MLS Expansion: Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers Following Sounders' Lead

Might U.S. international Benny Feilhaber be the Timbers' version of Freddie Ljungberg? (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

By this time next year - if it isn't already - the fiercest rivalry in MLS will almost certainly reside in the Pacific Northwest.

Just a few months into their MLS existences, though, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps are already showing a willingness to learn from their Cascadia Cup rivals. At least, that's the way it looks from the flurry of activity that has followed Wednesday's Expansion Draft.

Less than 24 hours after the two teams picked 20 players from other MLS teams, eight of those players have already been dealt away as the two teams have combined for seven trades. Even after acquiring a handful of players in other ways, they have just 13 players who are likely to play significant roles next season that have significant MLS experience.

The clear indication is that the Timbers and Whitecaps are intending to use the Expansion Draft merely as a way to optimize other roster-building tools such as the trade market, the SuperDraft and bringing in players from outside the league.

They don't have to look far for another example of a team that succeeded by doing it this way.

As has been well chronicled, the Sounders have set a new bar for expansion teams. No team in the modern expansion era (excluding 1998) has enjoyed anything like the success the Sounders have had in their first two years (averaging 47.5 points, making the playoffs twice and winning two U.S. Open Cups).

The Sounders accomplished this without relying all that heavily on players they picked in the Expansion Draft. In Year 1, players acquired in the Expansion Draft played about 30 percent of available minutes and scored 32 percent of the team's goals. In Year 2, those Expansion Draft players are still accounting for about 26 percent of available minutes, but they have scored just 8 percent of the goals.

While the Timbers and Whitecaps are unlikely to get such a significant portion of their scoring from their crop of Expansion Draft players, it wouldn't be shocking for them to get a comparable amount of playing time from them.

More to the point, the Sounders got the bulk of their playing time and production from players brought in from outside of MLS (either through the MLS SuperDraft or signed from other leagues). The first year, those players accounted for 58 percent of playing time and 61 percent of scoring. By Year 2, those players accounted for 60 percent and 86 percent, respectively.

Of that non-MLS production, the most of it came came from players signed from Division 2 or from foreign leagues (35 percent of playing time and 31 percent of scoring). By Year 2, their playing time accounted for just 31 percent, but their scoring share was up to 34 percent.

In order to do that, the Sounders used a pair of tools that previous expansion teams either didn't have access to or used far less effectively: unlimited access to their old Division 2 players and allocation dollars.

The Timbers and Whitecaps already have virtually unfettered access to their former players and have signed or made it clear they will sign several of them. Perhaps more significantly, they have also signaled a desire to maximize their allocation dollars by acquiring additional money in several of their post Expansion Draft trades. They have also each acquired an extra international roster slot.

The Whitecaps already made one big signing, by nabbing former Premier League defender Jay DeMerit. The Timbers are currently rumored to be pursuing central midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who was DeMerit's U.S. teammate during the most recent World Cup.

If there's one thing we should expect for the rest of the off-season, it's seeing names like these attached to the Timbers and Whitecaps.

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