The MLS expansion draft never goes how anyone expects, nor does any one team do exactly what any other team would do.
With the fluidity and communication between teams in MLS greater than in any other American sports league, the Expansion Draft is often a mechanism for teams to complete trades, send players out on loan, send them away in exchange for allocation money or international slots, and maybe, just maybe, grab a starter or two.
It raises this question – should there be an expansion draft at all? With new MLS teams more capable than ever to fill out their rosters with players of their choosing from around the soccer landscape without the enforced charity from their competitors.
Others have suggested enforcing a rule that would mandate players taken in the expansion draft stay with their new team for at least one year, but there seems to be little traction for that idea.
So, for now, we have the expansion draft, and it was Orlando City and New York City FC that participated on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a wrap-up of their days.
Orlando City SC
The Lions surprised almost everyone outside of MLS circles with their selection of Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts at first overall in the expansion draft.
There’s plenty of reasons that pick doesn’t make sense – Ricketts is 37, well-paid for an MLS goalkeeper, and Houston have already traded for their presumed starter in Tally Hall.
But there are plenty of reasons this pick does make sense – despite his age, Ricketts has had a knockout two and a half years in Portland and, on form, is easily a better goalkeeper than Hall. Add in that the former Houston #1 is coming off of an ACL injury and will be out for the first two months of the year, I think Orlando is headed for a full-blown goalkeeping controversy at the start of the summer.
I’m not sure that’s where Orlando wants to be, but they needed a goalkeeper to fill in for Hall for a while, and Ricketts was easily the best man for the job.
Orlando’s second pick, Colorado’s Tony Casio, is a gamble. Casio has talent, but hasn’t been on the field consistently since 2012 with injuries.
Third pick Jalil Anibaba will be sent to Sporting Kansas City to complete the Aurelian Collin deal that was a major coup for Orlando on Monday. Later picks Mark Sherrod and Eric Gehrig will also be shipped out of Florida – to San Jose and Chicago respectively.
Orlando also landed a couple of wily veterans – Heath Pearce, who looks likely to start next to Collin in central defense, and Lewis Neal of DC United, who is a Florida native and locker-room glue.
The Lions took flyers on two center forwards at the back end of the draft. Former number one pick Danny Mwanga, who was out of contract with Colorado and looked to be headed for USL, and a clearly slowing down #9 Jairo Arrieta from Columbus. It’s hard to see either player – especially Mwanga – playing a role in 2015.
The story may be different for Orlando’s fourth round pick, Pedro Ribero from Philadelphia, but overall, the team’s draft ranged from underwhelming to confusing.
Orlando resisted against the urge to take a bigger name and a bigger contract – another Florida native, Eddie Johnson was unprotected and might have looked mighty fine as the #9 in a formation playing ahead of Kaka.
Clearly, manager Adrian Heath and the Orlando front office want to build their team through trades and international acquisitions that have put them ahead of their expansion counterpart, NYCFC.
New York City FC
With Jason Kreis manning the ship at NYCFC and the old guard of his team Real Salt Lake breaking up, it was always a lock that Kreis would come back for two of his former players in the expansion draft.
They ended up being the ever-dependable Ned Gravaboy to play on the left side of Kreis’ diamond, and later wing defender Chris Wingert, who may still have a year as a starter left in him.
In the second and third round, NYCFC went for young New England attacker Patrick Mullins – who raised his stock considerably in MLS Cup – and San Jose center-back Jason Hernandez, who might play, but will most definitely be another fantastic character.
Tony Taylor, another Revs attacker, was a pick out of left field. The pick before, Daniel Lovitz, was immediately shipped back to Toronto FC for allocation money. Ninth round pick Sal Zizzo was traded to the New York Red Bulls for one year of Ryan Meara in goal.
Mehdi Ballouchy is an interesting pickup, and he looks like a prototypical Kreis diamond player, though he has never started consistently throughout his career.
Tommy McNamera comes in from DC, while George John from FC Dallas has a huge upside. John has struggled with injuries for years, but, at his best, he’s a top-quality starting center-back in MLS who generated European interest around 2010.
All in all, NYCFC’s draft looks better on paper than Orlando’s, but Orlando appears far ahead of the Manchester City supported club in all. NYCFC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna is in Manchester this week to hammer out Frank Lampard’s future, and a third DP from Columbia might be on the way as well.
But NYCFC’s activity in MLS market has been understated thus far – though it will be interesting to see how many Manchester City loanees are able to come in and make an impact.
The MLS offseason – and you think the transfer window is crazy, MLS had two drafts in one day on Wednesday – continues with the release of next year’s schedule next week, and the opening of the January window after the holidays.
The race towards MLS Cup 2015 has begun.
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