Let's keep this brief: I had the idea to do a mock expansion draft all by myself, and not doing it in terms of what I would do but rather how Orlando City SC and New York City FC will approach things. I'd also be withdrawing players for each existing club in character as well. I did this despite knowing that mock drafts with any number of people take a long time, and despite the fact that the results will be largely wrong.
If you're still reading, let's jump into it. Here's a brief read on my "characters:"
OCSC - Looking to build a functional MLS team as quickly as possible. They've got their star man in Kaka, so everyone else in place will be trying to create an environment in which the Brazilian can thrive. Orlando played attacking soccer in the past, but I sense a pretty strong pragmatic streak. Also, don't confuse "attacking" with "attractive;" this team is going to be physical, aggressive, and won't match the aesthetically pleasing stuff we see from RSL or Columbus these days.
NYCFC - I think there's more pressure here to succeed straight away, but they're also more likely to have 3 DPs, so the price tag will often come into play. Jason Kreis is also going to want his team to play possession soccer, though there are rumors that he won't be playing the diamond that he used so often with RSL. It's likely that Kreis has a set of three or four formations to choose from at this point, and today's results will give him some direction. I also think he'll be looking for intense competitors, and NYCFC seems more likely to grab a guy and trade him elsewhere in my book.
I took into consideration the expansion draft rules as well as taking note of which players are out of contract, who is likely to pursue a club in Europe, and which players were in MLS on loan (and thus are not guaranteed to return). Here is the list of protected and unprotected players, in case you feel compelled to do this yourself.
With that out of the way, here's how it turned out:
1. Orlando City SC
Pick: Kenny Cooper (Seattle Sounders)
Heath probably has a DP in mind to spearhead his preferred 4231, but this is still a no-brainer. Said DP will need a back-up (or a replacement if he's a dud), and Cooper as a starter pretty much guarantees a double-digit goalscoring total. Plus, he can play on the wing if need be. The non-injury worst case here is Cooper being traded for something pretty valuable. It's as low-risk/high-reward as it gets in this expansion draft.
Seattle withdraws Dylan Remick. The Sounders don't have a forward worth protecting, and I don't see either team picking Leo Gonzalez, so instead Sigi Schmid and Adrian Hanauer will agree to protect their other, younger LB instead.
2. New York City FC
Pick: Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers)
I think Kreis would actually prefer Corey Ashe, but "Sueño" makes about a hundred grand less. Hard to argue with that discount at the often troublesome left back position.
Portland withdraws Gaston Fernandez. With Diego Valeri a long way from health due to a torn ACL, "La Gata" is likely going to start the season as PTFC's #10...that is, if they can agree to a contract. Leaving him out there is a risk Portland could get away with, but I think they react impulsively here. Plus, there isn't actually any other starter-quality talent to pull back. The Timbers may need new left back Jeanderson to succeed immediately.
3. Orlando City SC
Pick: Mark Bloom (Toronto FC)
Bloom is a decent MLS starter making the senior minimum. In expansion drafts, that's actually more of a prize than a hypothetical "good" player making $200,000 or so. Orlando wants to build their roster up quickly, but they don't want to find themselves up against the cap straight away.
Toronto withdraws Jackson. It's either him, Dominic Oduro, or Steven Caldwell. Oduro costs more than Jackson, and Caldwell is 34. Whoever is in charge of TFC right now rolls the dice on the veteran Scot's age deterring further interest.
4. New York City FC
Pick: Ned Grabavoy (Real Salt Lake)
Orlando probably thought about pulling a fast one here and selecting Grabavoy at #3, but I think they might prefer more of a runner and less of a passer in the linking role between Amobi Okugo and Kaka. That leaves NYC to add Grabavoy just like everyone has been predicting.
RSL protects Sebastian Velasquez. RSL is already losing plenty of longtime players for cap reasons, so letting go of promising youngsters who are dirt cheap is probably not going to help matters. Velasquez struggled in 2014, but he's still a talent that likely ends up leaving without making this move.
5. Orlando City SC
Pick: Kofi Opare (D.C. United)
Remember what I said about decent MLS starters on the senior minimum? Throw in the fact that Opare is only 24, and the only way I see him going unselected is if Chris Korb is United's first player taken. This is the cost of being a good team. Meanwhile, for OCSC, they'll already have a cheap, completely respectable back four of Bloom, Aurelien Collin, Opare, and Luke Boden in which the oldest player is just 28. The Lions are looking pretty smart.
United withdraws Davy Arnaud. Jeff Parke's contract status and lingering injury concerns are a major factor here. If he's actually healthy and just needs to regain his fitness after being forced to be basically inactive by that inner ear problem, then United will definitely protect him here and will likely be forced to ask for a less aggressive pay cut to retain him. If that isn't the case, look for Arnaud to be withdrawn. After all, a key to United's successful defense is that central midfield axis.
6. New York City FC
Pick: Patrick Mullins (New England Revolution)
It's a mild shock that Mullins was made available while Daigo Kobayashi was protected, but that's not NYCFC's problem. Mullins won't likely start on a team that has David Villa and possibly another DP up front, but maybe Kreis sees the opportunity to add a big-money player elsewhere (defensive midfield, perhaps?). Even if all they can do with him is make a trade, Mullins is a very valuable player that New England may regret not placing on their protected list.
New England withdraws Steve Neumann. The Georgetown product may not have a set position, but he made 23 appearances for the Revs in 2014. With Mullins gone and Diego Fagundez protected via deals made before the expansion draft, Neumann makes more sense than New England's other attackers at this point.
7. Orlando City SC
Pick: Michael Azira (Seattle Sounders)
Wash, rinse, repeat: Azira's a useful player making just about as low a wage as he can be given in MLS. His international status is an issue, but he's probably better than the existing options on Orlando's roster and he fits the above description of what they want between Okugo and Kaka. Plus, the Lions have gotten to see him in the past due to his time playing USL-PRO soccer with the Charleston Battery.
Seattle is off the board.
8. New York City FC
Pick: Carlos Salcedo (Real Salt Lake)
People will make this out as some sort of cryptic jab at his old employer, but for Kreis it's just business. Salcedo is unhappy in Utah, but has never said he wants to leave MLS entirely. Plus, he's a 21 year old who has shown that he can start at a high level in central defense who makes the senior minimum. "Senior roster minimum," incidentally, is going to be the phrase of the day today, so get used to hearing it. Salcedo's got tons of potential, and NYCFC has no actual CB on the roster yet.
RSL is off the board.
9. Orlando City SC
Pick: Andy Gruenebaum (Sporting Kansas City)
OCSC is going to need a goalkeeper to hold them over until Tally Hall is fit again after he tore his ACL near the end of this past season. There are perhaps better options out there, but they're either older (Jon Busch, 38) or cost more money. Gruenebaum was the better of KC's three starters, and he hasn't been known to grouse when he's second-choice, which will be the case when Hall is fit.
Sporting KC withdraws Jorge Claros. Peter Vermes, having already let Lawrence Olum depart for the Malaysian league, exhales audibly and protects the only anchor man left on his roster. Kries, meanwhile, grimaces at the news.
10. New York City FC
Pick: Carlos Alvarez (Colorado Rapids)
Alvarez was justifiably touted as a potential #1 pick less than two years ago, but has been largely forgotten since. It's not really his fault, though: He was taken by Chivas USA and did well when you consider the disaster swirling around him, and then had the misfortune of being traded to another team in mid-disaster (the Rapids) this year. Kreis may not know what his formation is going to be, but a technical, energetic player with some toughness that can play multiple midfield positions will always find a spot on one of his teams.
Colorado withdraws Dimitry Imbongo. I'm not entirely sure how the Rapids managed to get two young-ish forwards and move up in the draft in exchange for Joe Nasco and a lesser draft pick, but in any case I'm guessing they really wanted either Imbongo or Ajax product Geoffrey Castillion. Since I haven't seen the latter play, I'll go ahead and guess that the Rapid protect the abrasive French target forward instead.
11. Orlando City SC
Pick: Daniel Lovitz (Toronto FC)
Somehow, TFC loses two players. Lovitz is a traditional left winger, and Orlando will need balance from that side given that Kevin Molino will often drift inside from the right. Lovitz actually looked decent for the Reds whenever he played, and he's on a developmental roster contract. A low-cost youngster who fits precisely how OCSC plays? Sounds like he's just what Heath ordered.
There is one issue here: Per expansion draft rules, selecting Lovitz means guaranteeing him a senior roster spot not just today but all the way through 2015's roster compliance date. Basically, it means Lovitz gets a spot on the team until summer at the very least. He's probably good enough to deserve that, though, so the Lions pull the trigger.
TFC is off the board.
12. New York City FC
Pick: Mark Sherrod (Houston Dynamo)
Senior roster minimum. Sherrod was actually looking like he would push Will Bruin onto the bench after producing 2 goals and 1 assist in his first 223 MLS minutes. However, his season ended after he tore his ACL early in the Dynamo's visit to RFK Stadium back in May. With the normal six-month timetable in mind, Sherrod should be fit and ready for the preseason, and Kreis has always found a use for big, strong target forwards no matter what his formation is.
Houston withdraws David Horst. Houston's defense was a big problem this year, but they weren't bad once DaMarcus Beasley and Luis Garrido joined the club. Horst may not be a playoff-caliber starter, but most teams would accept having him as the main back-up for their starters, and that's likely how new boss Owen Coyle will use him.
13. Orlando City SC
Pick: Danny Cruz (Philadelphia Union)
Orlando has had a bit of a reputation for being physical and unpleasant to play against, so I think they'd love to grab a player like Cruz, who can play on either wing and can act as something of an enforcer in those inevitable moments where Kaka gets the Nagbe treatment.
Philadelphia withdraws Pedro Ribeiro. There's not a lot of non-GK quality here for the Union to protect, and Jim Curtin seemed to rate Ribeiro down the stretch. With Conor Casey likely on the way out and both Andrew Wenger and CJ Sapong fitting the "target winger" role more than actually fitting in centrally, Philly would like to keep someone familiar with the job. Plus, this allows them to continue antagonizing Zac MacMath for whatever reason it is that they keep doing so.
14. New York City FC
Pick: Eric Gehrig (Columbus Crew SC)
Gehrig is out of contract, but since he was on the senior minimum last year we're probably not talking about a huge contract here. Like new teammate Williams, Gehrig showed he could play a style that emphasizes possession with this year's Crew. He's not going to play a ton for NYCFC, but he's very useful depth.
Columbus withdraws Tyson Wahl. Wahl did well enough starting for the Crew after Giancarlo Gonzalez was sold, and his salary isn't expensive. Columbus could opt to protect other players here - like Aaron Schoenfeld or Ben Speas - but they'll probably want to limit their defensive losses just enough to go this way instead.
15. Orlando City SC
Pick: Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo)
Orlando sees Englishman Luke Boden as ready to start and do well in MLS, so they don't need to grab a left back here. However, plenty of MLS squads would love to have Ashe, so I think we see Orlando make this move purely with a future trade in mind. We're at the stage where this sort of thing starts to happen.
Houston is off the board.
16. New York City FC
Pick: Armando (New York Red Bulls)
NYCFC has seemed to enjoy tweaking the Red Bulls, but I don't think they'll want too many of the players that the Metros have left unprotected. There are connections between Barcelona and NYCFC if you go far enough up the org chart, though, and that might be enough to entice NYCFC to take the ex-Barcelona B regular. Armando may have been a target for early-season LOLs due to his inability to understand that hurling yourself into everyone is not a legal way to defend, but realistically he's probably NYRB's second-best center back. The fact that he's very comfortable on the ball and can fill in at left back competently makes up for his card-prone style of play (which, to be fair, became less of an issue as the year wore on).
NYRB withdraws Ibrahim Sekagya. Straightforward for Mike Petke here. Sekagya's nothing special, but by protecting him Petke guarantees that he enters 2015 with his first-choice CB duo and USA under-20 Matt Miazga as a back-up.
17. Orlando City SC
Pick: Chris Korb (D.C. United)
Orlando may end up flipping Ashe, but I think they grab Korb here to give themselves a potential starter in case Boden isn't ready to play in MLS just yet (not to mention a serious competitor for Bloom on the right). That groan you hear when this pick comes in is Kreis, who was planning on taking Thomas McNamara with the next pick.
United is off the board.
18. New York City FC
Pick: Ben Speas (Columbus Crew)
Having lost out on the opportunity to have a versatile, clever young attacker Kreis will go grab a different versatile, clever young attacker. Speas does not have a mullet, and he can't really play a central role, but Kreis will find some use for him regardless of how his team lines up.
19. Orlando City SC
Pick: Jacob Peterson (Sporting Kansas City)
Peterson completes an MLS-ready quartet of wingers for Orlando, and he can also play right back. I think they'd like one more central midfielder than they got, but my guess is that they already have plans for the #8 role that would mean Azira is battling for minutes with El Salvador national team midfielder Darwin Ceren. Peterson fits the mold of how Orlando will approach the game.
KC is off the board.
20. New York City FC
Pick: AJ Soares (New England Revolution)
NYC rolls the dice here. Soares is rumored to be preferring a move to Europe (he has an Italian passport), but maybe they can persuade him to continue in MLS? If it works, NYC will field arguably the most aggressive starting CB duo in MLS with Soares and Armando. If not, it's still a successful haul for Kreis and co. This one's worth the gamble (unlike George John, whose salary of over $300,000 would be too large for Man City Junior to carry even without his lengthy history with knee injuries).