Stage 1 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft usually doesn't produce many fireworks – until this year.
D.C. United took a huge step in fortifying their roster by selecting longtime LA Galaxy defender Sean Franklin with the first pick, then followed that up by picking veteran Houston Dynamo center back Bobby Boswell with the 20th pick.
The biggest eyebrow-raiser was from the Portland Timbers, who sent a giant shot across the bow of their archrivals by selecting former Seattle Sounders winger Steve Zakuani with the second pick. Portland had acquired the No. 2 pick from Chivas USA just minutes before the draft in exchange for the No. 17 pick and defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste. The Goats also sent midfielder/defender Jorge Villafaña to the Timbers in the deal.
The only other players selected in Stage 1 were midfielder Corben Bone by Philadelphia with the sixth pick, then defender/midfielder Marc Burch by Colorado with the 13th pick. The five players selected Thursday are the most in Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft in the four years the league has conducted the process.
Portland's selection reunites Zakuani with Caleb Porter, who coached the Congo-born speedster for two years at the University of Akron, including a monstrous 2008 season in which Zakuani was a runner-up for the Hermann Trophy.
A Generation adidas signing, he was originally selected by the Sounders with the No. 1 pick of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and quickly became a fan favorite in the Emerald City. Over five seasons in Seattle, the 25-year-old has 19 goals and 18 assists in 101 appearances across all competitions, and experienced an emotional comeback last season after missing more than a year after a gruesome leg break in 2011.
D.C. United, meanwhile, made two big additions to fix a leaky defense that was the second-worst in the league in 2013 by reacquiring Boswell – who began his career in D.C. and won MLS Defender of the Year in 2006 – and Franklin, the 2008 MLS Rookie of the Year who was a key component in the Galaxy's back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2011 and 2012.
Teams that selected players in Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Draft must either exercise those players' 2014 option or make them a bona fide offer.
Players that went unselected Thursday will be available for Stage 2, which will be held next Wednesday, Dec. 18, at 3 pm ET via conference call. According to league rules, teams will have seven days to make a bona fide offer to the players they select in Stage 2 and if an agreement can't be reached, the club will hold the right of first refusal for that player in MLS.
Any players not picked up after Stage 2 become available to any MLS club on a first-come, first-served basis.
The order for both Re-Entry stages will follow the same order as the MLS Waiver Draft: reverse order of finish in 2013, factoring in playoff finish (CLICK HERE for the Re-Entry order).
Click here for more information on the Re-Entry Draft process and rules on player eligibility.