October 16 is a big day for Atlanta United. The 2016 Expansion Priority Draft takes place, and it’s significant for a lot of reasons. However, if you are like many others that are confused by the fancy (and seemingly unnecessary) rules that MLS implements regarding their plethora of player acquirement options, here’s a breakdown of the Priority Draft rules and options available to Atlanta United.
Let’s start off with the basics. What is the Priority Draft? Basically, it’s a draft where expansion teams draft other drafts. Already confused? Cool, thanks MLS...
A better way of putting it is that the Priority Draft is where expansion teams (in this case, Atlanta United and Minnesota United) prioritize the three MLS drafts as well as three other available methods used to acquire players. A coin flip will decide which of the two expansion clubs gets first selection, with the two teams alternating picks until all six methods are chosen. Ultimately, the Priority Draft will lay the foundation of how both 2017 expansion teams build their inaugural rosters.
Obviously, we want to know what options are available to Atlanta. Here’s the breakdown.
2016 Expansion Draft
The expansion draft occurs whenever a new team enters MLS, therefore it’s only available to expansion clubs. Each team will get to pick a total of five players from the existing clubs in the league. This has changed since the last draft in 2014, when NYCFC and Orlando City each got to pick ten players instead of just five. Since two teams are entering the league, Atlanta United and Minnesota United will take alternating picks. Existing teams can protect up to eleven players. Generation Adidas players are automatically protected, as are Homegrown players who are not on the senior roster.
If either Atlanta United or Minnesota United decide to prioritize the Expansion Draft, they will receive the 1st Overall Pick. This could lead to a few quality additions for both teams. It may seem like common sense for MLS teams who are not part of the Expansion Draft to just protect all eleven of their starters and maybe a few key reserves, but it’s not that simple. Teams will also consider not protecting players with large contracts that they aren’t willing to take on anymore.
2017 MLS SuperDraft
The SuperDraft is the simplest option to explain. It’s the process whereby all MLS teams get to pick players coming in from the college system. The previous three SuperDrafts each had four rounds and the trend is likely to continue this time around. As expansion teams, Atlanta United and Minnesota United will have the first two positions in the draft.
If either Atlanta United or Minnesota United decide to prioritize the SuperDraft, they will receive the 1st Overall Pick. Last year’s Superdraft saw players like Jack Harrison, Keegan Rosenberry and Brandon Vincent drafted, all of whom made an immediate impact in their first season. The 2017 SuperDraft will also include plenty of great young talent.
2016 Waiver and Re-Entry Draft
This draft allows teams to pick up players whose clubs have not exercised their option, or players who have been placed on waiver by their club. However, unlike the other two drafts, Atlanta United and Minnesota United will take the bottom two positions in this draft, the 21st and 22nd overall picks respectively.
If either Atlanta United or Minnesota United decide to prioritize the 2016 Waiver and Re-Entry Draft, they will receive the 21st overall pick.
Now, let’s look at the non-draft options available to both expansion teams.
Player Allocation Ranking
The allocation ranking is used to determine which club has first priority to acquire a USMNT player who has signed with the league, or a player who returns to the MLS after playing abroad. A list of players who would currently be subject to the Allocation Process can be found here. Once a club uses it's ranking to acquire a player, they drop to the bottom of the list. As new franchises, Atlanta United and Minnesota United will take the top two spots in the allocation order.
If either Atlanta United or Minnesota United decide to prioritize the Player Allocation Ranking, they can sign a USMNT player who’s playing abroad or a player who is returning to MLS. Sounds awesome, right? Well, it’s only awesome if the team already has a deal in place with a specific player. Otherwise, it’s usually only used as a bargaining chip with other teams.
USL/NASL Player Priority Ranking
Atlanta United and Minnesota United are given priority ranking when signing players from the USL or NASL, subject to another MLS club’s right of first refusal. If either team decides to prioritize the USL/NASL Player Priority Ranking, they have first dibs on a player whose not on any other club’s discovery list. There’s some quality in both leagues, so this could be an interesting method to acquire.
Discovery Player Ranking
If MLS had a “Miscellaneous” category, it’s the Discovery Player Ranking. Basically, if a player isn’t eligible for any of the previously mentioned methods of acquirement, this is where they go. To make this method even less desirable, the team that decides to prioritize the Discovery Player Ranking will only receive the 21st rank.
The most notable claim to fame for the Discovery Player Ranking took place at the 2014 Priority Draft when former NYCFC coach Jason Kreis accidentally prioritized it ahead of two other methods. In Kreis’ defense, this is all a lot to digest. Then again, he was just supposed to read off a list.
Whatever Atlanta United decides to prioritize, they certainly aren’t short of options. At the end of the day, AUFC can plan all they want. But for goodness sake, stick to the list. I cannot stress that enough. Sorry Jason Kreis...