The MLS silly season begins in earnest on Wednesday, when the Expansion Draft takes place at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT. Fans in Portland and Vancouver will have picked over the list of available players, hoping that there are more Sebastien Le Touxs than David Myries out there.
Given the wealth of talent up for grabs – a clever general manager could make a competitive side out of just the guys Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake exposed – they’re right to have high hopes.
Whether or not those hopes are met will go a long way toward how successful the Timbers and Whitecaps are out of the gate. The most recent expansion teams, Philadelphia Union and the Sounders, made themselves competitive from day one with good drafts.
Their predecessors weren’t as sagacious, digging themselves a hole that, in each case, has required several roster overhauls. Avoiding that will be priority No. 1 for the Portland and Vancouver brain trust. For now.
With that said, MLSsoccer.com plays Nostradamus and tries to predict how the draft will play out.
1) Portland choose Dax McCarty, M, FC Dallas – Provided he’s not about to jump to Europe, this is a no-brainer, especially coming off a fantastic playoff run. McCarty’s just entering his prime, has a middling cap number and is the best box-to-box central midfielder in the league.
FC Dallas protect Eric Avila
2) Vancouver choose Julian de Guzman, M, TFC – “But he didn’t succeed in Toronto!” you say. Well, the list of people who didn’t succeed in Toronto is long and distinguished. Vancouver will happily take the marquee Canadian DP, plug him into central midfield and fire the first shot in what is likely to be one of the league’s best rivalries.
Toronto FC protect Gabe Gala
3) Portland choose Anthony Wallace, D, Colorado Rapids – Seeing Wallace’s name on the unprotected list was as big a head-scratcher as McCarty’s. He’s still a bit raw, but 21-year-old starter-quality left backs don’t just show up every day. The Timbers will happily swoop on Wallace and make him the first defender on their roster.
Colorado protect Wells Thompson
4) Vancouver choose Blaise Nkufo, F, Seattle Sounders – Will Vancouver splurge on two DPs? Possibly. Especially since doing so would probably enrage their bitter rivals to the south, and especially since Nkufo has family in Vancouver and showed he still has life in those 35-year-old legs.
Seattle protect Leonardo Gonzalez
5) Portland choose Nathan Sturgis, M, Seattle Sounders – Portland already showed how eager they are to tick off the Sounders when they bought ad space on a billboard just outside of Qwest Field. Taking Sturgis, who was fantastic in the second half of the season sweeping in front of Seattle’s back line, makes sense both on and off the pitch.
Seattle are off the board
6) Vancouver choose Kyle Davies, D, FC Dallas – Having gone with veterans for their first two picks, Vancouver heads in the other direction by taking the 21-year-old Davies, who acquitted himself well in central defense for Dallas. Pairing his young legs with Jay DeMerit’s experience would make sense for both the players and the club.
Dallas are off the board
7) Portland choose Alex Nimo, M, Real Salt Lake – Nimo has already spent two years with the Timbers, playing in 45 games on loan, and has gone on record saying that Portland is the only place he wants to be. John Spencer and company will likely be happy to take him, though some of the talent left on the RSL board will be hard to pass up.
Real Salt Lake protect Ned Grabavoy
8) Vancouver choose Pat Onstad, G, Houston Dynamo – Onstad grew up watching the old Whitecaps, and though “old” is the operative word when it comes to Onstad these days, he’s still a starter-quality keeper. Adding him to a spine that already includes DeMerit, de Guzman and Nkufo means the ‘Caps will have zero experience issues in their maiden season.
Houston protect Dominic Oduro
9) Portland choose Chris Schuler, D, Real Salt Lake – Everyone expects midfielder Collen Warner to end up in Portland, but the Timbers already have a slew of wingers and attackers. Schuler didn’t play much, but was very, very good when he got on the field and is the second-best young central defender on the board.
Real Salt Lake are off the board
10) Vancouver choose Leandre Griffit, M, Columbus Crew – The 26-year-old Frenchman hardly saw the field when he came to Columbus, but in his brief time on the pitch, he showed himself a dynamic attacking winger with pace and skill. His cap number is small, fits a need on as well as off the field, and keeps up the international theme of Vancouver’s draft. Plus, he and presumptive left back Alain Rochat will satisfy Canadian Francophone regulations.
Columbus protect Kevin Burns
11) Portland choose Tim Ward, D, San Jose Earthquakes – Ward’s been around seemingly forever, but is still just 23 and just had the best season of his career with the Quakes. Purely an attacking right back initiallly, he’s learned the sweet science of defense and, along with Wallace and Schuler, could form a young, solid backline for years to come.
San Jose protect Ramiro Corrales
12) Vancouver choose Shea Salinas, M/D, Philadelphia Union – Salinas is young, cheap, fast and full of running. He hasn’t quite found a permanent home on the field yet, but is capable of giving quality minutes at right back and right midfield. Youth, flexibility and affordability make him the right pick for Vancouver.
Philadelphia protect Alejandro Moreno
13) Portland choose Shavar Thomas, D, Sporting Kansas City – Thomas is one of the most well-traveled players in the league, having been on the rosters of six different teams already. He played well for KC in his half-season there, and at worst would be an experienced back-up for a young Timbers side.
Sporting protect Birahim Diop
14) Vancouver choose Ross LaBauex, M, Colorado Rapids – LaBauex only got into five games for the MLS Cup champs this year, but that’s in large part because of the guys ahead of him. A pure ball-winner with a championship pedigree and years in the Chicago Fire system, LaBauex would be the perfect defensive midfield complement to de Guzman.
Colorado are off the board
15) Portland choose Luke Sassano, M/D, New York Red Bulls – Sassano never won a regular spot in the New York lineup, but played well as a d-mid in the Red Bulls' playoff run of 2008. This year, he was solid as both a right back and central defender in the US Open Cup before an injury derailed his season. Young, cheap and versatile – a great choice.
New York protect Austin da Luz
16) Vancouver choose Jesus Padilla, F/M, Chivas USA – Padilla’s haul of seven goals in 37 matches with Chivas over the past two years isn’t bad for a guy who split time up front and on the wings. Neither Preki nor Martin Vasquez could seem to figure out how to use him best, but he’s just 23 and has a small cap number, so he's worth a flier here.
Chivas USA protect Carlos Borja
17) Portland choose Corey Ashe, M, Houston Dynamo – Ashe isn’t much of a goal-scorer, but he does nearly everything else pretty well and, coming from Houston, you know he’s willing to put in work on both sides of the ball. He’s got continental experience and an MLS Cup, both of which will carry weight with a young team.
Houston are off the board
18) Vancouver choose Peter Lowry, M, Chicago Fire – Lowry has played sparingly for the Fire since being drafted in 2008, but has produced five goals from midfield in just 24 games. Young and with a small cap number, he should provide useful depth for the Whitecaps.
Chicago protect Dasan Robinson
19) Portland choose Seth Sinovic, M/D, New England Revolution – Sinovic, like the rest of the Revolution team, struggled mightily at times in 2010. But he also showed skill going forward and a solid left foot. He’s also a former college walk-on – and a teammate of Schuler – whose drive to succeed would be welcome in any locker room. He’ll be a useful back-up should Wallace get injured or eventually begin to miss games due to call-ups to the US national team.
New England protect Zak Boggs
20) Vancouver choose Sinisa Ubiparipovic, M, New York Red Bulls – Ubiparipovic, like Sassano, played his best during New York's 2008 MLS Cup playoff run and the 2010’s US Open Cup. He’s bounced around the entire midfield in his time with the Red Bulls, but is at his best playing in front of a pure d-mid. A quality, young, cheap back-up to de Guzman.
Summary of picks:
1) McCarty (DAL)
2) Wallace (COL)
3) Sturgis (SEA)
4) Nimo (RSL)
5) Schuler (RSL)
6) Ward (SJ)
7) Thomas (SKC)
8) Sassano (NY)
9) Ashe (HOU)
10) Sinovic (NE)
1) De Guzman (TFC)
2) Nkufo (SEA)
3) Davies (DAL)
4) Onstad (HOU)
5) Griffit (CLB)
6) Salinas (PHI)
7) LaBauex (COL)
8) Padilla (CHV)
9) Lowry (CHI)
10) Ubiparipovic (NY)