Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Masters of the Freebie

If you're a fan of incoming MLS clubs Inter Miami and Nashville SC, you surely know that today brings the Expansion Draft (which you can actually watch unfold LIVE... ahh, the wonders of technology).

This year's pool of available players probably isn't quite as bountiful as those two clubs might have hoped, but I say there is still some decent value to be snagged. I took a shot at drawing up a mock draft for both teams the other day. 

Frankly, most MLS expansion sides have done a terrible job of utilizing this unique roster-stocking mechanism. Like, seriously awful. But amidst all the "Huh?!?" picks, there have been some clubs that managed to make outstanding selections. Naturally, I'm here to give shout outs to the best in league history.

Before we dive into the top five, let's salute some honorable mention picks: Brad Evans (SEA), Diego Gutierrez (CHI), Tyler Miller (LAFC), Jeff Parke (SEA), James Riley (SEA), Andy Williams (RSL).

#5 - Donny Toia (Atlanta)

It says here that too many expansion sides go the "pick a bunch of trade chips" route, and then most do it badly. Precious few have actually made that strategy work for them in any meaningful way, and many of those that did needed multiple picks and/or additional pieces to make it work. Not so for the Five Stripes, who grabbed Toia with the first pick in 2017 and then promptly dealt him to Orlando City for the eighth overall pick in the deepest MLS 3.0 SuperDraft we've seen so far, which they used to grab Julian Gressel. Hella-good business, Charlie Blackmouth.

#4 - Latif Blessing (LAFC)

Like the one above it, this is one of those picks that could rise up the chart in the coming years. Honestly, it was shrewd enough to celebrate for John Thorrington to snag a cheap 20-year-old supplemental scoring threat for the flank in the 2017 edition of the draft. But the selection reached a whole new level this past season, as Bob Bradley moved Blessing to central midfield in a stroke of genius. The diminutive speedster was amazing in his new role, and could now be money at the Banc for years before eventually heading off to a European transfer (dollar dollar bills, yo) and a USMNT call-up.

#3 - Sébastien Le Toux (Philadelphia)

The Frenchmen really didn't do anything in his debut MLS campaign with Seattle to let on that he'd turn out to be easily the best pick for Philly in 2010. Hell, they only took him fourth out of 10 selections. Never mind that, as Le Toux was the Union's first true ace. He notched 25 goals and 20 assists in his first two seasons with the club, and scored their first ever playoff goal. After a largely lost 2014 season with the Red Bulls and Vancouver, he returned to Philadelphia for three more productive seasons.

#2 - Zach Thornton (Chicago)

As evidenced by their early trophy haul, the Fire weren't messing around in 1997. They made some clever picks in their expansion draft, with one of the very best used to snare the big, burly netminder away from the rival MetroStars. Thornton went on to play eight seasons in the Windy City, and helped the club get its hands on an MLS Cup, three US Open Cups and a Supporters Shield. In their debut double season, he scored a Bext XI/Goalkeeper of the Year brace for himself. 

#1 - Kevin Hartman (Chicago)

As I said earlier, the pick-and-trade gambit is so rarely pulled off in a decent manner, let alone to stunning effect. Of course, there's always an exception to rules, and the Fire set the standard in that department. It would have been impressive enough had they simply picked and kept one of the best keepers in league history. They did not, though, sending him straight back to the Galaxy along with Danny Pena in exchange for legendary El Tri goalie Jorge Campos (who would only play 10 games in Chicago) and an unheralded young midfielder named... let me check my notes here... Chris Armas. Now that is how you flip a trade chip.

- Greg Seltzer


DaMa said...

Is there any indication out there as to when Latif becomes eligible? If he makes a continued career progression, it seems like he would be a really meaningful piece for the USMNT to have (either as Wes backup or to make a midfield trio of Latif, Wes and Tyler be the least fun midfield to play against in the known galaxy).

Greg Seltzer said...

Early in 2022, I believe.

Greg Seltzer said...

Btw, just imagine these sort of USMNT XI choices come 2022...