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A look back at the expansion mechanics for NYCFC and Orlando City

How similar will it be for Atlanta United?

MLS: SuperDraft Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With the Minnesota announcement coming up on Friday, we can expect to hear more about many of the questions fans have had about how expansion teams will stock their rosters for next season.

The situation is actually very similar to 2014, with a brand new team launching alongside a team moving up from a lower division. This time, that team is joining from the NASL instead of the USL.

Even though there has been a great deal of mystery around how this year’s process would go, the timeline followed in 2014 would still work.

On September 24, a blind draw decided which team picked first in the expansion draft and which team picked first in the SuperDraft. The winner of the draw was able to pick which draft they wanted to pick first in. Originally, it was going to be a coin toss. The event was streamed on the MLS website.

After the drafts were decided, the teams picked their slot in other player acquisition methods. Those options were:

  • USL/NASL Player Priority Ranking: first crack at lower division players, could have more value to Minnesota due to their familiarity with the NASL
  • Designated Player Ranking: probably not of much value as most DP signings do not go through this method
  • Allocation Ranking: can have high trade value (as seen in what Philadelphia had to give to Chicago to get Alejandro Bedoya, highest value outside of expansion or SuperDraft top spot
  • Discovery Ranking (20 or 21): not much value here, affects when multiple teams want to sign a player from outside the league
  • Waiver/Re-Entry Draft Ranking (20 or 21): DC remade their team via this method when they picked up Boswell and Espindola, have the flexibility to pick up a high priced veteran difference maker
  • Lottery Ranking (20 or 21): low value because of the odds, this method is usually used for younger players who didn’t go through the SuperDraft who sign with the league, Charles Boehm received confirmation that this is no longer used by the league

Outside of the drafts, the top allocation spot is a nice prize to get. Chicago racked up quite a few assets in their deal with Chicago a few weeks ago, and teams have also used it strategically in the past. NYCFC actually opted to take the top spot in the allocation order over the #1 pick in the SuperDraft. They used that to sign Mix Diskerud.

While the SuperDraft might not have the depth it had in the past due to the rise of MLS academies, there are still gems to be had. Orlando added Cyle Larin and his 30 goals through the SuperDraft. Jack Harrison was the top pick this year in the SuperDraft by Chicago, who received significant allocation money and the #4 pick from NYCFC for his rights. Keegan Rosenberry has been a star this season for Philadelphia and went third. Andre Blake and Steve Birnbaum went in the top two spots in 2014.

Star U.S. U20 striker Jeremy Ebobisse, recently signed to a Generation adidas contract, will be part of next year’s SuperDraft.

On December 8, 2014, MLS teams submitted their list of protected players. This was the day after MLS Cup. They could protect 11 players. Generation adidas players and Homegrown Players were exempt from being selected, so they did not have to be protected. Teams were forced to protect players, as part of their list of 11, who had no-trade clauses in their contract.

The expansion draft was held on December 10. Both teams were able to select ten players for their roster. Each existing MLS team could only lose a maximum of two players. The jewel of this draft was NYCFC picking up Tommy McNamara with the 16th pick.

Be careful not to overvalue the expansion draft. Only one of Orlando’s draft picks is still with the team, forward Pedro Ribeiro. New York City FC still has four players from the draft on their roster. NYCFC did get minutes out of quite a few players from the draft who are no longer with the team, like Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert, who were known quantities to then manager Jason Kreis. Patrick Mullins was just traded this summer to DC United and brought some significant allocation money back to the club.

The draft can have some value in flipping players to other teams, as Orlando did with Jalil Anibaba (now with Houston) when they traded him to Kansas City for Aurélien Collin (who they traded to the Red Bulls this year). NYCFC traded two players they picked up in the expansion draft.

NYCFC and Orlando probably did as expected in the expansion draft when compared to previous editions. Montreal had four players who notched over fifty games with the club come out of the 2010 expansion draft. Only one, Justin Mapp, was still with the team in their fourth season. Portland and Vancouver had even less success with their expansion draft.

Of course, there have been discussions about possibly getting rid of the expansion draft process entirely and providing expansion teams more allocation money and/or international roster slots. Atlanta United president Darren Eales told the Mouths of the South that he did not know what the league’s decision would be on the expansion draft in June.

After looking back at the last three expansion drafts, it is clear that they are not essential in constructing a team’s roster. More flexibility could be desired by the expansion teams.

Whatever the mechanics will be for Atlanta United, that journey should be much clearer after Minnesota’s announcement on Friday.