Who Chicago should protect in Expansion Draft

Will Fire dangle bait in front of incoming Portland, Vancouver?

With days until the MLS Expansion Draft, it’s high time the Chicago Fire started thinking about which players to protect – and which to leave vulnerable. Technical director Frank Klopas and head coach Carlos de los Cobos face some tough decisions as Monday, Nov. 22 – the deadline for submitting the club’s 11-player protected list – approaches.

Here’s MLSsoccer.com’s take on who the Fire should – and shouldn’t – protect.

Protect: Freddie Ljungberg

The free agent DP might not be back in Chicago next year, but it shouldn’t be because of the expansion draft. The Swedish midfielder/forward was the Fire’s most dynamic attacking player in 2010 and – assuming he doesn’t depart before Vancouver and Portland make their selections on the 24th – should be an absolute lock for this list.

[inline_node:318773]Protect: Wilman Conde

Like Ljungberg, the out-of-contract Conde could find himself out of Chicago next spring. But, also like Ljungberg, if Conde isn’t back in a Fire jersey, it shouldn’t be because he was snagged by Portland or Vancouver next week.

The Fire should protect the Colombian center back, especially considering that C.J. Brown, the other half of the Fire’s central defensive pairing, recently retired.

Protect: Marco Pappa

Pappa, 22, burst onto the scene in the first half of this season, scoring six goals in his first 12 games. An increased amount of time spent with the Guatemalan national team and some nagging injuries limited him to just a goal in the second half, but the Fire won’t be too dissuaded – they’ll almost certainly protect their crafty winger and AT&T Goal of the Year winner.

Protect: Patrick Nyarko

The other half of the Fire’s dangerous wing duo, the 24-year-old Nyarko led Chicago with 10 assists in 2010. He figures to play a major role in 2011 and, given that he’d be a sure-fire selection for either Vancouver or Portland if left exposed, will be on the Fire's protected list.

Protect: Logan Pause

With Brown and Brian McBride retiring, the Fire will need a veteran to step up and take on a bigger leadership role next year. That player will likely be this defensive midfielder, who had a decent 2010 – his eighth season with the Fire – and earned his sixth cap for the US national team on Wednesday.

[inline_node:319065]Protect: Nery Castillo

Though he had a dismal start to his MLS career – Castillo registered zero goals and zero assists in just eight appearances after signing with the club in mid-July – the Fire won’t be ready to give up on their other Designated Player just yet. He’ll almost undoubtedly be on the protected list.

Protect: Bratislav Ristic

Ristic, a natural midfielder, showed his versatility after signing with the Fire in mid-September, spending time at winger, central midfielder and outside back in his eight games with the club. The 30-year-old Serbian also demonstrated a good deal of quality – making him a good bet to make the protected list.

Protect: Gonzalo Segares

With Krzysztof Krol unlikely to return following his year-long loan, Segares is the Fire’s one proven option at left back. The Costa Rican has shown that he’s a standout MLS defender when healthy and will likely make Klopas’ protected list for the second year in a row.

Protect: Baggio Husidic

As he just graduated from Generation adidas status, the central midfielder – who is entering his third year in the league – should make the list. Entering his third year in the league, Husidic showed a good nose for goal and signs of overall improvement in 2010.

[inline_node:312081]Protect: Steven Kinney

Though he tore his ACL in the season finale and could miss the start of next season, the Fire should protect the 2010 fourth-rounder. He played serviceably at right back in somewhat limited time last year, typically defending well and showing some attacking smarts.

Auto-protected players: Sean Johnson, Corben Bone, Victor Pineda

Johnson and Bone are both Generation adidas signees and unavailable for selection by Portland or Vancouver. Pineda is the Fire’s lone homegrown product and, as such, is also ineligible for selection in the expansion draft.

Notables left exposed: John Thorrington, Collins John, Dasan Robinson, Calen Carr

Though Thorrington, Robinson and Carr all show quality when on the field, each of them misses too much time due to injury to merit a spot on the protected list.

John, who also struggled with various medical problems in his first year with the Fire, didn’t show enough quality on the field to warrant a slot. The Fire probably won’t have to worry about losing him though, as his high salary and unproven status make him an unlikely target for either the Whitecaps or Timbers.

Ready to launch: MLS Matchday 2010, The new official MLS iPhone app. It's FREE! Download it here!