By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 14, 2016) US Soccer Players – The 2016 Major League Soccer season ended at approximately 11pm ET on Saturday. Sounders defender Roman Torres beat Toronto FC goalkeeper Clint Irwin in the tiebreaker. That won Seattle the title in Toronto. It also marked the beginning of the MLS off season.
MLS borrows from other American pro sports to create a madcap period of drafts and trade windows. It’s both difficult to follow and fascinating to watch unfold. The business of preparing for 2017 doesn’t wait. The Sounders might have been parading their trophy on Tuesday, but the league was open for business. MLS being MLS, it was possible one of the celebrating Sounders could’ve ended up on another team.
The reshuffling of decks actually began even earlier. There was a half-day trade window on Sunday. Ten hours after Seattle’s win, several teams got busy swapping players, draft picks, allocation money, international rosters slots, and anything else not nailed down.
It’s no surprise that the two expansion sides, Atlanta United and Minnesota United, were among the busiest teams on Sunday. On Tuesday, those two conducted the expansion draft. It was easy to spot the difference with their approaches. Minnesota United picked depth players. Atlanta United leveraged the process to extract extra allocation money and draft picks. That meant taking advantage of clubs forced by the process into leaving players they want to keep unprotected.
With the Expansion Draft over, MLS moves to more ways to acquire players. There’s season two of MLS free agency. There’s also the Waiver Draft, Re-Entry Draft, and SuperDraft. Along with trades, this is how MLS builds without testing the international transfer market. Is that enough for teams hoping to compete in 2017?
Every MLS team will take their checkbooks beyond North American borders in search of players. Is it possible to improve enough by flipping a current crop of MLSers for a fresh one? The two MLS Cup finalists serve as for and against arguments.
Seattle didn’t put their focus on the MLS methods. Their big MLS-specific move was bringing in fullback Joevin Jones. He came by way of a trade in mid-January. Jones made 33 appearances in 2016. He provided an dynamic threat going forward that the club lacked in 2015. Seattle’s bigger moves were international. They waited until the summer transfer window opened, signing Nicolas Lodeiro and Alvaro Fernandez.
Toronto FC chose to reinforce their weaker areas through MLS. Drew Moor joined through that first MLS free agency class. TFC traded for Steven Beitashour, Will Johnson, and Clint Irwin before the end of January. Together, the four new acquisitions would help Toronto massively improve their goals-against record. That played a major part in getting them to MLS Cup.
Toronto also used the SuperDraft. Tsubasa Endoh played 21 games for the Reds.
Free agency is strong this off season. By design, these are older players with plenty of MLS experience. Moor’s success in Toronto should push a few teams to try to take advantage.
As for those drafts, the Waiver and Re-Entry are tough to call. Normally, what we see are teams passing. In 2015, only Colorado used the waiver draft. They took Michael Azira, a key part of their turnaround. Still, Azira was an outlier. Most of the time, it’s limited choices.
The Re-Entry Draft was only slightly more exciting. FC Dallas traded up to the number one spot to grab former Portland striker Maxi Urruti. Only three other teams took a player and none of them made the case for the re-entry draft.
The SuperDraft continues its wane in importance. However, it’s still possible to find starters at the top of the order. No team in MLS hinges a rebuild on the SuperDraft. Still, players like Jack Harrison (NYCFC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia), and Brandon Vincent (Chicago) show the quality available.
Putting together a group of new players from the these mechanisms, it’s possible to turn a club around. The degree of difficulty is high. It’s almost always necessary to add those new players to an already strong group to see a progress.
Major League Soccer’s hot stove isn’t quite hot enough to cook up a whole new team. It is warm enough to help build a club.
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