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A look back at the last MLS Expansion Draft

Here’s how it went down last year for Atlanta and Minnesota.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Atlanta United FC
Donny Toia indirectly helped Atlanta snag a key player.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Major League Soccer announced that there will be an MLS Expansion Draft held for Los Angeles Football Club, which will occur on December 12 at 11 am PT.

LAFC will have five picks in the draft, and can pick any player that is not on a team’s submitted list of 11 protected players. Generation adidas players and Homegrown players can also not be picked. These lists will be submitted by December 10, and LAFC can pick no more than one eligible player from each team.

The rules this year are the same as last year’s Expansion Draft, with Atlanta United and Minnesota United FC taking five players each. So what went down last year? For lack of a better term, did the expansion draft make a difference? Did it matter?

2016 MLS Expansion Draft

Pick # MLS Team Player Position Picked From Current Team
Pick # MLS Team Player Position Picked From Current Team
1 Atlanta Donny Toia LB Montreal Impact Orlando City
2 Minnesota Chris Duvall RB New York Red Bulls Montreal Impact
3 Atlanta Zach Loyd CB FC Dallas Atlanta
4 Minnesota Collen Warner MF Houston Dynamo Minnesota
5 Atlanta Clint Irwin GK Toronto FC Toronto FC
6 Minnesota Mohammed Saeid MF Columbus Crew Colorado Rapids
7 Atlanta Mikey Ambrose LB Orlando City Atlanta
8 Minnesota Jeff Attinella GK Real Salt Lake Portland Timbers
9 Atlanta Alec Kann GK Sporting KC Atlanta
10 Minnesota Femi Hollinger-Janzen FW New England New England

Let’s break this down. On first glance, you’ll notice that only four of the ten selected players still play for the team that drafted them. What is key is to know what happened to the others, because the draft goes beyond what players come directly out of it.

Atlanta drafted Donny Toia first from the Montreal Impact, where he was starting left back. After drafting him, Atlanta traded him to Orlando City, who then started him for 29 games this past season, for the eighth pick in the 2017 MLS Superdraft, who turned out to be 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel. Not bad for Atlanta.

Minnesota took Chris Duvall from the New York Red Bulls with their first pick, and was flipped for midfielder Johan Venegas from the Montreal Impact. Venegas then scored twice in 10 MLS appearances for the Loons, and fell out of favor with Adrian Heath. Duvall, meanwhile, made 27 appearances for the Impact.

Next up, Atlanta took Zach Loyd, out of FC Dallas. He started one match for Atlanta, and that was in the U.S. Open Cup against Charleston, but was basically out injured for the season. This pick was a bust, and given Loyd had been injured the year before, was a pretty big risk.

Collen Warner was Minnesota’s second pick, out of the Houston Dynamo. He went on to make 26 appearances for the Loons, starting 13 of those matches.

Atlanta continued their wheeling and dealing ways in the draft by taking Clint Irwin out of Toronto, and them promptly trading him back to Toronto for some allocation money and defender Mark Bloom. Bloom made four starts for the Five Stripes, two each in MLS and the U.S. Open Cup.

Minnesota used their next pick to take Mohammed Saeid from the Columbus Crew (#SaveTheCrew, by the way), and this is where the deals get a bit complicated. Minnesota traded him and Joshua Gatt in March, along with an international roster spot, to the Colorado Rapids, in exchange for Marc Burch and Sam Cronin. Cronin, a defensive midfielder, made 18 appearances for Minnesota, and notched an assist. Burch made 16 appearances, also as a defender.

Atlanta picked Mikey Ambrose from Orlando City next, and after starting his season with three starts at Charleston, made 10 appearances, mostly as a substitute, for Atlanta in the defense, including in Atlanta’s penalty shootout loss to Columbus in the playoffs.

Minnesota then took Jeff Attinella out of Real Salt Lake, and then traded him to the Portland Timbers for a second-round pick in the 2018 Superdraft. He had 18 appearances, mostly in the latter half of the season, for the Timbers in goal.

Atlanta’s last pick of the Draft was Alec Kann from Sporting Kansas City. He started 20 matches for Atlanta in goal before he got hurt and then Brad Guzan came from Middlesbrough to take the starting job as planned. All things considered, Kann did a good job in his half-season holding the fort down.

The final pick of the Expansion Draft was Femi Hollinger-Janzen for Minnesota from the New England Revolution. Minnesota eventually traded him back to the Revs for goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, who then became their starting ‘keeper in MLS Competition, starting 32 matches after John Alvbage flamed out in record time.

So the breakdown is that overall, the Expansion Draft is less about building your roster, and more about getting some assets for your new team. Most of these players were flipped right from the draft, or traded a bit later, for another player or a pick in the Superdraft. None of these players that were picked became superstars for the team that drafted them, although a few did make regular contributions. But several of the players flipped did help bring in other contributors, sometimes a couple players or a player and additional assets at once.

The best deals were probably pulled off, in terms of players, by Minnesota. Getting two players in defense for Saeid, and getting Shuttleworth for Hollinger-Janzen to be their starting GK, were pretty solid moves. Atlanta may have gotten the best deal in itself, however, by flipping Toia for the eighth overall pick in the draft, which turned into Gressel, who became a surprise and versatile player in his first pro season.

LAFC will have five picks, and based on history of last year’s Expansion Draft, maybe one or two will stay in LA. The others will probably be shifted around or traded for picks or some cash, or a roster spot, or another player or two. But based on what came of last year’s draft, there is no reason to discount what the Expansion Draft can do in terms of building a team, if you look at the whole picture.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!