Orlando City SC and New York City FC take big steps toward building their MLS rosters Wednesday with a 10-round expansion draft. The clubs will pool players from the other 18 MLS rosters, with teams submitting their lists of protected and unprotected players to the league on Monday.
Among the unprotected players is a wide range of players. Everyone from untested, low-paid role players to Designated Players like Tim Cahill and Eddie Johnson are up for grabs. When one club has a player selected, it may protect one more of its unprotected players, and if a club has two players selected the remainder of its unprotected players are off limits.
Orlando and NYCFC will act accordingly, looking to build their teams while also implementing strategy to prevent the other from potentially adding specific pieces.
It's an inexact science, but there's quality that can be garnered from such a process (Brad Evans to Seattle in 2008, Sebastien Le Toux to Philadelphia in 2009 are just two examples).
Now trying to complete an expansion mock draft comes with PLENTY of caveats. For starters, clubs that already have big DP plans (Orlando has signed Kaka to the richest deal in league history; NYCFC has two of its three spots filled with Frank Lampard and David Villa) might shy away from the DPs currently available for selection.
On top of that, we're not privy to all of the behind-the-scenes deals between certain clubs and players that may already exist (all hail the mighty single entity). Age, salary and international status (both due to roster restrictions and also the amount of time a player might miss for international duty) all come into play, and unfortunately we can't incept NYCFC manager Jason Kreis or Orlando City manager Adrian Heath to surmise their exact formulas.
Do teams go for best available? Do they fill needs? Do they go after assets they can spin off in other deals? Do they weigh costs more than talent with plans to spend big on the international market?
Even further, most players in expansion drafts don't stick with the teams that take them, and sometimes unprotected players will controversially (but completely fairly) be taken against their wishes only to act as trade bait. Kreis knows that more than anyone, when Toronto FC took him in 2006 and dealt him back to Real Salt Lake. Brian Ching threatened to retire if the Montreal Impact took him from the Houston Dynamo in 2011, and the Impact went ahead and used its first pick on him before ultimately trading him back.
All of that is not going to stop us from having a little fun, though. Taking team needs, costs and international statuses into account and obeying the expansion draft rules, Alexander Abnos acts as Orlando City (which won the right to pick first in Wednesday's actual expansion draft), and Avi Creditor is representing NYCFC.
Here's what unfolded:
OCSC: Eddie Johnson, F, D.C. United: With Brazilian playmaker Kaka on board, the Lions will be on the lookout for a striker to be on the end of those passes. Johnson, who was born about 80 miles from Orlando and grew up in Florida, brings years of experience and a knowledge of the league and its defenses to the table, and his experience with the U.S. national team gives the team a marketable star. When he's motivated, Johnson can be a handful, and what could be a better motivator than having a former FIFA World Player of the Year delivering you the ball while playing near home?
Of course, there are downsides. Johnson's seven-goal performance with D.C. United last season could be the start of a regression, and he's a risk because he's on a DP contract. But the contract isn't an outrageous one ($613,333.33 in 2014 guaranteed compensation according to MLS Players' Union), so the potential benefits could far outweigh the negatives in this case.
D.C. pulls back Chris Korb, a versatile full back who has offered plenty of value to United over the past few years.
NYCFC: Zac MacMath, GK, Philadelphia Union: If I'm Kreis, I'm immediately looking at Real Salt Lake players with whom I'm already familiar or young stars on the rise who come at a reasonable cost to balance out the older, higher-paid stars already signed. The 23-year-old MacMath, who has improved immensely after some early-career speed bumps, fits the bill, and he can step in to be the club's No. 1 goalkeeper, with 33-year-old veteran Josh Saunders serving as a capable backup.
As a result, Philly pulls back Algeria World Cup backstop Rais M'Bolhi, giving the once-goalkeeper-happy club a 1-2 of M'Bolhi and Andre Blake.
OCSC: Ned Grabavoy, M, Real Salt Lake: In a (unnecessary?) shrewd slight at Kreis, I'll take his RSL Swiss Army Knife. MLS teams, particularly expansion squads building from nearly scratch, always need at least one jack-of-all trades type buy that can plug holes wherever one pops up. Grabavoy is that guy, and his vast experience with one of the league's most professional outfits will help set the right tone for the squad's younger or less-experienced players.
RSL pulls back Chris Wingert, leaving Kreis without the chance to land two of his most useful players available from his days at Rio Tinto.
NYCFC: Patrick Mullins, F, New England Revolution: Why was he left unprotected again? The two-time Hermann Trophy winner was a difference maker off the bench in MLS Cup, showed glimpses of star quality in his rookie season (four goals in May) and has the confidence to succeed in New York. Provides a nice complement for David Villa in the attack.
The Revs pull back Steve Neumann, who was taken in the first round with Mullins in the 2014 SuperDraft, allaying some of Jay Heaps' roster congestion in the attack.
OCSC: Sal Zizzo, M, Sporting Kansas City: With Aurelien Collin in the backline, Amobi Okugo shielding him, Kaka pulling the strings, and Eddie Johnson up top (at least in this parallel universe), the entire spine of the Lions' team is ridiculously strong. Wing play, however, is a big need area. Zizzo has been tried out in various systems through his years in MLS but seems to function best as a pure wide midfielder -- just the role OCSC will require him to fill.
Sporting KC takes back Jorge Claros, a midseason pickup that struggled in his brief time at the club but deserves a full preseason and prep period before judgment.
NYCFC: Ben Speas, M, Columbus Crew: Who knows what Frank Lampard's deal with Manchester City ultimately will be? Regardless, NYCFC will need central midfield cover, both for now and the future, and Speas comes at the right price ($65,100) and with the technical skill and pedigree to succeed in Kreis' diamond.
Columbus pulls back forward lanky forward Aaron Schoenfeld.
OCSC: Samuel Inkoom, D, Houston Dynamo: The Ghanaian right back has played meaningful World Cup minutes with his national team at the last two World Cups, but couldn't crack the D.C. United first team after his arrival in mid-2014. I'm chalking that up to the vice grip Sean Franklin had on the position and D.C. United's good form. Inkoom was just traded to Houston, who clearly doesn't think much of him since they left him unprotected. Right back is a need for OCSC, and they could do a whole lot worse than Inkoom.
Houston pulls back defender Corey Ashe, who offers value to the club despite Brad Davis and DaMarcus Beasley occupying the places where he'd be at his best.
NYCFC: Sebastian Velasquez, M, Real Salt Lake: Kreis discovered Velasquez while at RSL, knows what he's capable of and knows exactly where to plug him in on the field. The diminutive attacker adds a lacking element of flair to the NYCFC midfield, and his hair becomes an instant hit at Yankee Stadium, where eccentric hair is typically a non-starter.
With two players taken, RSL now has all of its remaining players protected.
OCSC: Jalil Anibaba, D, Seattle Sounders: Remember what I said about versatility? Anibaba has that in spades, having filled in all across the back line for the Supporters' Shield-winning Sounders this season. Whether he partners with Collin or provides competition for Inkoom, his athleticism will also be a huge asset.
Seattle pulls back Micheal Azira, who filled in admirably for Osvaldo Alonso in the playoffs and provides ample depth for a team competing on multiple fronts.
NYCFC: Austin Berry, D, Philadelphia Union: Two years removed from winning MLS Rookie of the Year with the Chicago Fire, Berry became an afterthought in Philadelphia, making just six appearances in 2014. He provides ample threat on set pieces and beefs up NYCFC's thin defense. Don't underestimate the impact of former Fire center back stalwart and NYCFC assistant C.J. Brown on this squad.
With two players taken, Philadelphia now has all of its remaining players protected.
OCSC: Tony Taylor, F, New England: Taylor is no stranger to Florida having grown up in Jacksonville, played college ball at University of South Florida and the University of Jacksonville, and professionally for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. A former U.S. youth prospect, the 25-year-old was awarded to a Revolution team deep on attacking talent mid-season, and may embrace the opportunity to make an impact on a top-level team in a familiar place.
With two players taken, New England now has all of its remaining players protected.
NYCFC: Thomas McNamara, M, D.C. United: McNamara and Velasquez spark the Mullet Midfield craze heard 'round the world, and the former comes at a great price point ($60,000 guaranteed in 2014). One of Chivas USA's bright spots as a rookie, McNamara tore his ACL and won't be ready to go at full speed for some time. That said, he's a nice, young building block.
With two players taken, D.C. now has all of its remaining players protected.
OCSC: Michael Fucito, San Jose, F: He won't grab much if any headlines, but Fucito is a non-stop workhorse of a player that can provide depth on the wing and up top – which happen to be two of Orlando's biggest needs.
San Jose pulls back forward Adam Jahn.
NYCFC: Zach Scott, D, Seattle: Scott may be 34, but he's a bargain at just over $50,000, and was a vital piece of Seattle's defense. Can never have enough dependable, hard-nosed team players.
With two players taken, Seattle now has all of its remaining players protected.
OCSC: Brian Span, M, FC Dallas: Span has actually already played for Orlando City, joining the team this past season on loan from FC Dallas. The winger logged nearly 1,300 minutes, scoring three goals over the course of 19 appearances. Those are all very respectable numbers for a player on loan, so chances are Orlando would be interested in bringing him back.
FC Dallas pulls back Andres Escobar.
NYCFC: Hendry Thomas, M, FC Dallas: He's not cheap ($180,000 guaranteed in 2014), but the Honduran international can serve a purpose in the base of Kreis' diamond and is one of the more proven players available for selection.
Like ripping off a Band-Aid, FC Dallas is done in one fell swoop. No more players are able to be picked.
OCSC: Joe Willis, GK, Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall won't necessarily be ready for months as he recovers from a torn ACL, and Willis has starting experience and a cheap price tag at just under $50,000. Between 2011 and 2013, he started 22 games for D.C. United before being traded to Houston on Monday.
With two players taken, Houston now has all of its remaining players protected.
NYCFC: Gale Agbossoumonde, D, Colorado Rapids: It feels like Agbossoumonde has been around forever, but he's only 23, and he has a U.S. cap to his name. He has never come close to matching the wild expectations once bestowed upon him, but with Brown mentoring him from the coaching staff, perhaps he can reach new heights.
There's little risk here, with Agbossoumonde, who lived in Syracuse as a youngster, making just under $60,000 in 2014. Oh, and in 2011 he reportedly tweeted: "NYC is the only place that makes me want to go do something after I run fitness #canijustplayforNYRedBulls." NYCFC is close enough.
Colorado pulls back Tony Cascio.
OCSC: Jorge Villafana, D/M, Portland Timbers: The former U.S. youth international is left-sided, still relatively young (25), versatile (has experience at left midfield and left back), and is pretty cheap considering all of that (2014 guaranteed salary of $74,431 according to the MLS Players Union). What's not to love?
Portland pulls back Argentine playmaker Gaston Fernandez.
NYCFC: Tim Cahill, M/F New York Red Bulls. Just kidding. Kalif Alhassan, M, Portland Timbers: While it'd be fun to stick it to the Red Bulls, win Twitter and totally be worth the PR, financially it makes no sense, especially with two other DP slots already used. Alhassan, 24, offers pace and flair on the wing and can be a useful asset.
And thus ends, the 2014 MLS Expansion Mock Draft. Let the games begin.