Before today's MLS Expansion Draft, most D.C. United fans were reasonably confident that we were unlikely to lose any players. After what must be termed a historically bad season, it seemed like there was little chance of anyone liking someone on our unprotected list more than the players available from other clubs. If a United player was to be taken, it seemed like the favorites would be Troy Perkins (Martin saw him going to Vancouver), Devon McTavish, or Kurt Morsink.
However, expansion drafts always contain surprises, and this was no exception. The Portland Timbers waited until the ninth round to select DCU defender (and local product) Jordan Graye. United moved to protect Morsink, and survived the final three picks unscathed. Despite the worries that the Vancouver Whitecaps would come calling for one of Tom Soehn's old favorites, the Black-and-Red only lost one player. Strangely, that's one more than the Supporters Shield-winning Los Angeles Galaxy.
What does the loss of Graye mean to United? How did the new expansion clubs do? You know the drill.The loss of Graye is not one that will be a big issue for DC, but that's not to say it's good news. Graye was more of a long-term project as an outside back. Blessed with speed, decent size, and an appetite for getting forward, Graye had most of the raw ingredients you want in a wide defender these days. When pressed into service at right back (and later on the opposite flank) due to a crippling injury crisis and the awful early form of our defense as a whole, Graye impressed at first. However, a disastrous pair of home games at left back against the Sounders and the Galaxy caused Graye to be removed from the lineup for most of the rest of the year. He appeared to suffer from a real lack of confidence after making some basic mental errors that turned immediately into goals against
With the acquisition of Jed Zayner and the continued presence of veteran Devon McTavish, Graye would probably have entered the 2011 at third on the depth chart at his natural position. With those players both being versatile, however, there was a reasonable chance that Graye would have seen action in 5-10 games. The more significant blow is to the prospect of us using the reserve league to bring him along. I think the possibility of him using those games to blossom is fairly high.
As for the rest of the draft, there were some surprises. Portland's first four picks (Dax McCarty, Eric Brunner, Adam Moffat, and Anthony Wallace) were all starters for top MLS clubs last season, while big center back David Horst was crucial playing on loan with the Puerto Rico Islanders in second division play as well as the CONCACAF Champions League.
Things got odd after that, though, as the Timbers used mid-round picks to take flyers out on Robbie Findley (who turned down a big offer from RSL to pursue offers from Scandinavia and/or Mexico) and Jonathan Bornstein (who has already signed with Mexican side Tigres, and in fact will be reporting for preseason work with his new club soon). Given the players still on the board - RSL alone had numerous quality midfielders to take and either use or trade - these decisions were bizarre to say the least. Portland's other three selections in the second half were more reasonable, as they picked up Peter Lowry from Chicago, Graye, and Arturo Alvarez from San Jose.
Portland's early profile is that of a young, athletic team, which is exactly what coach John Spencer said he wanted. Having McCarty, Moffat, and Lowry available in central midfield gives Spencer three dynamic players with skill and bite to choose from, while Brunner and Horst are both probably good enough to be the opening day central defensive pairing for the Timbers. Up front, however, Portland looks a bit thin. Findley is probably not going to opt to sign, and otherwise they'll be relying on guys with no MLS experience (Bright Dike and the English Eddie Johnson). I also have my doubts about Spencer being able to trust the mercurial Alvarez as a starter.
Vancouver was the team we thought was most likely to grab a D.C. player thanks to the Soehn connection. Instead, the Whitecaps went elsewhere for their picks. While Vancouver didn't appear to pick up any future all stars, they did a decent job of mixing youth (Sanna Nyassi, Atiba Harris, Nathan Sturgis, Shea Salinas, O'Brian White, and Jonathan Leathers) with experience (Alan Gordon, Alejandro Moreno, Joe Cannon, and John Thorrington). There's a lot of speed on the wings in their new squad, while the club's spine appears to be pretty solid provided Thorrington and Cannon stay fit. Like Portland, however, they don't appear to be much of an offensive threat. White was seen as wasteful in Toronto, while Moreno and Gordon are hardly threats to score more than a handful of goals at this point in their careers. My guess is that the Whitecaps will go for a big money striker and either play him up front alone (with pint-sized Swiss playmaker Davide Chiumiento floating underneath) or cycle between the work ethic of Moreno, the size of Gordon, and the speed of White as the situation demands.
So who's the big winner? Vancouver was being laughed at on Twitter, but I think their picks are slightly better taken as a group. Neither team looks like a playoff contender at this point, but the Whitecaps seem more on a path toward immediate success (especially given the presence of Chiumiento and Jay DeMerit on their roster before the draft). I don't think either team did poorly, but obviously both will be pursuing forwards from outside MLS during the winter. All things considered, I'd give the Whitecaps a C+ and the Timbers a C. I'm not sure how they left L.A. untouched, or how players like Ned Grabavoy or Salou Ibrahim were not selected. Then again, it's hard to grade teams when they're already on the phones making deals that will bolster their picks here and/or clarify their thought process going into the expansion draft.