Last week, New York City FC added ten players to their roster through the Expansion Draft. By the time the dust settled and allocation money stopped flying around, the team traded two of their picks and landed a potential star as their goalkeeper. In case you don’t remember, let’s recap what happened:
- They selected Toronto FC’s Dan Lovitz with the fourth pick, then traded him right back to Toronto in exchange for the allocation money Toronto received for losing Lovitz to NYC. No, seriously.
- They selected Sporting Kansas City’s Sal Zizzo, then traded him to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for loaning GK Ryan Meara, who starred for the Red Bulls before injuring his hip in July of 2012.
Last week, in previewing the Expansion Draft, I mentioned the various other drafts that were taking place around this time. One of them — the Re-Entry Draft — concludes today. The Re-Entry Draft is for those players whose contract options weren't picked up by their clubs. It's held in two phases — Phase I, held last Friday, and Phase II, which happens today. Phase I is usually fairly quiet. That's because teams must sign players at their existing contract level or automatically trigger the built-in option in their contracts that their former club passed on.
That’s precisely what happened last week: only three players were chosen. Goalkeepers Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum, who both played for Sporting KC last season, were selected by Montréal and San Jose with the first and second picks of the draft. Forward Robbie Findley, who scored just one goal for Real Salt Lake in sixteen games last season, went to Toronto FC.
All the other players who weren’t selected became automatically eligible for Phase II of the draft. You see more activity in Phase II because now teams can negotiate contract terms with the players they pick. They have seven days to make a genuine offer to the player; if the parties can’t come to an agreement, then the team holds the right of first refusal for that player in the league. That means that if the player wants to play in MLS, they have to either come to terms with the team who holds their rights, or hope that the team trades their rights to the team they want to sign for.
That’s right: there’s no free agency in MLS. With the collective bargaining agreement expiring at the end of next month, expect that "right of first refusal" will be a major bone of contention between players and owners.
Anyway, with all that in mind — whom can we expect New York City to select, if anyone? New York has the twentieth pick, so it’s plausible that they pass on selecting any players. The list of available players is here. Remember that sporting director Claudio Reyna expected to end the year with sixteen or seventeen players.
Right now, New York City has eighteen players: six defenders, three forwards, three goalkeepers, and six midfielders. Of those players, two are recovering from major injury — D George John and MF Thomas McNamara. The club is thin on forward, and might use an extra defender or midfielder.
Looking at the players on hand, one thing becomes quickly apparent: the Re-Entry draft is heavy on defense, has plenty of midfielders, but is short on available forwards. Of those available, you’re looking at players like Omar Cummings and Edson Buddle. That’s when you realize why they’re available: they’re on high wages. Buddle’s 2014 salary was $325,000; for that, he appeared in eighteen games, scoring just twice and assisting once. Cummings’ output was better — three goals, three assists in twenty-six appearances, for which he was paid $264,000.
There’s one player who stands out for me, though, and that’s Atiba Harris, who plays both midfield and forward.
Harris started his MLS career in 2006 with Real Salt Lake, so head coach Jason Kreis is somewhat familiar with him. After RSL, Harris played for Chivas, FC Dallas, Vancouver, and Colorado. He was a key player for Dallas in 2010, their only trip to the MLS Cup Final — he started 28 games, scored four goals and had two assists. His time in Vancouver was cut short by a knee injury, but this past season with San Jose, Harris appeared in 24 games, scoring four goals and two assists — evidence that he’s been little hampered by that injury.
That versatility could be useful for Kreis as he tries to build a team here in the five boroughs. At $189,775, he’s probably too expensive, but if Reyna shaves that amount some, he might find himself with the kind of Swiss Army knife™-type player every coach wants in their lineup. If Harris is available when New York select, I think they pick him.