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November 17, 2010 at 11:20 AM

The 11 Sounders that I would protect in the expansion draft

2013059191.jpgPhoto credit: Dean Rutz, The Seattle Times

Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid and technical director Chris Henderson said Monday that picking the 11 players to protect in the upcoming expansion draft would be much more difficult than people think. The 11 likely won’t be their projected starting lineup. Nor will it probably be the 11 best players.

Lots of things will factor into the decisions, including how attractive the players would be to Portland/Vancouver, the price of the player options for next season, the rules regarding international players — which could change each day with potential arrival of green cards — and more.

So while I won’t pretend to have a comparable understanding to the team regarding all those issues, here are the 11 players I would protect.

* * *

1. Osvaldo Alonso, midfielder — I think the Cuban is Seattle’s most indispensable player with the most unique skill set on the team. His tenacity and ball winning in midfield could be unparalleled in Major League Soccer. An obvious choice.

2. Fredy Montero, forward — One of the most talented players I’ve seen. His technical ability, the way the ball comes off his foot, his feel for the game are exemplary. Was a star in this league from Day 1 and will only get better. Another easy pick.

3. Steve Zakuani, midfielder — Perhaps the most improved player in MLS for my money. His skill was obvious in 2009, but this year he became a much more complete player and one of the most dangerous wingers in the league. No surprise here.

4. Alvaro Fernandez, midfielder — I think the Uruguayan will have a huge impact on next year’s team. Considering the long and traveled year he had in 2010, it’s not hard to see why he admits he wasn’t fully fit. Having his family in town next season will help too.

5. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, defender — A finalist for MLS Defender of the Year in 2009, the Colombian looked strong and ready to go for much of last season as he recovers from ACL surgery. Having seen train for several months, the injury doesn’t concern me and his talent is first class.

6. Kasey Keller, goalkeeper — Some think his age and contract might be reasons to leave him unprotected, but I don’t see it. He’s the captain of the team and not just in title. He’s a clear leader and steadying presence for the whole side. And he still makes remarkable saves on a regular basis in training.

7. Blaise Nkufo, forward — Another veteran that some think could survive unprotected, but not on my list. There’s a reason the team didn’t lose in the first 10 or so games he started. Each player in the attack is made better due to what he provides.

8. Jeff Parke, defender — Arguably one of the team’s most important players in the second half of the season. After a long wait to get him signed, the tough centerback proved why the team stuck with him through the drawn-out negotiations. Great season.

9. Brad Evans, midfielder — The high-motored American national (for a couple games at least) could be a key player in 2011 for my money. Provides coverage from one box to the other and is someone that could provide 6-7 goals next season. I also think he’ll get over the injuries.

10. Patrick Ianni, defender — A quality centerback in this league and can also play midfielder. His talents are enough, but he could also provide insurance in case Hurtado doesn’t recover 100-percent. He’s just 25 years old as well.

11. James Riley, defender — I thought he was very consistent this season, both in defensive efforts and pushing forward to provide service from the right wing. With Seattle back in three competitions next season, his ability to seemingly never tire would help.

***12. Mike Fucito, forward/midfielder — After one player is selected, Sounders FC gets to pull a player back and, for me, I’d pick the Harvard grad. You’ve seen glimpses of something special in games, but I’ve seen more glimpses in training, where he regularly has great goals. Like Alonso, I think his skill set is unique and special when it comes to having a nose for goal. And he’s only going to get better.

* * *

Left unprotected (alphabetically): Terry Boss, David Estrada, Leo Gonzalez, Taylor Graham, Nate Jaqua, Roger Levesque, Tyrone Marshall, Miguel Montano, Pat Noonan, Sanna Nyassi, Zach Scott, Mike Seamon, Nathan Sturgis, Peter Vagenas, Tyson Wahl.

Gonzalez, Jaqua, Nyassi and Sturgis would appear to be the top names left available. Them and others would surely be attractive options for Portland/Vancouver and Sounders FC is right to expect to lose two quality players.

Picking this list wasn’t an easy task and in the end it’s just one man’s opinion.

What do you think? What’s your list?

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