A View from Afar

MLS off-season begins in earnest

Photo: Paul Rudderow

The MLS off-season has started, and things will move quickly. Today’s expansion draft will kickstart some movement, followed by Thursday’s waiver draft (usually not a big deal) and Friday’s opening of the re-entry draft. Additionally, there’s a sizable crop of free agents who could intrigue.

Let’s take a look at it all, with an eye toward how Philadelphia Union may be affected, followed by a look back at the MLS Cup.

Who will Philadelphia Union lose in today’s expansion draft?

The Union left a few players unprotected who may be attractive to other teams:

  1. Maurice Edu: The former U.S. international is the biggest name and biggest talent here, but is anyone willing to take a chance on his recent injury history at his current salary? The Union are betting the answer is no, but the guy running the show for Atlanta just happens to be a former teammate of Edu’s who knows what he’s like in the locker room and on the field. If Edu is willing to renegotiate his contract, he could call Atlanta home next year.
  2. Charlie Davies: Another former U.S. international who has yet to prove he has regained his pre-injury — or rather, pre-cancer — form. If he can, he’s a quality starting forward, but the draft has more interesting options available. Toronto’s Tousaint Ricketts, San Jose’s Quincy Amarikwa, New York’s Anatole Abang and Orlando’s Bryan Rochez all probably rate higher than Charlie Davies right now, either for anticipated instant production or in terms of being young players with high talent ceilings.
  3. Ray Gaddis: A year and a half ago, some thought he was the best right back in the league. At 26, he is a forgotten man behind star rookie Keegan Rosenberry, and he’s a safe pick for any expansion team: Quality starter, still young, low salary, humble teammate. However, this draft is stacked with right backs: Sean Franklin, Steven Beitashour, Zach Loyd, Chris Duvall, Zarek Valentin and former Union man Sheanon Williams are all available. Chances are that Minnesota and Atlanta will each take a right back. Gaddis will be the guy only if these teams prioritize lockdown defending over attacking at the right back position.
  4. Leo Fernandes: Fernandes had a big 2015 in NASL followed by an invisible return to the Union. Heath has turned MLS benchwarmers into big-time MLS players simply by bring them through his USL side, and he understands which minor leaguers might make good pros. The question is whether he rates Fernandes.
  5. Ken Tribbett: A 6-3 center back converted from midfield with just a year in the league. At worst, he’s a backup. At best, he’s a starter with potential. The draft’s center back pool is thin. D.C. United’s Bobby Boswell and former Newcastle and current Portland man Steven Taylor are the big names. Former Union man Amobi Okugo is probably the most intriguing name. Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath already soured on him in Orlando, but Atlanta executive Paul McDonough already traded for Okugo once (while with Orlando) while his compatriot is former UCLA center back Carlos Bocanegra, who might want to take a shot on another former UCLA center back.

Will any of them get picked? At this point, we know better than to predict that one.

MLS free agents of interest to the Union?

The second free agent class for MLS is a pretty decent-sized one, and it could have a few players of interest for the Union.

  1. Will Johnson, CM: Johnson could be the No. 8 the Union need: Aggressive, feisty, good moving the ball forward, and probably good for a wild shot into the Delaware River every other game. He may leave Toronto simply because that club is stacked in center midfield.
  2. Jeff Larentowicz, CM: The Philly-area product has been on this list for years, but it’s never happened for him and the Union. Might he want to come now, toward the end of his career? He and Brian Carroll are similar players. That could work for or against him.
  3. DaMarcus Beasley, LB: Would the 34-year-old Beasley be an upgrade over Fabinho? Yes. But what salary would he demand?
  4. Corey Ashe, LB: Ashe has fallen off the map over the last two years. Was that a function of bad club situations or a drop in performance?
  5. Sebastien Le Toux, FW/RW: Not again. Not that Le Toux wouldn’t contribute, but rather that he’d be better off finding playing time in Minnesota or elsewhere where maybe someone will actually let him play forward again, where he belongs.
  6. Mike Magee, FW: Expect him to return to Los Angeles. He is too superhuman for anything else.
An earlier MLS Cup is necessary

Toronto-Seattle was a dream match-up for the MLS Cup, but unfortunately, the on-field product didn’t match the off-field hype, save for the best save in the history of the MLS playoffs. That does not surprise, because by the time December 10 rolls around each year, it is COLD in northern cities like Toronto. With MLS fielding three Canadian teams, as well as teams in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Portland and now Minnesota, odds are high that most MLS Cups will be played in pretty cold weather.

You could argue that MLS should return to hosting these finals at predetermined neutral sites, such as Los Angeles, but that cuts out much of the excitement of having a home team for these matches.

The solution is to move the game up earlier. How?

Condense the playoffs. You’ve heard this one before. We don’t need so many teams in the playoffs.

  • Cut the playoffs to six total teams.
  • Give the conference winner a bye.
  • Have the second and third place teams face off for the right to play their respective first place team for the conference title.

Do that, and you could cut at least one week — possibly two, with creative scheduling — from the playoffs in order to get an earlier MLS Cup final. Further, you’d give more weight to the regular season.

And yes, under that system, Seattle would have missed the playoffs. Oh well. Toronto was the better team anyway.


  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Added to Ken Tribbett’s attractiveness is that his 2016 salary was $51,500. Increase that to $54,000 for a guessed 5% raise, but he’s still quite inexpensive.
    Atlanta needs defenders, and are spending lots of money on other positions.

  2. I think it’s really time for the expansion draft to end. MLS is a long way away from Sak starting a team with his credit card. You’ve got NFL and NBA owners and other investment groups with plenty of cash building stadiums and dumping $100 million+ for franchise licenses. Then you have Atlanta spending $8 million on a transfer fee. You’re telling me they need the expansion draft? I know this is beating a dead horse, but MLS should really not be looking any more into building clubs from scratch. Add clubs to the league that have success in USL or NASL — Indy, Cinci, Sacremento, Carolina, etc.

    • MLS isn’t the only league with an expansion draft. The NHL will have one next summer for the new team in Las Vegas. It’s a pretty normal mechanism in North American sports.

      • Difference is, though, that the player talent pool for soccer is virtually infinite. I know, there are limits to international slots, but there are a lot of players out there to build rosters.

        Of course, since MLS is a single entity, none of it matters.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I agree that it’s a little different for soccer, and especially MLS. At least for the NHL, a league I follow extremely closely, the fear is that the league does not want the new Vegas team to stink from the get-go, so fans don’t care. Now I guess you can argue that Atlanta has really demonstrated they don’t need one (an expansion draft that is), but it would behoove the league to make sure their new teams are competitive right off the bat. Just my thought on it…

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Not until the salary cap is gone. Gotta be able to find bargains to stay within it, etc.

    • Fwiw, the NHL will be holding an expansion draft when Las Vegas starts playing next season as well. It’s really a necessary evil to make sure that teams can at least be competitive to begin with. I think that moving to 5 players per team was a fair compromise – Atlanta and Minnesota get a shot at 5 current league players, but teams only have to worry about losing 1 player so their depth is not entirely compromised.

  3. The MLS regular season needs to end sooner, too. I don’t know if it’s adding 2-3 extra mid-week games, or what, but you can’t have the season finish at the end of October and expect to get the playoffs completed in decent weather.
    End the season by the end of September, and crown a champion BEFORE Thanksgiving.

    • That was close to what I was thinking. End it before the October international break. Wild card the week after. Conference semis and finals before the November break (with midweek games as necessary). MLS Cup the same weekend as NASCAR championship weekend just before Thanksgiving.
      Also, have the start time for MLS Cup flexible enough that if it is in a cold weather city it is during the day. Maybe even get NBC to show it before the Xfinity series race on Saturday.

      • I like the double-header idea, even if MLS and NASCAR are odd bedfellows. It still makes it easier to market and get the word out when NBC is planning the schedules.

      • I was just being cynical a few months ago when bandying about MLS and NASCAR…

      • The only issue with that is that MLS would be going up against college football, so you won’t have a Saturday game – both ESPN and Fox are booked up decades in advance in the fall…

    • MLS will have a little more than one month between the October friendlies (10/2-10) and the November friendlies (10/6-14). Keeping the format the same, in 2017 the season should end Sunday October 1st, then take a break for that first window. It works out perfectly by giving teams a longer break the farther they advance, incorporates the Int’l break into the two-week Cup preparation, and gives even Wild-card teams an extra break to prep before they play their game. It’s a no-brainer:
      10/1 – Decision Day
      10/14 – Wildcard games
      10/18 & 10/22 – Conference Semis
      10/28 & 11/4 – Conference Finals
      Off for Int’l Break
      11/18 or 11/19 – MLS Cup Final
      Do it.

  4. As it stands.
    34 games season.
    12 teams earn playoff spots.
    34 game seasons mean minimal…
    with multiple teams at the end of the year playing out the string. Funny listening to American Sports Talk Radio particularly Philly Sports Talk Radio…versus the Pro/Rel arguing crowd and how often I hear things coming up lately about this notion of just playing out the string and how much of a downer it is and saps any energy from the fanbase and pretty much sucks (ahem Eagles)… and how the really poor teams just throw in the towel (to be rewarded for sucking ahem 6ers)– the notion of being a professional maybe doesn’t care the same weight and work ethic personally it once did… either way- something to think about that maybe the American model isn’t quite what it is cracked up to be either.
    The model is the model but if MLS is going to use the model how bout using the highest functioning version of it… season dragged on and on and on and save a few interesting playoff games didn’t even end like some of the bummer super bowl blow outs when one team clearly displayed it belonged and the other didn’t.
    Pretty anticlimactic MLS Cup weekend with both teams playing an american version of a clunker final game… nothing Beautiful about it.

    • The final was pretty bad, yes, and I’d like to think that was due to weather, but I don’t really know. But that being said, if the “American” way as you said it didn’t exist, Seattle would not have had the opportunity to win the title. There are arguments to be made for both sides, but there is something magical – and frustrating if they took your playoff spot – about a team that was down and out in July being able to battle back and compete for a title. And the argument “they don’t deserve it” or “they don’t belong” rings hollow with me because if there was a better team, they would’ve won the game. I bring up the 2012 Chelsea team as an example – a title is a title, doesn’t matter how you get it.
      The issue with a bad game reflecting poorly on a huge audience is a different argument, and one that should not be taken lightly.

  5. I think the likelihood of selection of the unprotected Union players is something like:
    1) Gaddis – Pros: MLS starting quality and experience, 26 years old, good locker room guy; Cons: 150k salary is a little high to be a bench player so would need to been seen as the starter and both coaches seem to like more atttack minded outside backs
    2) Tribbett – Pros: Expensive so can been seen as a backup; Cons: Struggled late in the year, does a team really want to spend 1 of only 5 picks on a backup defender?
    3) Davies/Edu – Both quality players and good locker room guys with recent health issues. Edu’s 725k salary is a bigger negative then Davies 109k salary but either player would be a risky pick at this point.
    As for the free agents:
    Johnson would be a good pickup for the Union but his salary last year was 375k, as a healthy free agent it is hard to imagine him willing to accept anything but a raise at this point. Larentowicz does not make sense in the midfield with Carroll already on the roster but would be interesting as a backup centerback, especially if Tribbett is taken in the expansion draft. He would bring experience and might be willing to take a hometown discount on his 175k salary from last year. Le Toux and Mapp both have connections to the team and either player would be s solid backup on the wings. Oduro is likely being considered by a few teams which could drive up a bidding war should he not be resigned. Pappa would be interesting but for his off-field issues. Peterson could be another option as a backup on the wings. Wynne could become an option if Gaddis is lost in the expansion draft.

  6. There is no way Tribbett merits being taken in the expansion draft, especially with the other names available. Ditto Fernandes and Davies.

    I was personally worried that Ray Gaddis would get picked, but looking at the other right backs available, I am a lot less worried.

    Edu would remain a total wild card pick, and a considerable risk. I saw a comparison made to Pontius (on another site): unlike many, I was very happy when the Union signed Pontius, and thought it was a good gamble, and clearly I was right. As for Edu, I’d be very happy to have him as the starting #8 for the Union next season, but for another club the dynamic is very different, and I can’t imagine it would be worth Minnesota or Atlanta sticking their necks out.

    I predict we lose nobody this year.

    • Lucky Striker says:

      and I’d predict you’re correct-because in all honesty the Union didn’t have 11 players worth protecting, let alone 18.

      Why anybody would be worried if we were lucky enough to lose any of these guys is beyond my comprehension-given what is known about that which is returning behind the bench.

      Let’s review:

      Edu: Broken Mo? PLEASE take him and return the money!
      Can’t wait to wait until he doesn’t play this year.

      T-Frog: Only if that club doesn’t have to play Tor. more than once per season………

      Gadfly: The hope…..that Curtin gets a crutch kicked out from under him. Maybe then he’ll be encouraged to “revisit” that FB corps.

      Leo: Would’ve been better served staying with the Cosmos…..even now……

      Davies: Return to a team where he’ll see scant minutes and more excuses ? Man would have to be half nuts, wouldn’t he?

      McCarthy: He’d have to take a local to get there…..

      Carroll : Touch him and BC takes a powder on continuing his career.

    • I understand people want Edu to be the starting number 8 or 6 next year, but I don’t see him even playing more than 20 games. Personally I hope he gets picked I am tired of his contract and his lack of understanding of what this team needs. He should be this teams RCB, but every year he argues about playing defense when that is clearly the position he is now best at. I just hope someone else takes him and gets the contract off the books at this point. I even know what I am likely to see a bunch of comments saying are you crazy Edu is an awesome midfielder and played for the NT. Yeah to all those comments I say sure that was in 2012 and before. 4 years makes a big difference he is no midfielder, he does not justify his pay scale, and there are better options out there for the money.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        😉 Water is wet and Dr. U trashes Edu. There are constants in the universe. 😉

      • Yes there are. And I guess by now most know my opinion on Edu’s value. Heres to hoping the Union find a spine for this team cause Atl just took another option in Zach Loyd that I wish the Union had.

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    The schedule must be amended. Figure it out MLS. The November international break ruins all momentum for the playoffs. I don’t really have an answer, but I’m not supposed to… just fix it.

  8. Old Soccer Coach says:

    No Union players selected.

  9. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Here’s who took what: spellings are phonetic

    Atlanta: Donny Toia from Montreal, Left Back. Zach Lloyd, Dallas, CB. Clint Irwin, GK, Toronto. Mikey Ambrose, Orlando, ???. Alec Kahn, SKC, GK.

    Minnesota: Chris Duvall, NYRB, RB. Collen Warner, DCM, Houston. Mohammed Saied, Columbus, DCM?CM. Jeff Attinella, RSL, GK. Femi Hollinger-Jansen, New England, ???.

  10. Old Soccer Coach says:

    1st pick is a left back. They are rare.
    Noticed that Jordan Harvey was protected by Vancouver.
    That was likely Nowak’s poorest roster move.

    • Oh how I wish the Union never got rid of Jordan Harvey.

      • My recollection is that Nowak didn’t want to sell Harvey.

        I put the sale of Harvey in the same bucket as the Ruiz sale…Sak trying to make the team as profitable as possible so his ownership stake kicks in.

    • I’d put Justin Mapp up there too. Unprotected by Nowak in the 2011 expansion draft and selected by Montreal.

      • AND Nowak protected Mondragon, who then went back to Colombia. I don’t recall, of course, whether that expansion draft included rules about protecting a certain number of internationals or not…

    • 100% Jordan Harvey. A cornerstone rock right there along with Okugo.
      Imagine for a moment please… how much stronger this team would be with Harvey on the left and Okugo in the middle holding.
      ahh hell… it all worked out didn’t it though.

    • Wish it would happen, but don’t see it likely especially since they didn’t lose anyone in expansion draft. I think your looking at the same backline as last year unfortunately.

      • That would mean we are spending less on our backline next year than this year. Don’t forget, we wasted $200k or $250k for Anderson… the guy not even good enough to play for Steel.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        From memory, he was $150 k.
        He cannot play in a high pressure high line system, you are correct. He could probably play for Montreal’s bunker and counter and others like it.
        I would have loved to have seen him at defensive center mid where he would have had cover for his pace issues. At the USL level I mean.doubtful it would have worked with the first team.
        A loan, made early, probably the best Earnie could get at the time.

      • Yup, roster salary list says he was 150k.

  11. John P O'Donnell says:

    For everybody looking to fix the schedule and the playoffs. I know it might have been a perfect storm but they broke some records. http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2016/12/13/mls-cup-2016-sets-record-most-watched-title-game-league-history?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=News&utm_campaign=Unpaid

    • Someone commented the MLS final drew the same number of eyes as Swansea and Cardiff at 8 am on a saturday. FOX put its full weight behind this game… for a pretty small bump.
      while I grant you the ‘record’ people still don’t really give a damn.
      IMO it is troublesome.
      a number I would be curious about is how many people tuned in for Super Bowl 20… before NFL took over the world. This would be an interesting comparison IMO to see if there is any possible scale.

    • See, that’s the thing: That was expected, and it’s absolutely a good thing. (I wrote about that a week ago.) The catch is, when you know you’re going to get that many people watching, that’s exactly when you want to show off your best possible product, not a frosty shadow of the best.

  12. If LA or NY wants a playoff change for 2018 maybe we’ll see one. We’ve already got confirmation nothing changes for next year.

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