Predicting who Nashville SC will protect in the Expansion Draft

The 2022 MLS Expansion Draft is set for Friday, November 11th. One of the first offseason events, the Expansion Draft provides a chance for St. Louis City SC to select five players across the league to add to their inaugural roster. 

Ironically, the Expansion Draft will happen before teams are required to announce their roster decisions on November 14, so we’re missing a key piece of the puzzle in these predictions. Nevertheless, we press on.

If you are unfamiliar with the Expansion Draft or need a refresher from Nashville SC’s own expansion draft in 2019, here is a quick rundown of the rules.

MLS Expansion Draft rules

Each MLS team may protect 12 players from their existing roster. Certain categories of players receive automatic protection. This includes Homegrown Players that are 25 years old and younger. Players in the Generation Adidas program, a special class of college underclassmen signed to MLS, also receive automatic protection. Designated Players do not receive automatic protection, but if a player has a “no-trade” clause in his contract, the club must protect that player.

St. Louis can select five players, but may only select a single player from any one club. If a Nashville player is selected, then no more can be taken via the Expansion Draft. 

Clubs with a player selected will receive $50,000 in General Allocation Money as compensation. This amount is often less than the amount a club could receive on the open trade market, so it by no means makes a club whole. 

Projections for Nashville’s protected / unprotected lists

Before diving into the list, let’s explain how the protection rules apply to Nashville. 

Handwalla Bwana and Ethan Zubak will receive automatic protection. The ”Yotes acquired their homegrown rights when they traded for both. It has also been reported that Jacob Shaffelburg will become a permanent member of Nashville SC in the coming days. Tom Bogert brok the news that Mike Jacobs triggered the purchase option included in the loan deal when Shaffelburg was acquired this summer. Shaffelburg will also receive automatic protection as a Homegrown Player developed through the Toronto FC academy. 

Jack Maher may no longer receive automatic protection as a Generation Adidas (“GA”) player. Maher signed with MLS as a college underclassman under the GA program. Automatic protection is granted to those players still remaining in the program. However, looking at past precedent, GA players typically graduate after their third season and do not receive automatic protection. 

Lastly, let’s discuss Aké Loba. He’s not automatically protected based on his Designated Player status. He may have a no-trade clause built into his contract, but we have no way of verifying this as it is not publicly disclosed.

Assuming the absence of a no-trade clause, Mike Jacobs must make a tough decision on Loba’s future. On the one hand, Loba has failed to live up to his $7 million dollar price tag. On the other hand, Loba may still have some value on the open market. A loan with purchase option could be arranged to allow Nashville the chance to recoup a portion of the transfer fee paid to Monterrey in 2021. If left unprotected and selected by St. Louis, Nashville would free up a Designated Player slot but be out on its investment. 

That brings us to the predictions. I elicited the help of my colleague, Ben Wright, to compile a list of projected protected and unprotected players.

Protected

BenChris
Anunga, BrianBwana, Handwalla
Bwana, HandwallaDavis, Sean
Davis, SeanGodoy, Aníbal
Leal, RandallLeal, Randall
Lovitz, DanLovitz, Dan
Maher, Jack*Maher, Jack*
McCarty, DaxMoore, Shaq
Moore, ShaqMukhtar, Hany
Mukhtar, HanyMuyl, Alex
Muyl, AlexRomney, Dave
Romney, DaveSapong, C.J.
Shaffelburg, JacobShaffelburg, Jacob
Willis, JoeWillis, Joe
Zimmerman, WalkerZimmerman, Walker
Zubak, EthanZubak, Ethan

Unprotected

BenChris
Bauer, JoshBauer, Josh
Bunbury, TealBunbury, Teal
Castellanos, RobertCastellanos, Robert
Donasiyano, KozeDonasiyano, Koze
Godoy, AníbalHaakenson, Luke
Haakenson, LukeLoba, Aké
Loba, AkéLongmire, Ahmed
Longmire, AhmedMeredith, Bryan
Meredith, BryanMeyer, Will
Meyer, WillMiller, Eric
Miller, EricPanicco, Elliot
Panicco, ElliotPiñeiro, Rodrigo
Piñeiro, RodrigoWashington, Taylor
Sapong, C.J.Anunga, Brian
Washington, TaylorMcCarty, Dax

Explaining our rationale

Chris: Comparing our lists, it looks like we differ on the fate of four players. Ben, you protected Brian Anunga and Dax McCarty; whereas I opted to protect Aníbal Godoy and C.J. Sapong. Explain why you chose Anunga and McCarty. 

Ben: I think it’s fairly simple. McCarty was one of Nashville’s two best midfielders in 2022 and brings a ton of value as a leader on the team. I think he’ll have a role in Nashville, whether it’s on the field or off, as long as he wants.  

Anunga is a fairly cheap, serviceable midfielder who is always available. Players like that are valuable, not to mention he signed a new contract this offseason. He’s been protected in past expansion drafts as well.

Godoy and Sapong have both been incredibly important to Nashville in the past. But Godoy missed 17 games. Sapong didn’t score after May. I don’t think Nashville want either to leave, but neither of their 2022 seasons screamed “protect them at all costs.”

Chris: Those are good points all around. 

For me, it comes down to who is a bigger part of your future. While Anunga is a reliable reserve, he failed to log even 1,000 minutes when healthy this past season. He has elite defensive traits, but the midfield link between the defense and attack often died when he paired with Sean Davis. Part of upgrading the midfield this offseason may be replacing Anunga with someone with more ball-progressing ability. 

I chose Godoy over McCarty primarily due to age. Admittedly, Godoy struggled with injuries this season. But part of that may have been caused by him pulling double duty with the Panamanian national team. The congested calendar should ease up for him and hopefully allow Godoy to stay fresh in 2023. 

As for Sapong, I am betting on his odd-numbered year bounce back.

YearGoals
201716
20184
201913
20202
202112
20225

He may be on the wrong side of 30, but he remains in excellent physical shape. Even if Nashville acquires a big-time striker this offseason, which they absolutely should, there is still a role for Sapong to play on this team. His physical presence is tailor-made for an impact substitution late in games. 

Ben: Overall, I agree with your points on Sapong. But Nashville need to (and almost certainly will) take another shot at a DP striker. That will significantly cut into his minutes, as did his complete lack of production. I don’t see a scenario where a DP, Sapong and Bunbury are all on the team in 2023, especially given their salaries. 

I don’t know if Nashville move on from either, and certainly they could get more than the $50k in allocation money they’d get if either are lost in the expansion draft, but neither Bunbury or Sapong are Nashville’s long term future at the position. Based on their 2022 performances, I think Bunbury probably has the edge heading into 2023.

Chris: That’s a fair observation about Sapong’s likely reduction in minutes if a DP striker is brought in. But as we saw in Saturday’s MLS Cup, a striker does not need a lot of minutes to make a massive impact. I am not trying to compare Sapong to Gareth Bale at all. But just to say that having weapons on the bench, even if overpriced, can make all the difference. 


Whichever way Nashville goes, it will be interesting to see who Mike Jacobs values most on this roster. The protected and unprotected lists are due on Thursday in preparation for Friday’s Expansion Draft. 

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His work includes his "Three Thoughts" piece after every Nashville match that highlights the important storylines and incorporates key video clips from the match. Chris' other articles often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS roster rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney serving as in-house counsel for a large insurance company. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Manchester United, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Mastodon

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