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LISTEN: Champions? Check. Best ever? Well, that depends on who you ask. Toronto FC emerged triumphant from MLS Cup 22, picking up the first treble in league history, and the guys celebrate an epic season and team. Plus, TAM injection, trades galore, free agency and the Expansion Draft as LAFC begin making moves. Subscribe so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
One thing to bear in mind heading into Tuesday's Expansion Draft is that, historically speaking, less than half of the guys picked will make a dent with their new team. You can chalk that up to any number of things on the "separating the wheat from the chaff" spectrum, and I'm not going to pretend to know the details of each and every success vs. each and every failure.
Just remember, though, that there's always real talent available in these things. Dax McCarty, Seth Sinovic, Tommy McNamara and Patrick Mullins are guys who've gone in recent drafts. Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll and Clarence Goodson are a few from a decade back. All of these guys are/were contributors on very good teams, and LAFC will have the chance to snag something similar this time around.
Here's nine to consider:
Yamil Asad (W – Atlanta United): Perhaps the single most intriguing name on this list, Asad produced at a near-DP caliber (7g/13a in 2765 minutes) on loan for the Five Stripes this year, and was a menace in the high press as well. At just age 23, he seems like an easy pick.
Here's the twofold problem. First is that it's not clear how much it would take to buy Asad outright from Velez Sarsfield, and second it's not clear that Asad would want to play in Los Angeles. Bob Bradley & Co. would have to do their due diligence in talking to him, his agent and the Velez Sarsfield braintrust before pulling the trigger here. And understand that this winter's influx of Targeted Allocation Money could (should?) mean they'll be able to get Asad without burning a DP slot.
If they go for it, they'll end up with an MLS-proven playmaker to feed what's likely to be a star-studded attack. And at worst, they'd control his MLS rights provided they make him a bonafide offer.
Khiry Shelton (W/F – NYCFC): The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 SuperDraft regressed massively in 2017 after a strong second year, and whatever happens on Tuesday it's a good bet he's played his final minutes with NYCFC. Defensively he struggled to stay engaged while in the attack he was never, ever a difference-maker.
This would be a reclamation project for Bradley. But Shelton's obviously got talent, and if you're going to take a chance on anything, "talent" should be it.
Shelton's contract is manageable, and he would not require an international slot.
Richie Marquez (CB – Philadelphia Union): Marquez had a bad 2017, eventually getting relegated to the bench after two seasons as a starter. But he's still young-ish, has over 6000 MLS minutes and would be proven and serviceable long-term depth at central defense, all on a reasonable contract with no international slot required.
Jeff Attinella (GK – Portland Timbers): Attinella was picked in last year's expansion draft, then flipped to the Timbers for not much. He ended up starting the final 13 games of the season as well as both playoff games, and the 29-year-old looked the part of a No. 1 'keeper. His contract is affordable and is yet another guy who won't require an international roster slot.
Saad Abdul-Salaam (RB – Sporting KC): LAFC have already invested cash and an international roster slot on Egyptian international Omar Gaber, so right back is not a position of need. But Abdul-Salaam was a top five player at that position in 2015 and 2016 before losing his starting job to Graham Zusi in 2017.
I'd pick him here and flip him for the best offer on the table. Right back is a position of need around the league, and the 26-year-old Abdul-Salaam still has major trade value.
Picking him to use him as a backup is also an option, though I doubt he wants to be in another situation where he's not getting on the field.
Raheem Edwards (LB/LW – Toronto FC): The 22-year-old Canadian international was a demon in 2017, bagging a goal and adding six assists in just over 1000 regular season minutes:
He was fun and relentless pushing forward, and while his defense could still use a little work (especially if he's playing LB in a back four), he's already shown the ability to put in the work and improve. I'm honestly stunned he's available here.
Edwards is on a minimum contract, and obviously left back is a position of need. About the only negative is that he'd require use of an international roster slot, but given his talent, he's worth it.
Daniel Johnson (W – Chicago Fire): Impressed in very limited minutes as a rookie before missing most of the season following an injury. Johnson’s probably back under the radar, but people around the league haven’t forgotten about him.
He’s not a guy who LAFC would expect to be a starter right away, but he has the talent to work himself into that role, and Bradley’s always had an affinity for playmaking wingers. He requires no international slot, and is on a very affordable contract.
Hector Jimenez (FB – Columbus): Every MLS locker room has at least one guy who can/does bridge the gap between English-only speakers and Spanish-only speakers, and for Crew SC that’s been Jimenez. He’s regarded around the league as a pro’s pro and one of the true good guys out there, and he earns respect from all comers.
He’s able to add valuable minutes at either fullback slot or as a wingback. Jimenez, who’s 29, will never be an All-Star, but you’re not drafting him here for upside. You’re drafting him here for stability and veteran knowhow.
Miguel Ibarra (W – Minnesota United): Ibarra clearly never fit into Adrian Heath’s big-picture view of what the Loons should be, but he has value around the league and I’m surprised they weren’t able to move him during the trade window. His production wasn’t great last year – 3g/4a in 1700 minutes – but to me, he looked the part.
His salary is a little bit steep for a guy who only might be a starter, but that’s not an outrageous sum to spend on a guy who can play on either wing and will likely have to given potential international absences.
Visit MLSsoccer.com at 2 pm ET on Tuesday, December 12 to watch live, studio coverage of the Expansion Draft as it happens.