The 2021 MLS Expansion Draft is right around the corner and Charlotte FC’s technical staff is locked in preparation for this critical date.
“We’re analyzing every club, trying to figure out which players will be available [for the Expansion Draft],” Charlotte FC Sporting Director Zoran Krneta told MLS Soccer's Tom Bogert. “I think this year will be the most interesting Expansion Draft in the history of MLS.”
The delayed start to Charlotte FC’s inaugural season will allow the team to be the sole participants of this year’s draft. This means they won’t have to compete with another team for picks and they plan on taking full advantage of it.
Ryan Bailey covered all the nitty and gritty of the Expansion Draft in MLS 101 presented by Ally. Here, I’ll explain to you why this could be the most interesting Expansion Draft ever and how it fits into the bigger roster building picture for Charlotte FC.
Finding Key Players
The Expansion Draft already has a strong track record of providing key players for expansion teams. LAFC picked Latif Blessing, who has now made 133 appearances for the Black and Gold, and Austin FC got Jared Stroud, one of their standout performers this year, just to name a couple.
This year, though, the quality of players available for selection could have the makings of the deepest-ever in an Expansion Draft Pool.
Since 2016, when MLS reduced the number of selections in the Expansion Draft to five, nearly every Draft has featured either two teams competing for selections or one team facing a pool with 10 teams exempt after a two-team Expansion Draft the previous year.
Because of the delayed start, CLTFC will be the sole participant in an Expansion Draft with only 5 teams exempt after having players selected by Austin FC last year. This, along with the league being bigger than ever, means the Club has 22 teams to select players from (Austin only had 16).
The exempt teams for this draft that Charlotte will not be able to select players from will be the San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls, Nashville SC, LA Galaxy and Orlando City.
One thing to note is that in rare occasions, just because a player is “unprotected” doesn’t necessarily mean they are “available”. For example, in 2019 both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Zlatan Ibrahimović were left unprotected because Schweinsteiger was retiring and Ibrahimović was moving to Italy.
Additionally, Designated Players and players under the U-22 Initiative are not automatically protected, meaning clubs must use one of their 12 protected slots on these players if they want to keep them.
This forces teams to decide on protecting either their Designated and U-22 Players or other key players on their squad (Homegrowns are automatically protected, though).
With all this potential quality available, what really makes the Expansion Draft picks so valuable is their MLS experience. Having players on your roster who are already familiar with MLS will benefit your team greatly and help others transition into the league.
"The Expansion Draft is a great way for new clubs to acquire players, particularly with MLS Experience," said CLTFC Director of Player Personnel Bobby Belair. "Which I find to be really important."
Signing with a new team already comes with multiple challenges on and off the pitch such as moving to a new city, experiencing a new culture and/or language, and getting acquainted with a new coaching staff and playing style.
Add to all that adapting to a new league, and you can see how already being familiarized with the league could help in this process. Not only does it help off the pitch, but comfort and chemistry translate to on-the-pitch performance as well.
With good, dependable MLS-proven talent potentially available to strengthen the roster, Sporting Director Zoran Krneta and his team will be looking forward to getting their hands on the list of unprotected players 24 hours before the Draft.
The Expansion Draft isn’t just an opportunity to acquire players to help you on the pitch, though. Depending on who is available, teams may opt to draft players to trade for other players, allocation money, or international slots.
It isn’t uncommon for a team to draft a player they know another team has eyes on in order to use as leverage for a trade.
An example was in the 2019 Expansion Draft when Nashville drafted Zarek Valentin and then almost immediately traded him for goalkeeper Joe Willis, who to this day has remained their starter.
Technically, you aren’t allowed to make trades and deals during the Expansion Draft, so often, trades will be executed immediately after the Draft concludes.
So, it’s wise to not get too attached to your Expansion draft picks immediately because they could be on their way elsewhere in exchange for valuable assets to help CLTFC build the inaugural roster through all mechanisms available.
Low-Risk Roster Additions
You could argue that the Expansion Draft has the least amount of risk attached to it compared to the other four player acquisition methods: Transfers, Trades, Free-Agency, and SuperDraft.
In both transfers and trades a team must either pay a transfer fee or trade away valuable allocation money or players to acquire who they want. These methods involve more risk because the team gives up valuable assets to obtain a player that may or may not work out.
On the other hand, players obtained through free-agency and drafts have less risk attached due to not having to give up valuable assets.
The SuperDraft, where teams draft the top college prospects, features unproven players who are usually more of a developmental gamble. Players available to choose from in the Expansion Draft in most cases already have MLS experience, making them safer bets to contribute straight away.
Apart from paying the players’ salaries, drafting these players will cost Charlotte FC nothing to acquire. While each team that has a player selected will receive $50,000 in General Allocation Money as compensation from the league, this money doesn’t come out of Charlotte FC’s budget.
All in all, no acquisition cost plus MLS experience equals exceptional value.
The 2021 Expansion draft will certainly be one for the ages and you don’t want to miss it. This year’s edition will take place tonight, December 14th, live on WSOC and Telemundo from 7 PM - 8 PM. It will also be live-streamed on the Club's website.
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