Every MLS offseason roils up its own level of turbulence, but this year is perhaps the busiest in league history.
A Dispersal Draft during which seven former Chivas USA players were claimed has already been conducted, and numerous deals were announced Monday in a half-day period during which teams could conduct trades. Teams have released their decisions regarding the renewal or refusal of options, players who have been extended bonafide offers and those who have not, and most relevantly, the players protected and left exposed for the Expansion Draft to be held Wednesday, starting at 2 p.m. ET.
Expansion teams New York City FC and Orlando City can each select up to 10 players from those made available. Teams can protect up to 11 players who were on their rosters at the end of the 2014 regular season; players signed to Homegrown contracts or Generation Adidas deals are automatically protected if a team chooses to do so. Each team can lose no more than two players and once a player has been selected a team can add one player to its protected list.
The league’s rapid pace of expansion since 2007 has required it to stage Expansion Drafts for every season every year except the two last years. This year’s draft will be the third in which two teams will make selections; Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA came into the league for the 2005 season, and Vancouver and Portland were dual entrants for 2011.
Orlando City, which through trades and upgrading of retained players to MLS contracts has produced a roster of 12 players, will make the first pick. NYCFC has eight players under contract.
Orlando City Roster:
Goalkeepers: Tally Hall.
Defenders: Luke Boden, Aurelien Collin, Rafael Ramos, Tommy Redding, Tyler Turner.
Midfielders: Darwin Ceren, Estrela, Harrison Heath, Kaka, Kevin Molino, Amobi Okugo.
New York City FC Roster:
Goalkeepers: Josh Saunders.
Defenders: Jeb Brovsky, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Josh Williams.
Midfielders: Matt Dunn, Andrew Jacobson, Frank Lampard.
Forwards: David Villa.
The expansion teams will have to decide if a player available in the Expansion Draft might be also be available Friday in the Waiver Draft and thus not use a pick on him. A player whose option is not picked up could be waived Friday. Upon conclusion of the Expansion Draft, a brief trade window opens up. It closes at 5 p.m. ET Saturday. Another wrinkle to keep in mind is that NYCFC and OCSC can re-negotiate the contracts of any players they select.
Watch Expansion Draft live:
Here’s a rundown, by position, of the more prominent names available:
Philadelphia’s ongoing goalie saga has landed both Algerian international Rais M’Bolhi and starter Zac MacMath on the available list. Andre Blake, taken last January with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 SuperDraft, is exempt as a Generation adidas player with all of one game on his MLS resume.
By far the most experienced keeper available is the Quakes’ Jon Busch, who at 38 has played more than 300 league and playoff games and is out of contract. San Jose elected to protect former Cal goalie David Bingham, who played on loan with San Antonio and Norwegian club Strommen IF. The Timbers have exposed former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Donovan Ricketts, who is under contract for 2015.
Sporting Kansas City has exposed both of its main goalkeepers from last year, Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum. Neither could establish himself in 2014 as the reliable choice to replace Jimmy Nielsen, who retired last year after helping SKC win its second MLS Cup title. After claiming Dan Kennedy in the Dispersal Draft, Dallas has three keepers on its roster; left exposed was Peruvian international Raul Fernandez.
Jeff Attinella has played impressively for Real Salt Lake in relief of longtime stalwart Nick Rimando, and at 26 needs a run as a starter to determine whether his potential can be honed into consistent first-team performance.
There’s a lot of experience available should the expansion teams need a building block or two to buttress the backlines. Leading the list is RSL outside back Chris Wingert, who could be joining Nat Borchers -- traded to Portland for allocation money -- in a team makeover as it heads into a second season under head coach Jeff Cassar. But like many of the defensive players up for grabs, Wingert’s age (32) and salary ($170,590 in 2014) may not be attractive to the expansion entrants, which could instead opt for younger, less expensive defenders like D.C. United’s Chris Korb.
Among the centerbacks on the shelf are two players coming off season-ending injuries, Jeff Parke (D.C. United) and George John (FC Dallas). Seattle traded a first-round draft pick last year to get Jalil Anibaba, a former 2011 first-round pick of Chicago who played 16 games for the Sounders in 2014. One of the players involved in that trade, Patrick Ianni, has been left unprotected by the Fire, which has also exposed veterans Gonzalo Segares and Bakary Soumare in what could be a salary-dumping offseason implemented by head coach Frank Yallop. Seattle also exposed starting left back Leo Gonzalez.
Former U.S. international Marvell Wynne has been exposed by Colorado and so has been left back Marc Burch. Houston, which on Tuesday announced the hiring of Owen Coyle to replace Dominic Kinnear as head coach, has placed Corey Ashe and David Horst in the shop window. If he’s picked, Galaxy right back Dan Gargan could join the list of players taken by an expansion team just days after playing in the MLS Cup final. Also eligible to be claimed is left back Todd Dunivant, a starter on the 2011 and 2012 championship teams sidelined for most of 2014 because of abdominal and groin injuries. Speaking of MLS Cup finalists, among the players exposed by the Revs is starting centerback A.J. Soares, whose European aspirations are no secret.
Portland’s busy offseason has landed six new players; its available list includes former captain Jack Jewsbury and centerbacks Pa Modou Kah, Rauwshan McKenzie and Norberto Paparatto. Kinnear’s second stint in San Jose starts with a longtime veteran, centerback Jason Hernandez, among those dangled by the Quakes. Right back Mark Bloom gave Toronto FC decent service yet he’s among the available, as are Red Bull defenders Richard Eckersley and Ibrahim Sekagya.
Most of the players in this category are either journeyman veterans (Davy Arnaud/D.C. United) or younger players signed by various mechanisms who haven’t been able to establish themselves as reliable first-teamers.
Tim Cahill isn’t sure about his future; might he fancy a crosstown move to NYCFC? Could an expansion team find a spot for a veteran such as Brian Carroll (Philadelphia) or Adam Moffat (FC Dallas) or Shalrie Joseph (New England) or Ned Grabavoy, who gave NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis several good seasons at RSL? Is there a place for a rugged holding mid such as Hendry Thomas (FC Dallas)?
Has Kreis or OCSC head coach Adrian Heath seen something likable about Whitecaps Mehdi Ballouchy, Sebastian Fernandez, Gabriel Mezquida or Mauro Rosales? The ‘Caps picked up the option on Ballouchy and declined options on the other three, who could still return to Vancouver if not claimed in the Expansion Draft, assuming a new contract can be negotiated.
There’s some proven talent available up front, though the expansion teams are flush with allocation money as well as ambition and are likely to look for big names aboad. Still, the rigors of MLS play are such that players with proven ability to succeed in the domestic league are of value on any roster.
How much does Edson Buddle (Colorado) have left? Could there be a comeback in the works for Jairo Arrieta (Columbus), who managed just five goals in 2014? Is Eddie Johnson (D.C. United) destined to move yet again, perhaps closer to his Florida roots, and what about the well-traveled Dominic Oduro (Toronto FC)? A veteran target man such as Conor Casey (Philadelphia), Kenny Cooper (Seattle) or Bright Dike (Toronto FC) is a commodity most teams value highly.
The Revs have exposed two excellent young players. Diego Fagundez (New England), netted 13 goals last year but couldn’t keep a starting spot as the Revs went all the way to the 2014 MLS Cup final. He’s an exciting, flair player who’s been called up to Uruguay’s U-20 team. Rookie Patrick Mullins sparked the Revs off the bench in the final and seems to have a potent future.
Tony Cascio (Colorado) was taken No. 14 overall in the 2012 SuperDraft but has struggled to nail down a first-team spot and played on loan with Houston this past season. He could flourish in a new location, as might Devon Sandoval (RSL) and Kalif Alhassan (Portland).