In a week’s time MLS will conduct yet another Expansion Draft as the 2017 season approaches. As part of SB Nation’s tradition Mock Expansion Draft, we were able to participate alongside the network’s new Minnesota United blog, El Pluribus Loonum. With the other 20 blogs providing their predicted protected lists, we followed the exact rules and protocol that the real draft will.
Unlike in years past, this version is a condensed one with only five selections per team instead of the usual 10.
Selecting for United was pretty easy considering they are a relatively blank slate. At the time of drafting, the club only had eight players on their roster, most of whom are attacking. Since the draft, the club has already added two more attacking players in Brandon Vazquez and Miguel Almirón. In reality, Atlanta will likely focus more on the defensive side when picking their players. However, just because a player is picked doesn’t mean they cannot be swapped afterwards for a more position of need.
The defensive options made available in our version of the draft were bare bones at minimum. While we tried to be logical with position of need, it was hard to pass on some of the talented players on the big board. Darren Eales, Carlos Bocanegra, and Paul McDonough will likely be more pragmatic in their selections, but this is how we played it once the draft got going:
Round 1, Pick 1: Atlanta United selects Gonzalo Veron from New York Red Bulls
When possessing the first pick you have to find the best available player on the board. We felt that the most talented and promising name made available to us was Gonzalo Veron from the Red Bulls.
The connections between Veron and Atlanta United are obvious. Both Tata Martino and the club’s first Designated Player Tito Villalba are familiar with the former San Lorenzo winger. The Argentinian link is more than just about nationality, it’s about comfort. Veron has struggled to adapt to MLS with the Red Bulls. Coming to a coach who knows him and can relate to him should do wonders for his chances of living up to his potential.
From a tactical standpoint this would be a dream come true for Atlanta United fans. With Villalba patrolling one flank and Almirón pulling the strings in the middle, you need another dynamic winger on the opposite flank. That’s where Veron could potentially come into play to form an extremely pacey and skillful attacking trio to put around veteran striker Kenwyne Jones.
Round 1, Pick 2: Minnesota United selects Graham Zusi from Sporting Kansas City
For further explanation and reasoning for Minnesota’s picks please check out El Pluribus Loonum’s post covering their selections.
Round 2, Pick 1: Atlanta United selects Harry Shipp from Montreal Impact
Heading into the draft, Harry Shipp was always No. 2 on our big board. The addition of Almirón does change things a bit, but that whole saga played out after the draft occurred.
However, even with the addition of Almirón to the roster there’s potentially a spot for another attacking midfielder. Tata Martino has been known to operate a 4-1-4-1 formation with two attacking players playing in front of a destroying midfielder. Someone like Shipp would form a great tandem with Almirón. Chris McCann would likely act as that security blanket sitting behind the two. Even if the attack does get crowded, you have yourself a nice trade chip in Shipp.
Shipp was a very promising player when he emerged onto the scene with the Chicago Fire. His offseason move to the Montreal Impact didn’t have the desired results and he’s now left looking for answers. A change of scenery could do him wonders and hopefully help him return to the form that had some clamoring for him to get a USMNT call-up.
Round 2, Pick 2: Minnesota United selects Steven Beitashour from Toronto FC
Round 3, Pick 1: Atlanta United selects Jack McInerney from Portland Timbers
The hometown hero returneth. This move has seemed on the cards for years ever since it was announced that Atlanta would receive an MLS franchise. Jack McInerney grew up playing youth soccer in Georgia and has spoken in the past about a desire to play in Atlanta one day.
He seems a good bet to be left unprotected in the real draft and was in our mock draft. With a scoring track record like his, we couldn’t pass on him. Admittedly, this was before the club signed another striker in Brandon Vazquez, but his addition doesn’t necessarily alter this pick. Kenwyne Jones will only be able to play so many games this season with international duty and overall wear-and-tear of a long year. The club will need a reliable back-up for those grueling double-game weeks or short turnarounds from an international break. It’s unclear at this point if they view Vazquez as a short-term candidate for that role. It couldn’t hurt having someone of McInerney’s experience on the roster to ensure you have that reliable option.
Round 3, Pick 2: Minnesota United selects Zac MacMath from Colorado Rapids
Round 4, Pick 1: Atlanta United selects Michael Stephens from Chicago Fire
As we’ve noted already, the United midfield is getting a little crowded. However, the versatility of some players could come in clutch for Tata’s lineup selection. McCann’s ability to play in the midfield and across the back line opens up the possibilities. Someone like Michael Stephens would be an asset to any team as a role player. Even if the club can’t find room for him, he’s a valuable trade piece you can swap for more assets.
Envisioning a scenario in which he is drafted and kept isn’t difficult either. The goal of the Expansion Draft isn’t necessarily to get all impact players, but to bolster your entire roster. Stephens is the type of pick that no many would rave about but would be very effective for the depth of the squad. An above-average technical player with decent distribution, he wouldn’t look out of place in any midfield in the league.
Round 4, Pick 2: Minnesota United selects Damion Lowe from Seattle Sounders
Round 5, Pick 1: Atlanta United selects London Woodberry from New England Revolution
With the fifth and final pick we addressed position of need. Defenders were extremely thin in this draft and most included out of contract players that will be easily attainable through various methods after the draft. London Woodberry stuck out to us because of his age and potential. At only 25, Woodberry has enjoyed several periods of exceptional form for the Revolution in his right back role. Consistency has been an issue, but the same can be said for the entire New England side.
He has the potential to be on of the top full backs in MLS if he can find that consistency in form. Signing a veteran or two will come after the draft. With the final pick it’s worth taking a bit of a chance and getting a player who could develop into something special. We feel that Woodberry is this type of player. Out of all the available full backs, he seemed the best bet to take that risk on.
Round 5, Pick 2: Minnesota United selects Baggio Husidic from LA Galaxy
Atlanta United adds: Gonzalo Veron, Harry Shipp, Jack McInerney, Michael Stephens, London Woodberry
Minnesota United adds: Graham Zusi, Steven Beitashour, Zac MacMath, Damion Lowe, Baggio Husidic