MLS Expansion Draft – LAFC Lessons

Orange & Blue Press took a step outside of the local market to gather some insights on FC Cincinnati’s upcoming expansion draft. At this time last year, LAFC was in FCC’s position, preparing for the expansion draft and trying to assemble a roster fit to compete for a playoff spot. The Western Conference upstart was successful to that end in 2018. Bob Bradley’s squad finished third in the West and earned a playoff berth while playing some fantastic soccer.

We found some time on the calendar of Alicia Rodriguez, contributing editor for mlssoccer.com and managing editor of SB Nation’s Angels on Parade, a website covering Los Angeles FC. We asked Alicia to dive deeper into LAFC’s successful expansion draft and help our readers understand what FC Cincinnati can learn from their success.

If FC Cincinnati could learn one lesson from LAFC’s expansion draft, what would it be?

“I think the big lesson is to make sure you get contributors from the expansion draft. Your actual selections don’t necessarily have to be starters or regular contributors, but if you’re going to flip selections, make sure you have deals in place or nearly so. With just five picks, you don’t have the luxury to pick up “maybes” as some MLS teams did in the past. To get the most out of the Expansion Draft, hone in on positions of need and get players you’re sure will be playing a role in your expansion season.”

How important do you think the expansion draft was to LAFC’s overall roster build for 2018?

“LAFC got two full-time starters (Tyler Miller and Laurent Ciman) and two part-time starters (Marco Ureña and Latif Blessing) from the Expansion Draft. All four offered considerable contributions to the squad in 2018. In taking two of their Expansion Draft picks, Jukka Raitala and Raheem Edwards, and trading them to Montreal for Ciman, they got a top central defender and the first captain of the team, also a guy they ended up getting money for when he was sold to Ligue 1 with just six months left on his contract, a savvy piece of business. Tyler Miller was selected to be in contention for the starting goalkeeper spot, and he ended up starting all but one game all year, his first as a starter. Ureña’s star waned after the World Cup, but in the opening weeks of the season, he did a fantastic job setting the tempo up top and setting up his teammates, while Blessing was a cult hero and equally adept at starting and being an impact substitute. All things considered, it is one of the most successful Expansion Drafts ever, even though the last two have been smaller than previous editions.

And while the Expansion Draft is at most five players, MLS teams need to maximize every way of obtaining players they can. Expansion teams struggle to find MLS experience, and this is maybe the easiest way to acquire that. So in that way, I think it’s still a critical way to acquire players.”

Do you think it was helpful for LAFC to be an expansion team starting from scratch versus an existing USL team moving up to MLS?

I don’t know, I think it’s hard to say. Prior to 2017, teams starting from scratch usually struggled really, really badly and teams coming from the lower divisions tended to weather the adjustment better. But I think Atlanta United and LAFC might have broken that mold. I think the existent teams moving up may be occasionally too sentimental or blinded by the players on the roster who they want to promote, and for every Christian Ramirez, there’s a slew of guys who make the jump up to MLS who never really get up to speed. In the past, those guys who might be on the bubble of being MLS level could offer valuable experience for a promoted team, but I think Atlanta and LAFC made the most of a blank slate to put together the entire team at once. They showed it can be done, and now it’s up to teams like Cincinnati to prove they can be prudent with the players they promote to the MLS team.”

What do you think the likelihood is that FC Cincinnati will come knocking on LAFC’s door in the expansion draft?

I think the chance Cincinnati selects a player, barring a handshake deal that includes a separate trade, is pretty good. Since there are five fewer teams eligible for the Expansion Draft this year, the odds for everyone else are better that a player will be taken, and generally, the better teams will attract more interest. LAFC wasn’t the very best, but I definitely think there will be available players that Cincinnati will want from the 2018 roster.”

We’d like to thank Alicia for her time and insights, and encourage you to check her work out on mlssoccer.com and angelsonparade.com. The 2018 MLS expansion draft will be held in New York City on Tuesday, December 11th at 2 PM Eastern. FC Cincinnati will select up to five players from the eligible pool. They can only claim a single player from any one club and will have three minutes for each selection, with no timeouts or trades during the draft.

Also be sure to check out Steve Buckeridge’s analysis of the positions and players that FC Cincinnati could target on December 11th.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for continued coverage of the MLS Expansion Draft and FC Cincinnati’s offseason roster build.

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