MLS recently announced FC Cincinnati’s expansion draft will be Dec. 11 at MLS headquarters in New York. The club will select five current MLS players for its 2019 inaugural roster. FC Cincinnati’s expansion draft selections will be announced live at 2 p.m. during a special expansion draft selection show on mlssoccer.com.
Somewhat unexpected was the announcement that MLS is considering FC Cincinnati’s expansion spot to be in the same round as 2018 expansion club Los Angeles FC. MLS expansion draft rules cap player selections to one per MLS club, so FC Cincinnati cannot pick players from Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City and Toronto FC because they lost players to LAFC in the 2017 expansion draft. LAFC will not be exempt from the 2018 draft.
The complete list of players eligible for selection by FC Cincinnati in the 2018 MLS Expansion Draft will be released on Dec. 10.
With the 2018 MLS expansion draft nearly a month away, we wanted to examine the three most recent drafts to see what kind of talent FC Cincinnati can expect to see.
2017- Los Angeles FC
After one season, LAFC’s recent expansion draft could be ruled as the most successful. Unlike the two previous drafts where two teams were coming into the league, LAFC came in as the only franchise. Without competition, Bob Bradley and his club were able to parlay their five picks into four highly effective players for the 2018 season. LAFC was able to claim their starting goalkeeper Tyler Miller (33 MLS starts/appearances), and two spot starters in Latif Blessing (30 appearances/ 18 starts) and Marco Ureña (18 appearances/ 11 starts). Their best piece of business was flipping their fourth & fifth picks of Jukka Raitala and Raheem Edwards for eventual 2018 MLS All-Star centerback Laurent Ciman (22 starts/appearances). Ciman was later sold to Dijon DCO for $500,000.
While not taken, there was still a lot of talent to be found in the draft. U.S. men’s national team midfielder/winger Miguel Ibarra; goalkeepers Matt Lampson and Clint Irwin; and Chris Tierney with over 240 appearances were eligible to be claimed.
2016- Minnesota United & Atlanta United
The 2016 MLS Expansion Draft was filled with wheeling and dealing, as six of the eventual 10 players drafted were dealt by the selecting club. Unlike LAFC’s strategy to select players for its senior roster, both Minnesota and Atlanta used their picks to acquire Allocation Money or other rights to other players to build their squad. Minnesota traded the eventual 2018 starting Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella to get the MLS rights to their former NASL star Miguel Ibarra, who was playing for Club Leon in Liga MX.
Atlanta had the best trade, swapping Donny Toia for Orlando’s eighth pick in the MLS SuperDraft. That pick turned out to be the 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel, who has 65 appearances in two seasons. They also landed back up goalkeeper Alec Kann and fullback Mikey Ambrose.
While Minnesota may not have had the splash Atlanta did in its first season, it put together quite an expansion draft. In addition to the rights of Ibarra (62 appearances), they eventually ended up with goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth (58 appearances) after a trade with the New England Revolution, Collen Warner (42 appearances), Sam Cronin (18 appearances) and Marc Burch (21 appearances) via trade with Colorado and Johan Venegas (22 appearances) via trade with New York Red Bulls. Altogether players acquired by Minnesota have made 226 appearances for the club in two seasons.
Maybe the biggest miss of the 2016 draft was that both teams passed on 2018 MLS Defender of the Year, Aaron Long. The New York Red Bulls left him unprotected for the draft.
2014- New York City FC & Orlando City SC
In 2014, New York City FC and Orlando City SC came into the league with 10 draft picks each. Even though both of these teams netted double what FC Cincinnati will select, there are some important conclusions to draw from the draft. While NYCFC has been to the MLS Cup Playoffs in the last three season, Orlando has yet to make the playoffs and their Expansion Draft has a lot to do with it. Out of their 10 picks, Orlando had three players make more than 10 appearances in their time with the club — Aurelien Collen (30) via trade, Pedro Ribeiro (21), and Lewis Neal (21) — while NYCFC had seven, led by current midfielder Tommy McNamara (92). While Orlando has struggled to find roster depth and has failed to gain much traction under multiple coaches, NYCFC was able to use the Expansion Draft to create a base of talent on which to build a roster. If you add up the combined amount of appearances, New York leads Orlando 277-86.
What Can FC Cincinnati Learn?
First of all, not one of the above draft’s was perfect and FC Cincinnati’s won’t be either. This draft is all about collecting assets that in the end will go towards improving the product on the field. Whether directly through the selected player or a trade of that player’s rights, it is critical that FC Cincinnati gains value. Flipping players for SuperDraft picks has proven risky in the past but if the club can net a top 10 pick as Atlanta did, and put that player on the Supplemental or Reserve roster, that free’s up space in the salary budget to sign other players. The club could also send a player out and get general allocation money or targeted allocation money in return. If that money is used to sign a difference maker, then it’s a pick well used. There are a lot of talented players on the fringe of MLS rosters that could use a change of scenery or a new coach to unlock their potential. A player like Aaron Long in this draft would be a steal and somewhat of a long shot but FC Cincinnati would do well to land serviceable MLS players that build the foundation for the club’s future.