As New York City FC continue MLS Cup celebrations, all 28 clubs are now firmly focused on the offseason.
And, yep, that's not 27 clubs. With the 2021 season over, Charlotte FC are officially in business. As an expansion side, they’ll take center stage all winter long as their roster jumps closer and closer to resembling a full team.
There will be no bigger one-day growth than the Expansion Draft on Tuesday (7 pm ET).
“I think this year will be the most interesting Expansion Draft in the history of MLS,” Charlotte sporting director Zoran Krneta told MLSsoccer.com last month.
So, let’s dive into the group of players available for selection.
There are a lot of interesting players that are either out of contract or had their option declined that I generally ignored (such as strong options like Alec Kann, Jan Gregus and Jared Stroud). There's more value in adding players under contract rather than trying to renegotiate and risk what happened to Austin FC last year, in using a selection on Joe Corona but failing to agree to terms.
Charlotte face plenty of options, which I broke down into a few categories. Historically, teams have seemed to gravitate toward the “value plays” type of player, with an emphasis on those who don’t require an international slot.
Lastly: There's been at least one trade in every Expansion Draft in recent memory. And with so many players available, I’d be shocked if there’s not at least one trade Tuesday evening.
All salary info is per the MLS Players Association.
Prime candidate for a change of scenery? Cruz has talent but it hasn’t always shined in Cincy as the club have cycled through head coaches and finished bottom of the league three years in a row. The Costa Rican international turns 26 in February and is a strong buy-low candidate, so long as Charlotte (or another MLS club) would be content to take on his $1m+ budget charge.
Polo seemed to find his best role with the Timbers in central midfield rather than the wing, the position he played when signed. The Peru international was limited to just four appearances this year due to a season-ending injury, but the 27-year-old is another really strong candidate on this list.
He made $500k last year, which isn’t entirely a bargain. But it’s not too much, either.
Blackmon is a 25-year-old versatile defender, who can play either right back or center back and has made 64 MLS appearances with LAFC in his four-year career. LAFC’s front-footed game model often left him defending in space, a quality Charlotte FC defenders will likely need under Miguel Angel Ramirez.
Just entering his prime, versatile, domestic defender? Might be one of the strongest résumés on the list of available players.
Solid, MLS-experienced center back? Who made $300k last year? This is the kind of player that routinely gets selected in these expansion drafts (or signed in free agency) for year one clubs.
Williams does turn 34 in April, though.
The 29-year-old Jamaican international made 25 appearances in his return, plus has almost 12,000 regular-season minutes under his belt.
Findlay didn’t play a ton in 2021 after being acquired by the Philadelphia Union, but he fits the mold of a modern center back and there’s no shame in not beating out Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes for minutes, two top-level center backs in MLS.
Plus, the Union have a very high success rate in acquiring undervalued talent in recent years. Plus-plus, Glesnes didn’t play much the first year he was signed by Philly and that worked out pretty darn well.
Burke might not necessarily fit Ramirez’s game model or Charlotte’s general attacking profile, but a Jamaican international, proven MLS goalscorer might be the subject of a few calls from around the league for a trade.
The risk is that Thorkelsson is unproven in MLS, as the 19-year-old Iceland youth international center back never made his debut after signing for CF Montréal, in part due to injuries.
The reward is selecting a U22 Initiative signing for next-to-nothing.
Lopez hasn’t hit the ground running in Atlanta, but was acquired for around $3 million. Like Thorkelsson, a potential high-reward flier.
The 20-year-old forward has one goal across 869 MLS minutes.
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Malte Amundsen, Anton Tinnerholm, Jesus Medina
It’s very difficult to keep together trophy-winning teams in salary-capped leagues. Players who were performing at value are due new contracts and other teams in that league see the success and come for the players. NYCFC have a number of strong players that could be selected.
Any one of those four players above could be picked by Charlotte or selected for a trade.
This is a galaxy-brained, half-baked thought. Don’t take it overly seriously. But it crossed my mind and after watching the Joe Corona situation between Austin and Houston last year, anything is possible, right? Can Charlotte essentially steal transfer fees for these two players? Probably-almost-definitely-not ….. Right? Right…?
Rossi is technically on loan from LAFC to Fenerbahce, even though sources have described it as a forgone conclusion that the deal becomes permanent this spring anyway. I’m just sayin’.
Mitrita is on loan from NYCFC to PAOK in Greece. The Romanian international was acquired for $7 million and still holds value in Europe for an eventual transfer, as he's currently on his second loan from NYCFC. Again, I’m just sayin’.
… I’d probably go:
- Diego Rubio, Colorado (FWD)
- Malte Amundsen, NYCFC (DEF)
- Andy Polo, Portland (MID)
- Tristan Blackmon, LAFC (DEF)
- Stuart Findlay, Philadelphia (DEF)
This is without knowing any of Charlotte’s current whiteboard, how close they are on other deals for players potentially in the same positions, of course, nor the trade offers they’re starting to get for players on this list. But these five players could all play major roles in Charlotte’s inaugural season and generally seem to fit with what Ramirez will be preaching.
Findlay, Polo and Amundsen would require international slots as well, something else to consider (though Polo should be due for a green card soon).
Tuesday should be fun!