The Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs are in full flight, but, soon enough, the offseason will be upon us.
It will officially kick off with the Expansion Draft on Dec. 13. Incoming clubs Atlanta United and Minnesota United will each pick five players left unprotected by existing MLS teams to help fill out their rosters ahead of their inaugural seasons in 2017.
The 2016 edition will be the 10th Expansion Draft in league history. While many picks don’t pan out, some Expansion Draft selections have gone on to make huge impacts for their new clubs.
Here are my top five Expansion Draft picks in MLS history:
Brad Evans – Seattle Sounders, 2008 Expansion Draft
The Sounders’ final pick in the 2008 Expansion Draft, Brad Evans is one of the most important figures in Seattle’s MLS history. A member of former Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid’s Columbus Crew SC squads in 2007 and 2008, Evans has racked up 189 regular-season appearances with Seattle, tallying 19 goals and 27 assists while playing as a center and wide midfielder, right back and central defender. He’s been a part of three Open Cup triumphs and one Supporters’ Shield win with the Sounders, and could add another trophy to his haul next weekend in MLS Cup.
Zach Thornton – Chicago Fire, 1997 Expansion Draft
Newer MLS fans might not know the name, but Zach Thornton was one of the leading goalkeepers in the league in its earlier years. A member of the MetroStars in 1996 and 1997, he really got things going in Chicago, who selected him with the 11th pick in the league’s first Expansion Draft. Thornton immediately became the club’s full-time starter, earning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and Best XI honors in 1998, receiving All-Star nods five times with the Fire and winning one MLS Cup, three Open Cups and one Supporters’ Shield in eight years in Chicago. Today he coaches D.C. United's 'keepers.
Sebastien Le Toux – Philadelphia Union, 2009 Expansion Draft
The fourth selection in the 2009 Expansion Draft, Sebastien Le Toux is perhaps the most iconic player in the history of the club. Now with the Colorado Rapids, the Frenchman spent parts of six seasons in two separate stints with the Union. He ranks first in Union history in numerous statistical categories, including goals (50), assists (50), games played (175), shots (320) and shots on goal (144).
Andy Williams – Real Salt Lake, 2004 Expansion Draft
Now the club’s head scout, Andy Williams was a Real Salt Lake stalwart in the club’s early years, appearing in at least 23 regular-season games in all seven of his seasons with the club. A key member of the Salt Lake squads that won MLS Cup in 2009 and reached the final of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2011, the Jamaican retired in 2011 as RSL’s all-time leader in games played and shots and ended his career second in club history in assists, games started and minutes.
Jason Hernandez – San Jose Earthquakes, 2007 Expansion Draft
A two-time Expansion Draft selection, Jason Hernandez makes this list for his time in San Jose. Picked eighth by the Quakes in the 2007 Expansion Draft, Hernandez went on to spend seven years with the club before being snagged by New York City FC ahead of their debut season in 2015. A fixture in San Jose’s back four during his Bay Area stint, Hernandez captained the Quakes on several occasions, played a key role in their run to the 2012 Supporters’ Shield and currently ranks fifth in club history with 165 regular-season games played.