Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Expanding little

It seems like it's an annual thing now, this MLS Expansion Draft. Every year, right after MLS Cup, a team gets to choose from marginal players, young guys, out-of-contract players, basically the scrap heap. There are inevitably some good players on the list, some talent, but ultimately this draft is a process of getting the new team from nothing to something. This isn't about team building, it's about getting some guys in only to get rid of them later.

I've followed expansion drafts closely since 2004, when I was at the Chivas USA expansion draft get-together they had at the ESPN Zone in Anaheim. And I've followed their progress and Real Salt Lake's and kept a close eye on Toronto and San Jose in their expansion seasons. I've really come up with one conclusion: the expansion draft is not how incoming teams build up their rosters.

Back in '04 both Chivas and RSL tried to build their rosters somewhat with the expansion draft. And I think that's where things backfired on them. Chivas and RSL initially had different ideas of how to build a team - Chivas wanted a Mexican presence and took guys like Arturo Torres, Francisco Gomez and Antonio de la Torre and all were gone by season two (the latter was gone before preseason). Orlando Perez was a good catch for them but he wasn't the backbone of the team or anything. RSL's last remaining player from the expansion draft is Andy Williams, who was a good catch for them as well but they too had trouble even getting those guys in and keeping them around.

They had terrible seasons, so in turn that forced Toronto to take a hard look at how they wanted to approach the draft. They dealt players away, most of them actually. They traded away nine players after the draft, including Danny O'Rourke and William Hesmer to Columbus, as the only player to actually make the season was Paulo Nagamura, who was then dealt away four games into the 2007 season.

San Jose last season did the best job of actually building its team from the expansion list as five players are still on the roster from last season's draft. But three have not been protected so it gives you an idea of how much value those remaining players have.

Seattle will have their first-ever team assembled on Wednesday, but if you are going to scour the expansion draft list and try to guess their opening day lineup based on that and the players they have already, forget it. Now, that doesn't mean they won't go after guys to fill specific roles - Lawson Vaughn of Chivas USA would be a great pickup for Seattle, for instance. So too would would Corey Ashe of Houston. But mostly, this draft will come and go and little impact will remain.

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