St. Louis CITY SC are growing closer to a full squad, adding a handful of players during Friday night’s 2022 MLS Expansion Draft.
The theme for STL was going domestic, going young and going cheap. That’s the big takeaway and we’ll dive into it.
The other theme, for me, is there was only one outbound trade. That’s slightly under what I expected; I was assuming two trades, but the trade market never quite moved. That shows St. Louis valued the player acquisition aspect more than trying to maximize allocation money, with only forward Jake LaCava being selected from the New York Red Bulls and then traded to Inter Miami CF.
Just as the Expansion Draft ended, St. Louis also acquired center back Tim Parker in a trade from Houston Dynamo FC. St. Louis now have 17 players under contract going into their inaugural season.
“We want to build a team here,” sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said on the live show with Andrew Wiebe and Calen Carr. “We want to build a club culture, so everybody on the field – the 11 on the field, the coaching staff, the substitute players and even all of the guys in the stands, they're just as important as everybody else. That's why that DP thinking, that PR player thinking, not just my cup of tea.”
Okay, we’re all caught up now. Let’s go deeper.
St. Louis used their first pick to select forward Nicholas Gioacchini from Orlando City SC. Gioacchini joined Orlando in a free transfer in the summer, but didn’t break into the Lions' rotation by the end of the year.
Gioacchini, 21, already has eight caps (three goals) with the US men’s national team, though was nowhere near the roster picture for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Still, that's a strong pedigree to land in the Expansion Draft and a useful roll of the dice.
“He's the guy for the deep runs, so exactly the way we want to play,” Pfannenstiel said of Gioacchini. “He really fits in there.”
The forward, who can also play on the wing, began his career in France and scored some goals in the French second tier (with Caen), but didn’t play a ton in the top flight (with Montpellier). He’s talented and should fit in the club’s high-pressing, front-footed ethos.
This was my favorite pick St. Louis made.
Parker was viewed as being among the league’s best central defenders a few years ago during his peak with the New York Red Bulls. He was traded to Houston in a blockbuster deal before 2021 and signed a new contract, but it didn’t work out the same in Texas.
Parker is now traded to St. Louis for $500,000 in General Allocation Money (but Houston will be holding some of his contract hit the next two years). He goes back to a playing style he thrived in. STL head coach Bradley Carnell worked with Parker as an assistant at RBNY for a couple of years, so the familiarity is there.
The center back, who turns 30 in February, has 217 career MLS appearances.
There were wingers I thought might be within consideration (like Charlotte’s Andre Shinyashiki and Nashville’s Alex Muyl)... but St. Louis went with Indiana Vassilev instead. He’s younger and cheaper, which certainly factored into the decision-making process.
New England Revolution center back Jon Bell was inexpensive, as was FC Cincinnati left back John Nelson. It’s the way teams have seemed to view the Expansion Draft in recent years, looking more for depth than taking big swings.
“[Nelson] plays a big part when it comes to the energy, to mentality, hardworking,” Pfannenstiel said. “I think he somehow reflects that Midwestern mentality, which we want to stand for. Be modest, be hardworking, get a head down and work and work. That is what the people want to see out there. John Nelson is the guy.”
Let’s go back to Vassilev for a second: The former US youth international has spent the last two seasons (portions of them) on loan at Inter Miami CF, netting 5g/2a in 45 games (20 starts).
St. Louis will need to work something out with Vassilev’s parent club – English Premier League side Aston Villa – as his loan expires this winter, but that shouldn’t be too difficult.
“Technically great player,” Pfannenstiel said of Vassilev. “His big upside is he can play so many different positions. He also has already English Premier League experience playing for Aston Villa, and you don't find many 21-year-olds, overseas players, Americans who actually have that experience.”
The international signings St. Louis made this summer started to build out the core, like forward Klauss and central midfielder Eduard Lowen (both DPs); goalkeeper Roman Burki, attacking midfielder Tomas Ostrak and center back Joakim Nilsson. Those five (as best I can tell) should comprise the international-based core.
Parker joins from the domestic pool. There are further squad players like former Austin FC and RBNY winger Jared Stroud, center back Kyle Hiebert (up from their MLS NEXT Pro side), Bell, Nelson and more.
The squad is balanced. They need more fullbacks and central midfielders, but they have nearly two months ahead of preseason. It’s a good spot to be in, with a clear roster-building identity.
All in all, sure, yeah. Time will tell, of course, but there wasn’t anything overtly head-scratching, like selecting a free agent or trading a player for below his value – as long as a deal for Vassilev gets done.
It was a low-risk strategy by going for cheaper domestic players, which has typically been a good route to go.
All in all, there’s a reason for optimism.
St. Louis didn’t commit a ton of salary resources in the Expansion Draft. They added a few international slots in the days leading up to it as well.
STL have plenty of flexibility, both in terms of salary and roster spots, plus all three U22 Initiative slots are open. I’m sure they’ll purposefully hold space for the summer to be able to change the squad after seeing 10-15 games, but they’ve got options.
The next big milestone? Free agency opens on Nov. 16.