alecko Eskandarian (Galaxy) is younger and played for Nowak on D.C. United's 2004 championship team, but his history of concussions renders him risky as well.

Houston coach Dominic Kinnear has taken the tactic of exposing both of his left backs, veteran Wade Barrett and Mike Chabala, as well as central defenders Eddie Robinson and Ryan Cochrane. He can only lose one of them, and is considering moving Geoff Cameron back into a midfield role if Ricardo Clark and/or Stuart Holden head overseas, so he's already set in motion the revamping of his back line regardless of whom, if anyone, Nowak takes off his roster.

Left exposed by Kansas City are rookie Matt Besler, who played both outside back and center back, and third-year centerback Aaron Holbein. The former eventually displaced the latter, though KC's poor finish under interim, and now full-time, head coach Peter Vermes (3-6-3) has assured there will be changes.

There's always the chance that picks have already been arranged, as was the case last year, when former Kansas City coach Curt Onalfo knew Seattle was going to claim Tyson Wahl, and Kinnear had pre-approved the move of Nate Jaqua.

But here's a guess at who Nowak could pick, and why, with the proviso they could be moved onto other teams in trades:

Luciano Emilio F Flawed but scores goals. Any questions?
Matt Besler D Good tools, just needs coaching and experience
Bryan Jordan F Quick, relentless, great potential
Ned Grabavoy MF Always regarded as smart and skilled but a reserve at RSL
Stephen King MF Jersey lad showed enough in brief stints with Chicago and Seattle
Andy Iro D Beast of a central defender
Danny Cepero GK Brave, sharp reflexes, played at Penn
Amado Guevara MF Greatest value may be in a trade
Eddie Robinson D Worth a shot if his knee isn't shot
Chris Tierney D Underrated and left-sided

For the list of unprotected and protected players in Wednesday's Expansion Draft, click HERE.

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