By Kevin Kinkead

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When the Philadelphia Union’s expansion draft protected list came out on Monday night, it was probably a surprise to see the omission of both Zac MacMath and Rais Mbolhi.

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Even with young backup Andre Blake exempt from selection, it seemed almost certain that the club would protect at least one of its possible starters going into 2015.

But that didn’t happen, and the technical staff made a shrewd move to leave both players available to Orlando City and New York City FC.

Instead of tipping the hand to show preference to one guy over the other, this move essentially delays the process and kicks the can further down the road. You defer to this pair of expansion clubs, and see whether they value one of these goalkeepers enough to warrant selection in Wednesday’s draft.

Maybe it was done on purpose, or maybe not.

But it’s smart, really, because you can dangle both players out there and see if a team bites, then pull your other goalkeeper back into safety through the mechanism provided by the league office. For instance, if Orlando City selects MacMath, the Union can pull Mbolhi off the table. If NYC goes for Mbolhi, the Union can pull back MacMath.

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And after Monday’s trade with Orlando, maybe there’s a “handshake” deal in place. Maybe the trade of Amobi Okugo also included a verbal promise that the Florida club would not select a Philadelphia player in the expansion draft.

The monkey wrench in this whole situation is the revelation that Mbolhi is now considered a Designated Player. He commands a salary that probably wards off one or both clubs, which have already filled a couple of DP slots with big name players like David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Kaka.

Mbolhi becomes only the second DP goalkeeper in the history of MLS, after Frank Rost’s brief tenure with New York Red Bulls in 2011. It seems like there might be something more in the works here, perhaps with the Union buying down his salary through allocation money in order to free up a DP slot for a foreign striker. The club is currently looking to make a splash with a big-money forward and needs an open slot to make that happen.

That’s why it’s likely that MacMath would go before Mbolhi on Wednesday. Orlando City already has Tally Hall on the roster but could certainly use another option. NYC FC has former Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who may or may not be the starter next season. MacMath has a much more manageable salary and does not command a DP tag.

If MacMath goes, you would be looking at Mbolhi and Blake as your number one and number two in 2015. The Union could make a play for a third-stringer this winter.

The idea to leave Mbolhi exposed also tells me that Jim Curtin and Chris Albright have full control over player decisions. I can’t imagine that Mbolhi would be unprotected if Nick Sakiewicz was part of this process. The Union goalkeeper situation continues to be mocked around the league, but leaving both players exposed seems to signal a changing of the guard in the player-personnel department.

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