With Atlanta United confirming to Dirty South Soccer that MLS will be holding an Expansion Draft at the end of this season, we think it’s time to take an expansive look at what could be in store for the club.
Introducing our “Expansion Draft Wish List” series, in which our goal is to go through each MLS roster and predict, within our best ability, which players could be available to both expansion clubs come December.
To kick it off, a little background on past expansion drafts and the rules:
In 2014, MLS teams submitted their protected lists for the Expansion Draft on the day after MLS Cup. They could submit a list of eleven players from their roster that could not be drafted. Important things to consider:
- Generation adidas players who did not graduate from the program at the end of the 2014 season, along with Homegrown players, were automatically protected.
- Designated Players were not exempt from the Expansion Draft. Clubs could leave Designated Players unprotected if they chose to do so. However, if a player had a no-trade clause in their contract, then their club had to include them in the protected list.
- One element of the protected lists that is often overlooked is the number of international players clubs could make available. Clubs had to protect a minimum of three international players, unless they only had three or less on their roster. If they had three international players, they were forced to protect two of them. If they had two international players, they had to protect one.
- Players whose contract was scheduled to conclude at the end of 2014 were still considered part of their team’s roster
- When a player was selected from a team, that team could add one more player to its protected list. A team could lose no more than two players.
- If an expansion team selected a Supplemental Roster player, they had to offer that player a Senior Roster spot and he had to remain on the Senior Roster as of the Roster Compliance date.
- The expansion teams also had the opportunity to renegotiate contacts with players they selected.
This process has been remarkably consistent since the 2006 MLS Expansion Draft that brought Toronto FC into the fold. San Jose, Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal, Orlando, and New York City FC have all taken part in a draft with this format.
Teams have used a variety of different strategies in the expansion draft, with varying levels of success. One has to remember that the expansion draft is just one part of the roster building process for expansion teams, and usually not the one that brings immediate major contributors.
New York City grabbed two of then manager Jason Kreis’ former players in Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert. They also picked up other experienced MLS players in Jason Hernandez and Mehdi Ballouchy. With that as a base, they were able to gamble a bit on promising young players Patrick Mullins and Tommy McNamara. They were even able to flip two picks for allocation and a one-year rental on a back-up goalkeeper. NYCFC had one of the better expansion drafts in MLS history and did it with a mixed strategy of experience and promise.
After adding an experienced goalkeeper in Donovan Ricketts with the first pick, Orlando took quite a few gambles in their draft. They traded four of the ten players they selected almost immediately. Only Lewis Neal, who had played for Orlando in their USL days, played more than 1000 minutes for the Lions.
With the exception of their first pick of Brian Ching (who was traded back to Houston for a SuperDraft pick that didn’t pan out), Montreal had an excellent expansion draft that helped the Impact to one of the better first seasons in recent years. They drafted four players that went on to play over 50 games for the club. Most of the trades that they pulled off using players picked worked out as well, with Davy Arnaud becoming a key figure at the club in their first few years in MLS.
Portland and Vancouver both struggled in their expansion draft in 2010. The Timbers flipped Dax McCarty to DC United for Rodney Wallace in their best move. Their strategy seemed to be drafting players who were leaving MLS in the hopes that they would come back someday. Robbie Findley and Jonathan Bornstein were selected in some head scratching moves that never really paid off. The Whitecaps only picked one player who played more than 40 games for the club, goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
In 2009, Philadelphia scored with their selection of Sebastian Le Toux. He went on to play 62 games for the Union, scoring 25 goals, in his first stint with the club. He came back after stays in Vancouver and New York to play another 113 games in Philadelphia. Outside of Le Toux, the Union picked up quite a few players who did feature for the club, but none for more than 50 games. They did not try to flip players that they drafted, with every player they drafted making at least one appearance in a Union jersey.
Seattle is the most successful expansion team of recent MLS history, and their expansion draft was a big part of that. Three players selected in the draft played more than 60 games for the Sounders. Brad Evans remains with the team today, he is the expansion draft pick that has played the longest with the club who selected him. Sigi Schmid leaned on players that he had worked with previously, selecting Evans from his time in Columbus and Peter Vagenas who had played with him in Los Angeles.
Going further back, expansion drafts that brought San Jose, Toronto, Salt Lake, and Chivas USA into the league followed a similar format. With the roster depth across the league not as strong in those years, the expansion draft brought few success stories. Salt Lake drafted Andy Williams, who went on to become a mainstay at the club. San Jose’s best pick was likely Jason Hernandez, who went on to be picked by New York City FC seven years later.
Some other interesting notes from past expansion drafts:
- Only four goalkeepers have been selected in expansion drafts. Joe Cannon in Vancouver played over 50 games for his new club, the most of the four. Most expansion teams have acquired their starting goalkeeper via other methods.
- Many drafts have been defense heavy. Seven of the eleven of the expansion teams since 2004 have drafted at least four defenders in their draft.
- Goalscorers have been at a premium in expansion drafts. Sebastian Le Toux in Philadelphia was the most successful, scoring 25 goals during his first stint with the Union. Nate Jaqua of the Sounders was the next most successful striker chosen with nine goals in 66 appearances.
- Brad Evans is the most successful expansion draft selection. He has played 187 games for the Sounders, by far the most appearances for an expansion club draft choice. No one else has reached 100 appearances after being selected. Evans had previously played for Seattle manager Sigi Schmid.
What does this mean for Atlanta United?
We are incredibly early in the process, so take that into consideration as we start this series looking at Atlanta United’s options in this year’s expansion draft. Team’s needs, roster decisions, and player availability is still up in the air at this point as the current MLS season enters the playoff push.
That said, let’s look at a few things Atlanta United will consider in December:
- The goalkeeper pool available to Atlanta and Minnesota is deeper than ever before. It would be a surprise to see teams protect more than one goalkeeper. Due to some recent signings, there are starting level goalkeepers who are sitting on the bench in MLS.
- More young talent will be available than ever before. As the league has started developing talent in greater numbers, promising players in need of playing time are on most every team in MLS. NYCFC scored with Patrick Mullins (even though they didn’t give him enough opportunities, they were able to trade him for substantial allocation money) and Tommy McNamara. There should be even more promising players available this time around.
- Depending on who the choice is at manager, look for connections to see who might be selected by Atlanta. This has been a consistent theme in past expansion drafts and makes sense to go forward.