From the MLS to the national teams to Americans abroad
Zac Lee Rigg
FC Dallas didn't have enough time between the MLS Cup final and the flight back to Texas to tell Dax McCarty he was likely leaving the club before the MLS Expansion Draft unprotected lists became public.
A few minutes before the Expansion Draft took place, New England Revolution staff writer Jeff Lemieux tweeted, “Crazy to think how drastically 20 lives are about to change in the next couple hours.” And Garth Lagerway dubbed it “the craziest 48 hours” since he became Real Salt Lake's general manager. “Like nothing I've ever seen,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune.
The Expansion Draft is undiluted mayhem. It's crazy, it's chaotic, it's bizarre, it's bemusing, it's infuriating. It's also, in this humble scribe's opinion, the greatest day in the MLS season.
Forget all the games, all the benign press conferences, all the inner politicking. Nothing can match the Expansion Draft for condensed excitement.
It goes like this: On Sunday, two teams play out the MLS Cup final. On Monday the transfer window cracks open for a few hours for a flurry of trades, and then the protected lists come out. On Wednesday, new teams joining the league (called “expansion” sides) choose 10 of the players left available to scrape together the beginnings of a roster.
Two things to keep in mind here.
First, all players are owned by Major League Soccer, rather than by individual teams. So righteous indignation over rival teams stealing quality players can be (perhaps unconvincingly) tempered by the knowledge that the same entity still owns their rights.
Second, not too many quality players are left available. Squads essentially protect their best 11 guys (with age and salary factored in), and most MLS teams aren't deep enough to leave anyone exceptional sitting outside that umbrella.
This year, with both the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps joining, they alternated picks every three minutes in a conference call streamed on the league's official website, MLSsoccer.com, with running commentary from pundits between selections. At one point, Greg Lalas stood up for diving between spurts of ranting by Simon Borg. Mayhem.
Eventually, both teams picked 10 players to a series of knowing grunts, frustrated sighs, and bemused chuckles. The conference call went dead and an eerie stillness took hold.
That's when the trades started flying in.
The Colorado Rapids bought Anthony Wallace straight back. Dax McCarty was pawned on to DC United for a different leftback named Wallace, first name Rodney. Arturo Alvarez, Sanna Nyassi, Nathan Sturgis, O'Brian White, and Alejandro Moreno, like McCarty, had their rights transferred to a third team in 24 hours. Alan Gordon remained with Chivas USA in a double deal that also involved Moreno.
General managers across the league spilled well over their cell phone minutes for the month.
Portland and Vancouver entered the draft with similar outlooks. Last year, the Philadelphia plumed almost exclusively for youth and tiny contracts. This year's crop instead opted for a few key experienced options and used the rest of the picks for trading chips.
Only 10 of the 20 players selected are still with the expansion teams, even though the draft was only a handful of days ago. Vancouver bulked up on international spots, likely to pry open room on the roster for some higher profile signings from Europe (Robbie Keane was linked recently). Portland hoarded allocation money and draft picks.
The Timbers also opted for two U.S. internationals whose contracts had expired. Jonathan Bornstein has already headed south to hook up with Tigres in Mexico, and Robbie Findley is openly pursuing his options abroad. Crucially, however, Portland will retain their rights should either return to MLS, whether it be in a few months or in the twilights of their careers.
By Thursday, Thanksgiving turkey had made league officials sleepy and the trades petered off. Slowly, the fax machines in Portland and Vancouver chilled and earned a well-deserved few hours on 'standby'. Chicken-scratch notes of journalists were shoveled in desk drawers. Phones finally stopped vibrating.
Only one more season until we get to the next glorious Expansion Draft.
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