Major League Soccer veterans Donovan Ricketts, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Heath Pearce and Mehdi Ballouchy were all selected in the MLS expansion draft on Wednesday. With their picks, Orlando City and New York City are both closer to a polished product in terms of filling their squads and establishing their franchises’ identities.
However, the college draft isn’t for another month, and preseason starts shortly after. Even players who think they know their new home could be traded as the MLS transfer window opens again for a brief period on Wednesday.
And this is all before knowing the details of the forthcoming collective bargaining agreement, which could shape the way rosters are completed before next season.
“There’s no way to say that we’re not going to be active in trade windows,” NYCFC manager Jason Kreis said on a media conference call following the draft. “We’re a brand new team. We need players, so we’re looking and shopping and trying to do everything we can to create the absolute best team we can.”
For now, here are some snap judgments to the expansion draft selections, as well as input from each franchise on its thought process:
• It’s hard to tell who won without knowing each team’s plan for additional acquisitions, but Orlando made some solid pick-ups
In Pedro Ribeiro, the Lions received a possible midfield partner for Kaká and a fellow Brazilian with whom the Designated Player could have good chemistry. Jairo Arrieta, a Costa Rica international, scored some crucial goals for the Columbus Crew in 2014.
“The way we play, we feel that Pedro can play three or four positions for us. Going back to the USL, he played against us this year (with the Harrisburg City Islanders),” Orlando coach Adrian Heath said. “He’s 6-foot-4, got great technical ability, and we think we got a really good player in Pedro.”
Jason Kreis picked up two of his former Real Salt Lake players in Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert, who have been serviceable MLS players for a decade each. They will know Kreis’ system and likely how they will fit into it, should they be able to crack what could be a lineup heavy on foreign imports.
“Both Chris and Ned were important pieces for us,” Kreis said. “In particular, I consider both those guys to be real leadership and have a firm understanding of how we like to build our team and how we like to play.”
Orlando City SC
New York City FC
• The best individual picks could end up being Patrick Mullins and Tommy McNamara, both of whom went to New York
Mullins played an important role in the New England Revolution’s near-comeback in the 2014 MLS Cup final, and McNamara looked like a very early Rookie of the Year candidate with Chivas USA before tearing his ACL in April. Kreis has been good at molding less experienced players, and he’ll get the chance to do that again in a different context at City.
“It’s my strong belief that every team in MLS needs to be focused on doing several jobs at once: winning with the veteran players, establishing an identity with those players and then also developing young players,” Kreis said. “We’re operating under a salary-cap structure that demands that.”
Both teams also picked up players who could once be called promising prospects, but who haven’t panned out yet. Former West Ham trialist George John (who was on Jurgen Klinsmann's 2012 January camp roster before being forced to withdraw) has battled through injuries at FC Dallas, and Danny Mwanga, a former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick, never could crack the starting XI consistently for the Portland Timbers and Colorado Rapids after a good start with the Philadelphia Union.
• On the other side of the spectrum, Orlando kicked off by selecting Donovan Ricketts, whose best years are clearly behind him
The two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year struggled through an inconsistent 2014 season in Portland, leading the Timbers to sign Ghanaian Adam Larsen Kwarasey this week. He’ll be in line to start while Tally Hall, acquired from Houston, recovers from an ACL tear, assuming Orlando doesn’t pick anybody else up before the season starts.
City selected Toronto FC winger Daniel Lovitz in the fourth round, which was another surprising pick. The 23-year-old spent 2014 on loan with the Wilmington Hammerheads in USL Pro, so perhaps Kreis’ team has seen something the rest of the league’s observers have not.
“He’s an interesting one for me in the fact that I’d never heard of the player before I sat down late this summer to watch a Toronto FC game,” Kreis said. “Reviewing the video the last several days, I think he’s a guy that might be an interesting fit for us.”
(NOTE: Within hours of the expansion draft's completion, NYCFC traded Lovitz back to Toronto in exchange for allocation money)
• In their own ways, Columbus came out on top, while RSL suffered the heaviest losses
It’s no surprise that Kreis would cherry-pick his way through the Real Salt Lake roster, and he selected probably his former team’s biggest contributors. At least Carlos Salcedo and Sebastián Velázquez, who have been perhaps the team’s best prospects, are still under the claret and cobalt banner.
After Orlando took Arrieta, the Crew wasted no time in protecting Ben Speas, a talented 23-year-old midfielder with plenty of potential. Losing Arrieta and Eric Gehrig, also to Orlando, is far from the worst outcome Columbus could have foreseen. It led owner Anthony Precourt to quickly tweet: "We are happy with how that went. Very happy. #CrewSC"
• Zac MacMath went unselected despite NYCFC only having one goalkeeper, leaving the team still without an undisputed No. 1
That’s City’s biggest area of need for now, and rumors have circulated that former Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning could be one of Kreis’ targets. However, Seattle still owns his MLS rights, so the Austrian would come at a price.
For now, Orlando looks like a more complete team and — through its shrewd business so far, mainly via MLS acquisition mechanisms — looks like it will be competitive in 2015. However, the Lions don’t have the foreign clout that City (both New York and Manchester) has, so NYCFC’s roster might not be filled for a while. It partly depends on how loans from the parent club shake out and when Frank Lampard actually arrives at Yankee Stadium.
“It was important for us to build our roster [through the draft],” New York director Claudio Reyna said. “After that, of course we’re going to continue to fill in some spots, really in all parts of the field. We’re happy about today, and we’re going to continue adding players in the next weeks and months.”