When the complete list of protected and available players for Wednesday's MLS Expansion Draft was released, one name immediately leapt out, screaming: New England’s Diego Fagundez.
I couldn’t believe it. Surely, I thought, surely New England didn’t leave a 19-year-old homegrown player (HGP) who also happens to be the highest-scoring teenager in MLS history and also has a contract that makes him eligible to be off-budget? Surely that’s not right. There’s got to be more to this.
Soon enough, it became clear: the Revolution had executed a trade with both Orlando City and New York City in which neither club would select Fagundez. In exchange for that, both clubs are receiving precious allocation money. For Orlando City, that allocation money will come in nicely, seeing as how they added defender Aurelien Colin (a two-time MLS All-Star and MLS Cup MVP) and midfielder Amobi Okugo in trades earlier today.
For New York City, the impact is murkier. While the allocation money will be useful, if Fagundez is available when New York City is selecting a player with the second pick in the draft, it would be tempting indeed to poach the outrageously talented striker. There’s precedent for that, too: in 2011, the Montréal Impact took Houston’s Brian Ching with the first pick, despite Ching’s threats to retire rather than move to Montréal. In the end, those threats came to naught. Ching reported for preseason training with the Impact, and shortly thereafter, was traded back to the Dynamo in exchange for a conditional pick in the SuperDraft two years later. That pick, incidentally, became the immortal Fernando Monge (who’s apparently no longer even playing).
I don’t expect them to, because the Revolution would probably shriek to the heavens, and it would make it far more difficult to execute trades in the league (since other teams would, rightfully, question your commitments).
But still. DIEGO FAGUNDEZ.
(enjoy the sweet, sweet EuroTechno™ beats)
Anyway, it’s not happening. With that in mind, who else is out there?
A quick review of the list yields these potential jewels:
Zac MacMath, GK, and Raïs Mbolhi, GK: MacMath used to be Philadelphia’s first-choice goalkeeper. Then the Union selected Andre Blake with their first-round pick in last year’s Super Draft, and then signed Algerian keeper Raïs Mbolhi after the World Cup. He played in 29 games for the Union last season, with a 1.55 goals allowed average. In 2013, he played and started all 34 games of the season, logging 2060 minutes. He posted a 1.29 goals against average with a 69.0 percent save percentage and 12 shutouts over those 34 matches.
Mbolhi is Algeria’s World Cup goalkeeper; he played decently in the 2014 World Cup, but didn’t particularly distinguish himself playing for the Union, appearing in only four games, allowing four goals (for a 1.00 goals allowed average) and making seven saves. The team won once, lost once, and drew twice.
Mbolhi is 6’3", and at 28, he’s reaching his prime years as a keeper. MacMath is 23, and 6’0"; if he’s done this well thus far, he’s only likely to improve with age. Either keeper would be a significant upgrade over Josh Saunders. The clincher might be price: MacMath made $120,000 last season, while Mbolhi made twice that.
Eddie Johnson, F: The former Seattle Sounders star never found his stride after being traded to DC United early last season. He scored seven goals in 26 games with three assists — a far cry from his goal-every-other-game performance for the Sounders in 2012, when he scored 14 goals in 28 games. Johnson has a reputation for being difficult, and that’s being charitable. I don’t know how well he’d combine with David Villa up top, and at 30, his best years may be in the past. He’s also carrying DP-level wages at $613,000 per year.
Thomas McNamara, MF: McNamara was one of the few bright spots for Chivas USA in their ill-starred final season of play. Then he blew out his knee, and spent the rest of the season recovering. Fortunately, the former Clemson midfielder’s game isn’t based on speed, but rather possession. I was mildly surprised that New York City didn’t select him in the dispersal draft; he hails from upstate New York (West Nyack, to be precise), and he’d be a solid fit in New York City’s midfield. He’s more of a finished product than Matt Dunn, the player New York City selected.
This highlight video shows what McNamara is capable of:
(check out the first highlight; I know it's NCAA soccer, but still!)
Gaston Fernandez and Jorge Villafaña, F and M/D: The two Portland players were integral parts of the Timbers last season. A versatile player who can play left midfield and left back, Jorge Villafaña played 19 games for the Timbers, scoring once and assisting twice. Before joining the Timbers via trade, Villafaña spent the previous seven seasons with Chivas USA (2007-13), appearing in 86 regular-season matches (63 starts) and registering seven goals and six assists. He’s 25, and just entering his prime years. He’s also a former U.S. youth international at the U-20 and U-23 levels.
Fernandez is an experienced veteran; he spent most of his career in the top flights in Argentina and Mexico. He started his professional career in 2002 with famed Argentine side River Plate and went on to make 275 appearances and score 67 goals in league play. Fernández has a ton of championship experience; he’s played in the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana on multiple occasions. Notably, he led Argentina’s Estudiantes de la Plata to the 2009 Copa Libertadores championship — South America’s equivalent of the Champions’ League.
With Portland, Fernandez played in 32 games, starting 17 times. He scored seven goals, and had two assists. At 31, he’s likely just past his prime, but he still has a ton to offer; at $150,000 per year, he’s not exactly cheap, but he’s a lot less expensive than you’d expect for someone with his talent and experience.
We'll have more in the morning -- including a revised list of selections that New York City might make in Wednesday's draft.