Two decidedly different strategies for building a team were on display during Tuesday's MLS Expansion Draft.
The Timbers opted to draft significantly less experienced players, perhaps with great upside potential, while the Whitecaps went with a decidedly more grizzled (and well compensated) group of players.
Timbers: An Eye on 2013 or Just Confident?
After making the Dax McCarty the first pick of the Expansion Draft, the Timbers only drafted three more players with significant MLS playing time — two of which are highly unlikely to suit for the Timbers next season.
The selections of U.S. internationals Robbie Findley and Jonathan Bornstein were reasonably good symbols of what the Timbers seemed to be trying to accomplish with this draft. Bornstein will be playing in the Mexican Primera next season, while Findley has expressed a strong desire to leave MLS. But the Timbers will retain the rights to both players — assuming they make qualifying offers — if they ever choose to return to the league. In both cases, the Timbers acquired players who will cost them nothing now, but could pay huge dividends in the future.
The only other players the Timbers drafted with as many as 3,300 minutes of MLS playing time were McCarty (6,380) and Arturo Alvarez (9,365), and neither will be older than 25 next season.
In fact, with an average age of 24.1, the Timbers draft class was the youngest of any in the modern era (not counting 1998). Bornstein was the only player they picked older than 25. As a result, this was also a particularly cheap group of players. If we assume neither Bornstein nor Findley will be signed at the start of the next year, this group of players was paid about $625,000 in guaranteed compensation next year.
Taken in conjunction with their acquisition of some allocation money from the Los Angeles Galaxy in exchange for an international roster slot, this all seems to indicate an intention to be active in the offseason. Assuming none of the four players the Timbers signed from USSF D-2 are going to break the bank, the Timbers could have at least $1.7 million of cap space and a significant amount of allocation money to lure players with.
As of today, the Timbers have a starting XI that would likely look like this:
That's probably not a lineup that is going to win a lot of matches at the MLS level right now, but does have lots of room to grow.
Overall grade: Incomplete. Success or failure of this draft is really predicated on moves both before and after.
Whitecaps: Winning Now is Job No. 1
While the Timbers were busy building the youngest ever expansion draft class, the Whitecaps were drafting the oldest. With an average age of 26.8 and more than 73,000 minutes of MLS playing time, they drafted a team that has a significant amount of experience.
Among the notable veterans they took were goalkeeper Joe Cannon (35) and forwards Alejandro Moreno (31) and Alan Gordon (29). All three earned significant starting minutes last year and will almost certainly see significant minutes in the Whitecaps inaugural campaign.
Even among the younger players they drafted, all of them have spent significant portions of their careers as starters. Sanna Nyassi (21) started 14 matches last year, Nathan Sturgis (23) started 16 games last year and Atiba Harris (25) has already played more than 9,000 regular season minutes. No player they picked has played fewer than 1,500 career minutes.
Of course, this also comes at a price. Assuming most of the players don't agree to significant pay cuts and Jay DeMerit is signed for at least $250,000, there's probably about $1.1 million already eaten up by the 11 players on their roster.
Putting a lineup together based on this group would be pretty tough, but we can safely assume the Whitecaps have five to seven players who could start for at least half of the teams. DeMerit should be among the better centerbacks. Cannon should have at least another season in him. Nyassi, Harris and Sturgis all started for playoff teams. Shea Salinas, Moreno, Gordon, O'Brian White, John Thorrington and Jonathan Leathers should all compete for significant minutes no matter which other players the Whitecaps sign.
Overall grade: B-. This could be a competitive MLS team, and they have the makings of a very solid midfield, but they may have painted themselves into a corner.