Making sense of the MLS expansion draft
The expansion Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps bypassed the high price tags and big names in favor of bargains, long-shots and, in some cases, proven starters with reasonable sticker prices in Wednesday’s MLS Expansion Draft.
What we didn’t know was that the Timbers and Whitecaps were only just beginning to make moves. The Pacific Northwest rivals followed up the expansion draft with a half dozen trades that shook up the league and produced the busiest trade day in league history.
The expansion teams passed on the likes of Juan Pablo Angel, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Blaise Nkufo -- Designated Players with tempting resumes but scary salaries. They also passed on MLS veterans like Jimmy Conrad and Pat Onstad, choosing instead for younger and cheaper alternatives, as well as players they targeted for trades.
How good did the class of 2011 make out?
Here is a closer look at what Portland and Vancouver were able to do on MLS Expansion Draft Day, and which MLS teams had the best and worst days.
Best Pick - Dax McCarty: The Timbers took FC Dallas midfielder Dax McCarty, widely regarded as the best value in the draft, and traded him for D.C. United left back Rodney Wallace, a dynamic fullback who could partner with former college teammate Jeremy Hall on the left flank.
Worst Pick - Jordan Graye: He was the ninth pick for the Timbers, but Graye was a head-scratcher considering all the talent still available. Got loads of playing time on terrible D.C. United team and while he’s definitely a good athlete, he proved to still be unreliable to start for a good team. Jon Leathers would have been a better pick and went to Vancouver immediately after Graye was drafted.
Sleeper - Peter Lowry: A natural goal-scoring midfielder who has never quite gotten a real chance to shine in Chicago, Lowry has produced five goals in 20 starts over the past two years after leading the Fire reserve team in goals in 2008. Spencer was a prolific goal-scoring midfielder in his day so he’ll be happy to have added Lowry to a roster that also includes USSF D-2 Golden Boot winner Ryan Pore.
Biggest question mark: Were Robbie Findley and Jonathan Bornstein worth the gamble? We won’t know the answer to this until next summer, when we will know if Portland was able to lure either U.S. World Cup veteran back to MLS. Bornstein is set to join Mexican club Tigres in January while Findley has European aspirations. If neither returns, Portland could regret missing out on some useful talent. If one or both return and play for Portland, John Spencer will look like a genius.
Biggest remaining need: A veteran presence in central defense will be on Spencer’s off-season shopping list, as will a playmaking midfielder. Portland could go after one of the blue-chip goalkeepers in the draft to battle Steve Cronin, but going after a top right back will also be tempting. With only USSF Division 2 forwards on the roster, the Timbers could be tempted to bring in a big-ticket striker as a Designated Players.
Best Pick - Joe Cannon: There were several goalkeepers available, but Cannon is a proven veteran with something to prove after an injury-hit season in San Jose.
Worst Pick - Shea Salinas: Some Philadelphia fans will argue that Salinas as one of Vancouver’s best picks, but much like San Jose fans before them, Philly fans fell for Salinas’ flash and potential. Vancouver took the speedster ahead of a more promising prospect in Collen Warner, or a more proven veteran in Arturo Alvarez.
Sleeper - John Thorrington: Injuries sidelined Thorrington for most of 2010, but when healthy he can be one of the most underrated players in MLS.
Biggest question mark: Who will Vancouver sign to be the goal scorer? The Whitecaps drafted three strikers and promptly traded all three away the same day. Atiba Harris can play forward but is certainly not the target player/goal provider the team needs.
Biggest remaining need: Forward and centerback are clear needs for the Whitecaps, who happen to hold the top pick in the 2011 MLS Draft. Akron’s Darlington Nagbe and Indiana’s Will Bruin could give Vancouver a good young forward to build around.
MLS EXPANSION DRAFT WINNERS
Real Salt Lake: Not only did RSL not lose highly-regarded Collen Warner, or veteran midfielders like Andy Williams and Ned Grababoy, the club also landed veteran winger Arturo Alvarez.
Colorado Rapids: The Rapids not only get back Anthony Wallace after losing him in the expansion draft, but the newly-minted MLS Cup champions added a dangerous winger in Sanna Nyassi.
D.C. United: Yes, D.C. dealt away Rodney Wallace, and lost Jordan Graye, but the club was in desperate need of a difference-making central midfielder and landed on Dax McCarty.
MLS ESPANSION DRAFT LOSERS
FC Dallas: The MLS Cup finalists really made a disaster of expansion draft day. First, the club left McCarty unprotected rather than dealing him before the expansion draft. Then, when it had a chance to pull back a starter like Atiba Harris, Dallas pulled back Daniel Hernandez. The result? Vancouver pounced on Harris, leaving Dallas down two starters.
Columbus: The Crew head into this off-season in rebuilding mode and that project took a big hit after losing two players who figured to be building blocks in Eric Brunner and Adam Moffatt. Columbus may have also blundered by pulling back Kevin Burns instead of Moffatt.
Seattle: The Sounders figured to lose two starters in the expansion draft, but losing Nathan Sturgis and Sanna Nyassi still hurt. Sigi Schmid protected Michael Fucito over Nyassi so the Sounders can’t be too upset given their decision.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.