It is no secret that the MLS is trying to gain a foothold as one of the top leagues in the world. While it isn’t regarded as in the first tier just yet, the league has made huge strides toward doing so. In order to grow the league, you have to add more teams, and that is just what the MLS has done with New York City FC and Orlando City SC. The addition of these clubs, along with Chivas being dissolved, gives the league an even 20 teams. In order to help the expansion clubs gain players, the MLS held the 2014 MLS Expansion Draft.
It isn’t just about the number of teams in the league, but rather the quality of the players, or star power as some would say. The league took an opportunity to bring David Beckham to the US in 2007, hoping to bring visibility to the league. While Beckham may not have generated the buzz that the league was hoping for, he certainly opened the door for other international stars to make their way to the MLS. Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and Robbie Keane have all come to the US and made significant contributions to their clubs.
While NYCFC and Orlando SC have gained some star power by signing Frank Lampard, David Villa, and Kaka, they still need 11 players on the pitch. The 2014 MLS Expansion draft was held on December 10th, via conference call. Each existing MLS squad was allowed to “protect” 11 players on their roster, along with players automatically protected by Generation adidas and Homegrown Player contracts. A maximum of two players could be selected from any MLS team, therefore preventing an existing team from being depleted of players.
Orlando City had the first pick in the draft, selecting Donovan Ricketts from the Portland Timbers. They later selected Tony Cascio, Jalil Anibaba, Pedro Ribeiro, Lewis Neal, Jairo Arrieta, Heath Pearce, Danny Mwanga, Mark Sherrod, and Eric Gegrig from various clubs. NYCFC selected Ned Grabavoy, Patrick Mullins, Jason Hernandez, Daniel Lovitz, Tony Tyalor, Mehdi Ballouchy, George John, Tommy McNamara, Sal Zizzo, and Chris Wingert. Real Salt Lake, New England Revolution, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew, and DC United all lost two players in the draft. Sporting KC, Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Philadelphia Union, Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC, Portland Timbers, and San Jose Earthquakes all had one player selected in the draft. The Chicago Fire, LA Galaxy, and NY Red Bulls all escaped the draft with their entire roster intact.
The two expansion clubs have also made a fair share of trades with Orlando securing Aurelien Colin from Sporting KC, while NYCFC acquired Sebastian Velasquez from Real Salt Lake. Each team has taken their own approach towards piecing together their club, attempting to best prepare themselves for the first kick against each other on March 8th, 2015.
There are still questions that remain about next season for both clubs. The biggest might be the availability of Frank Lampard. The Englishmen has been on loan to parent club Manchester City, and the EPL side have expressed interest in extending his loan deal that is set to end in January. NYCFC will certainly want Lampard in Orlando for their opening match, but their parent club may have the last word on the issue. At 36, one might wonder how long Lampard has left in the tank.
As for Orlando City, they have recently bet big on Brek Shea, acquiring the American from Stoke City on a Designated Player contract. He had a very promising start to his career at FC Dallas, but has fallen on hard times since heading to Europe. They will rely on the Brazilian Kaka for leadership, something that any new club has to have to be successful.
Both of the clubs will play their home games in stadiums that are designed for other sports, with NYCFC playing at Yankee Stadium, and Orlando City playing in the Citrus Bowl. Each have plans for a soccer-specific stadium, but will not be ready for this season. It will be very interesting to see how the new clubs will assimilate into the league, and how competitive they will be in their inaugural season.