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Toronto FC forward Pablo Piatti works the ball against New England Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell in the first half at Gillette Stadium.

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Attackers Pablo Piatti, Maxi Urruti and Fredy Montero were left unprotected by their Canadian clubs ahead of Tuesday’s MLS expansion draft to help stock Austin FC.

The league’s 27th franchise and third in Texas, Austin is set to kick off in 2021.

Austin can make up to five selections from the pool of eligible players, claiming only a single player from any one club. Teams that lose a player will receive US$50,000 in general allocation money.

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Atlanta, Columbus, FC Cincinnati, Los Angeles FC, Minnesota, New England, New York City FC, Portland, Seattle and Sporting Kansas City are exempt from Tuesday’s draft because they lost players to Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC in last year’s expansion draft.

The remaining 16 clubs, including all three Canadian franchises, were allowed to protect 12 players from their senior, supplemental and reserve rosters. Players on Generation Adidas contracts and homegrown players aged 25 and under are exempt from the draft.

Being left unprotected does not mean a player is necessarily on the move. Trades and backroom chat can result in expansion teams opting to ignore available talent or to send it back once selected.

Often the expansion draft is more about bargaining chips than filling roster spots. Or players left unprotected were already out the door.

Toronto FC had previously declined the option of Piatti but said it was interested in having the 31-year-old Argentine back, although not as a designated player. The Whitecaps also opted not to exercise Montero’s option but said they were continuing discussions with the 33-year-old Colombian striker.

Urutti, 29, is under contract to Montreal next season. The Argentine, who made US$1.07-million in 2019, would likely be too rich for Austin’s tastes, allowing the Impact to protect another player.

Also made available across the league were Canadians Jay Chapman (Miami), Ashtone Morgan (Real Salt Lake), Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Shamit Shome (Montreal), Derek Cornelius (Vancouver) and Tesho Akindele and Kamal Miller (Orlando City).

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Montreal has already declined the options on Jackson-Hamel and Shome. Cornelius is still under contract to Vancouver.

Toronto defenders Justin Morrow, Laurent Ciman and Eriq Zavaleta, all out of contract at the end of the year, were left unprotected. TFC also made available Liverpool loanee Tony Gallacher, Erickson Gallardo, Patrick Mullins, Kevin Silva and Tsubasa Endoh.

Also left unprotected by Montreal were captain Jukka Raitala, No. 1 goalkeeper Clement Diop, Rudy Camacho, Jorge Corrales, Rod Fanni, Bojan Krkic, Orji Okwonkwo, and Steeven Saba.

Other Vancouver players left unprotected were Jasser Khmiri, Bryan Meredith and Andy Rose.

Veterans C.J. Sapong (Chicago), Drew Moor (Colorado), Felipe Martins (D.C. United), Juan Agudelo, Federico Higuain, Luis Robles, Brek Shea and Wil Trapp (all Miami) and Dom Dwyer (Orlando) were among those made available by their clubs.

The league’s expansion draft has shrunk in recent years.

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Up to 12 selections were allowed in the 1997 draft with Toronto picking 10 players in 2006. The league cut the number to five for each of Minnesota and Atlanta in the 2016 expansion draft.

Austin’s brain trust includes sporting director Claudio Reyna and head coach Josh Wolff, who collected 164 U.S. caps between them during their playing career. Davey Arnaud, a former Montreal Impact player, is an assistant coach.

Rodney Redes was Austin’s first-ever signing, announced on July 6. Fellow Paraguayan forward Cecilio Dominguez came on board in August as the club’s first designated player.

On Sunday, Austin took advantage of the league’s half-day trade window, following a league-mandated 45-day roster freeze, to acquire acquiring Nick Lima from San Jose, Jon Gallagher from Atlanta, Julio Cascante from Portland, Ben Sweat from Inter Miami and Ulises Segura from D.C. United. The combined moves cost Austin a total of US$1.75-million in general allocation money.

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