A great artist doesn’t usually choose bad materials to create a masterpiece.
I’ve always heard that players picked up in the expansion drafts was generally used to make moves that benefited a team’s Allocation Order. Players that weren’t traded usually rode the bench or failed to ultimately make the team. A club wasn’t going to be successful if their plan was to heavily depend on those expansion draft players. Rob Usry of Dirty South Soccer compiled a comprehensive record of the last few Expansion Drafts in an effort to see how those players ultimately fared with the team that drafted them.
Obviously every team is different and goes into an expansion draft with different philosophical mindsets. NYCFC may have been obligated to keep a majority of their picks knowing that their efforts would be directed towards bringing in high-priced designated players. Conversely, the Philadelphia Union kept every single Expansion Draft pick. And just because those picks were kept, doesn’t mean that those players amounted to more than playing a few games. In Orlando City SC’s case, they kept five of their expansion draft players but only two were significant contributors. Four of the others chosen in that draft were traded and one left for Europe.
The Portland Timbers only kept four of their 10 picks, two of which made significant contributions. Five players in that draft were traded for SuperDraft picks, rights to other players, and allocation money.
Regardless of the success or failures of past expansion drafts, it’s easy to deduce that it would be beneficial for Atlanta United FC to pursue other player allocation avenues. Depending solely on Expansion Draft players to meet the goal of being a competitive, potentially even a playoff team, would absolutely be a mistake. Any team would rather make their own choices and live with their own misses rather than be forced to take on players that have already "missed" on their former clubs.
The decision to eliminate the Expansion Draft has probably already taken place. I can’t image that a couple of MLS officials are just casually talking about eliminating the Expansion Draft. The "discussion" would then be in regards to what alternative methods of acquiring players should be established as a replacement. The rumored alternatives are to hand out extra Allocation money and international player slots to incoming expansion franchises.
What could this ultimately mean for AUFC? Being able to scout the entire world for the first team Atlanta United fields in 2017.
Arthur Blank, Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra would no longer be limited to the throwaway players MLS teams decide to leave unprotected. Instead, AUFC could look to South America, in countries like Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay and European leagues that aren’t the Premier or Championship leagues (remember that Championship League players pretty much make DP money already). There are great players playing in less-reputable leagues against respectable talent on a consistent basis. Affordable options in France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Germany and even Mexico would be limited to lower level talent that wouldn’t see much playing time in the top-flight leagues, and players playing bad talent in lower divisions on a much regular basis.
It’s easy to sell a player on playing in the U.S. for $50,000 when in Uruguay the average salary of an average players on an average team is a monthly salary of about 37,000 pesos ($1,253) which amounts to about $15,000 over the course of a year. The top players in these leagues may not be world-class, but they could certainly be better than the bottom-of-the-barrel players Atlanta United would get from the Expansion Draft. And this is just in a league like Uruguay’s Primera División. Other first division teams AUFC could potentially comb through without needing to spend over $100,000 include Argentina, Colombia, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Scotland, Sweden, Chile, Japan and Belgium, just to name a few. Here’s a 2014 list of league average salaries to give you an idea of what leagues may have MLS affordable players.
The freedom of truly building a team rather than assembling one from MLS leftovers is freedom Darren Eales and company absolutely want. A great artist picks his tools, his brushes, his paints, his canvas, all in order to create a masterful piece of art. The same rules apply in forming a team that excels from day one. Go paint that picture Darren Eales, go paint that masterpiece.