Call it hubris if you want. I don't care. We cleaned up. If that had been an actual expansion draft, the Vancouver Whitecaps would be most of the way to a playoff spot months before First Kick.
When I say "we" cleaned up, I of course mean "I", since this was only a mock expansion draft and therefore Tom Soehn may do something completely different. Probably will, actually, given that Soehn is a high-paid, immensely experienced North American soccer mind whereas I'm some fat guy in an inexplicably snow-bound apartment. Soehn travels the world scouting the best players from every nook and cranny of the soccer universe, while I see these guys on TV sometimes. There are, I admit, significant differences in our approaches.
But I don't mind telling you, the SB Nation Mock Expansion Draft was a triumph for the fictional Vancouver Whitecaps. Yes, I picked two players from Chivas USA. Yes, I picked one player old enough to be my dad. Yes, three quarters of my roster can't actually run. But it all makes sense. It all comes together. The fictional team could use a couple additions, like that long-fabled offensive designated player. But it comes out of this mock expansion draft a well-balanced unit, capable of playing multiple styles, with depth at key positions and a nice mixture of promising youth and veteran cunning.
My thanks to SBN Soccer portal guru and Sounder at Heart contributor Jeremiah Oshan for arranging this whole affair. Each of the SB Nation MLS blogs contributed their list of protected players in fine style, and I am also indebted to the non-SB Nation bloggers who provided their expert input: Massive Report's Patrick Guldan for the Columbus Crew, Center Line Soccer's Robert Jonas for the San Jose Earthquakes, and U-Sector patriarch Rudi Schuller for Toronto FC. Finally, my thanks to Chopping Timber's Geoff Gibson for picking on behalf of the Portland Timbers and only screwing me up once.
After the jump, the players I selected and the reason I selected them.
What follows is a list of players I selected in the mock expansion draft, sorted by position. The number in parentheses is the round, out of ten, in which the player was selected. In the case of players who play multiple positions, they're listed in the position they'll see most of their playing time at.
Goalkeeper: Pat Onstad, Houston Dynamo (5)
Defenders: Andrew Boyens, New York Red Bulls (3). Cristian Arrieta, Philadelphia Union (8). Jeremy Hall, New York Red Bulls (9).
My strategy, going into this fake expansion draft, was to address the Whitecaps' obvious weaknesses. Those weaknesses were, in order, offensive skill (how many goals did we score last year in division two? Four?) and MLS-quality depth. Although I have a lot of respect for the likes of Alexandre Morfaw and Gershon Koffie, if either one of them see significant minutes in our midfield during the season something's gone horribly wrong. A few journeyman players who could play multiple positions reasonably effectively would be very useful assets even if they didn't start a single game.
The trick with the expansion draft is that, if you're drafting a significant number of starters, you've lost before you've even begun. These players are, by definition, cast-offs. There's a lot of parity in Major League Soccer, but not so much that you can make a run at the playoffs when your core players are a bunch of New York Red Bulls rejects. Unless you're very, very clever or very, very lucky, and I am neither of those, you are far better off to get promising young players that other teams have given up on too early, or useful and reliable journeymen who can play significant minutes without doing any harm. Add the occasional reclamation project where you try to hit a home run on somebody else's problem, and that's a successful draft. Bring in your top players the way other MLS teams do: by trading for them or hugely overpaying them as designated players.
My decision to take goalkeeper Pat Onstad will cause some consternation among the faithful. Jay Nolly is without question one of the most popular current Whitecaps players, and deservedly so. He's intelligent, he's funny, he's always willing to interact with the fans, and on top of that he's a fine goalkeeper. He's taken the Vancouver Whitecaps' team most valuable player honour two years on the trot and was named USSF D2 Goalkeeper of the Year for the 2010 season. There's a lot of respect for Nolly both inside and outside the Whitecaps family. But, in his previous stint as an MLS backup with DC United, Nolly got awful reviews. I don't think that, even at the second division level, he was everything he was cracked up to be: while his reflex saves were things of wonder and beauty, he is an extremely poor distributor of the ball and has very, very hard hands. His positioning isn't always the best either, and he was victimized a couple of times by second division strikers. MLS players might have it a bit too easy against him, at least until Nolly adapts to the MLS game and gets the experience to go along with his obvious physical gifts.
Enter Pat Onstad. He'll be 43 years old at the start of the next MLS season, it's true. But he's shown hardly any signs of slowing down except for a couple minor injuries (hardly chronic stuff). He's a reliable, known quantity in Major League Soccer and you can be almost guaranteed a good goalkeeping effort when Pat Onstad is your keeper. Just as importantly, he can serve as an excellent mentor for Nolly and promising 20-year-old Simon Thomas. Onstad had already done some coaching with the Canadian national team and obviously has a wealth of experience to impart to Nolly and Thomas. RSL Soapbox singled out my pick of Onstad as "perhaps the biggest stretch" of the whole expansion. But even if the doubters are right, and Onstad improbably falls apart in 2011, I can think of a worse asset to poach than by far the finest, most knowledgeable backup goalkeeper in North America.
Vancouver's defense was already fairly good. Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat are already sure things to make the team. If he can ever get healthy, Mouloud Akloul should be there as well, and I'd take at least Wes Knight and Luca Bellisomo from the division two squad; possibly Greg Janicki as well. We can run out a pretty solid back four without making any additions whatsoever. But the defense isn't perfect: they're quick, but they're small, and most of them are pretty poor in the air. DeMerit, Rochat, and Akloul are veterans with experience in MLS-quality leagues, but the others will be getting their first taste of first-division footy and there's a risk that, at least initially, they'll be in over their heads.
That's why I was glad to add the New York Red Bulls' Andrew Boyens with an early pick. Boyens is a 6'4" behemoth, a former starter at Toronto FC, and a font of MLS experience despite being only twenty-seven. He found himself on the outs in New York in 2010, seeing only a few Open Cup games, but his abilities are obvious and established. He's a tremendous aerial man and, though not as physical as you'd like from someone of his size, certainly isn't going to get pushed around. It's true that he is slow, as slow as the glaciers. But the rest of Vancouver's defense is sufficiently athletic to make up for that. If the speedy Knight and Rochat can keep Boyens from being beaten on the ground, Boyens will help save the small Whitecaps crew from being beaten in the air.
My other two defender picks were for depth. Cristian Arrieta, out of the Philadelphia Union, sparked a lively debate in the expansion draft thread about just how far my head was up my rear end. Arrieta is another slow player. But, like Boyens, he's experienced. He was the best defender in the USL First Division for a lot of years with the Puerto Rico Islanders, and would be my pick for the best defender in its history. He's 31, which isn't old for a player at his position. He can play centrally or he can play on either side, and while his athleticism is poor his ball skills are magnificent. He can take the ball off of an opponent and turn it up field before you know what has happened. I don't see Arrieta as being more than a bench player, but he'd be a useful one to have and can be valuable whether you're defending a lead or in search of one more goal. Boyens's Red Bulls teammate, Jeremy Hall, is a player I was frankly surprised to get: he's a nice 22-year-old fullback who made 13 appearances in the league last season. Though not spectacular, he's a strong option off the bench and I'd rather have him than Willis Forko any day. More interestly, in his collegiate days at Maryland he was considered a first-class winger: converting Hall to a more offensive role may have benefits down the line.
Our midfield is less solid than our defense, and therefore my first pick was a midfielder out of the Seattle Sounders. Brad Evans is a strong, incredibly skilled player. He was clearly a starter in Seattle when healthy and the ability he could bring to this team, both attacking and defending, cannot be overstated. He's quick, has great positioning, superb awareness, and his ball skills rank in the upper echelon of Major League Soccer midfielders. Unfortunately for Evans, injury is a serious concern. If he can stay healthy, he is an obvious starter in Vancouver for years to come. That's a big if, but it's a chance I felt was worth taking. One gets very few chances to draft a young, affordable star in an expansion draft.
The next-most exciting pick was when I poached Amadou Sanyang out of Toronto FC. I don't expect the real Sanyang to be available in the real expansion draft, but if he is Vancouver should leap on him with the intensity of a starving man on a t-bone steak. Sanyang is only 19 years old but can play both defense and midfield and has made a large number of very credible appearances with the Toronto FC first team. There's an argument to be made that he could start in Major League Soccer today, and while I personally wouldn't make it I'd be delighted to have him off the bench. He seems almost certain to become a quality starter sooner rather than later, and with his athleticism and his fine touch he could be an upper-echelon box-to-box midfielder if Europe doesn't get him first. My other midfield pick, Chivas USA's Chukwudi Chijindu, was based on potential and depth: he's a 24-year-old late bloomer who played college soccer and looked very dangerous indeed last year on loan to USSF D2's Miami. He has a terrifyingly powerful right foot, can move around the field well, and is comfortable at forward and at midfield.
Finally, the forwards were the position where I really had to make some noise. There's not enough forward talent in Vancouver right now and I clearly had to load up. Unfortunately, there weren't really any decent options. I wound up taking a risk on somebody else's problem and grabbing Chicago's Collins John with my second pick. John obviously has all the talent in the world. He's scored prodigiously in the Eredivisie and in the English Premier League, has capped for the Netherlands, and is still only twenty-five years old. That's all the proof I need to know that he can play this game. But he's had two poor seasons in a row, first with the Belgian Pro Division's KSV Roeselare in 2009 and last year with the Fire. He made headlines for panning Carlos de los Cobos's training regime in Chicago and scored only three goals in his first MLS season.
I don't care, I'm taking him anyway. Teitur Thordarson has a good history with head cases. He's gotten excellent performances out of men like Jeff Parke, Charles Gbeke, and Wes Charles who weren't exactly the most stable minds in the dressing room. He knows when to draw the line as well as when to forgive and forget. Thordarson runs a hard training regime, it's true, but Collins John managed to keep on top of training in England and the Netherlands and those aren't exactly country clubs either. Carlos de los Cobos certainly didn't make many friends his first season in Chicago, and the Fire had an extremely disappointing finish: maybe John wasn't the problem? John clearly has the gifts to succeed, and if he succeeds the Whitecaps will have their elite striker at a bargain basement price. If he fails, we're out a pick in the expansion draft. Oh nooooo.
My next striker pick was Khano Smith out of New England: that got a lot of mockery from SBN Soccer's Kevin McCauley, but Smith is a useful, multi-position depth player who has some experience and knows where to be on the field. The really interesting pick was my final one, where I went back to Chivas USA and picked Maykel Galindo. Galindo is a former Cuban international before he defected, and the Whitecaps had a pretty good one of those once named Eduardo Sebrango so that endeared him to me right there. He was also a top scorer in Chivas a couple of years ago and is still on the right side of thirty. But his scoring touch failed him last year and he went on loan to FC Tampa Bay, where he was... if I'm honest... actually pretty bad.
Then again, neither Chivas nor Tampa Bay were known for having active, ball-distributing midfields like Vancouver does. He scored like crazy in the Cuban league, scored like crazy for their national team, scored like crazy in a brief stint with the USL Seattle Sounders, and for a time was scoring like crazy in Chivas. His descent into mediocrity is almost in perfect time with Chivas's own fall from grace. Strikers don't just forget how to score, at least not before they're thirty. All I'm asking from Galindo is to be a solid second or third striker, not to carry the mail. He's not that quick, but the Whitecaps have the passing midfielders to make up for that. He's got a few good years of life left in him, and he certainly has both the soccer and life experience to help this team. I'd be happy to have him.
But not as happy as I could be, since that last overall pick was being reserved for one Guillermo Barros Schelotto of the Columbus Crew. Sure, he's an old man, but he's also such a dynamite offensive force that he could have turned around the Whitecaps' fortunes on his own. If he and Collins John both played their best, we would suddenly become an elite Major League Soccer offensive team just because of the expansion draft. Had I been doing this for real, I would have taken Barros Schelotto earlier and been smug about it all day. Unfortunately, I decided to save him for a dramatic, twentieth-overall pick, and with the seventeeth pick the Portland Timbers scooped me by picking Frankie Hejduk, their second Crew player of the draft and therefore rendering all over Columbus players ineligible.
Still. We know Barros Schelloto won't be back in Columbus next season, and I'm quite willing to work out a trade. What do you guys think of Maykel Galindo?