Plugging the holes: What we can learn from MLS’s Expansion Draft

Domenic Trimboli Columnist

By Domenic Trimboli, Domenic Trimboli is a Roar Expert

25 Have your say

    America show the way when it comes to football expansion. (Image: Red Bull Content Pool).

    For every inch that Australian football grows, our American friends are taking continental leaps in their domestic scene – and there’s much we can take away from how Major League Soccer does its business.

    Expansion ain’t no walk in the park – it’s a dangerous cocktail of money, politics and geography. Mix it right, and the rewards can be tremendous. Get it wrong, and there’ll be a bitter taste on tongues for years.

    Though when you strip away the aforementioned money, politics and geography, there’s a glaring issue, particularly in an Australian context, which needs to carry a decent level of prioritisation.

    And it’s an issue that MLS does extremely well to address: the effect on the player talent pool.

    On Wednesday afternoon (red white and blue time), the 2014 MLS Expansion Draft will be held between league newcomers New York City FC and Orlando City SC.

    The draft is designed to help the two incoming franchises stock their rosters with existing MLS talent and ease the burden of starting a football club from scratch.

    Both teams will be given 10 picks each from a spread of 240 available players.

    Yesterday, each of the 18 established MLS clubs submitted two lists: one list with the names of players who are available for drafting, and one list of the names of players who are protected from being poached.

    Each of the 18 teams is able to nominate 11 players for this protected list. Players who are classified as homegrown (local players who have graduated through their club’s development academies) or are sponsored by the Generation Adidas venture (a program which allows young players to bypass the college system) are also automatically protected.

    This means that everyone else is fair game to NYFC and Orlando. Interestingly, one name in particular stands out in this pool of unprotected players: our very own Tim Cahill.

    It’s possibly the biggest hint yet that Cahill’s tenure with the Red Bulls is over, and there’s now every chance that he could be lining up for new boys NYFC next year alongside Frank Lampard and old mate David Villa.

    As one would expect, there’s a litany of rules and stipulations to go along with the draft. Notable ones include:

    • No team can lose more than two players in the draft
    • Once a player has been claimed from a club’s unprotected list, said club then have the option of protecting a previously unprotected player
    • A player with a contract that is set to expire at end of season is still considered to be part of his team’s roster; it is then up for the club to decide whether to protect him or not
    • The 18 clubs are restricted in the number of international players that they make available for drafting
    • NYCFC and Orlando have the right to renegotiate a draft player’s salary without having to place said player on waivers or giving his previous club a right of first refusal

    You can read a full list of the 2014 Expansion Draft rules here.

    The draft is now part of the standard expansion protocol for MLS.

    An Expansion Draft was last held in 2011 ahead of the Montreal Impact’s arrival on the scene, and it’s expected that one will be held in 2016 before new franchises in Atlanta and Los Angeles join the fray.

    In short, MLS have worked out a system that effectively considers how expansion impacts the league’s talent pool.

    As the A-League stands on the precipice of its own period of growth and change, it’d do well to address the issue in a similar way.

    If such a system were to be implemented in the A-League, naturally it would require substantial alterations to the Australian footballing fabric – particularly in regards to the salary cap and youth development structures.

    Of course, it’s unfair to compare MLS with the A-League. MLS has 11 solid years on our league, and is also fed by the capitalist beast that is American sports; earlier this year for example, MLS announced a major television deal worth a reported $720 million.

    Though with the A-League having a significantly smaller available talent pool than America, it’s important that we stay mindful of how we manage our most precious resource: players.

    It’d be hard to argue against the fact that we live in a nation where the talent pool is beginning to spread rather thin. And when the next two franchises are announced in the coming years, this situation will be amplified.

    The Western Sydney Wanderers were able to put together unwanted parts to assemble a team worthy of silverware. But do we have an existing talent pool that’ll support a similar start-up twice, three times, four times over? I’m not sure.

    We could certainly dip into our state-based leagues, though as I pointed out earlier this year, there’s still a considerable gulf in ability between these leagues and the top tier.

    The National Youth League could well be mined for gems, but the jury is still out on whether or not the league is achieving what it should be – another article, for another time.

    What we don’t want is for incoming teams to be left high and dry when it comes to assembling a playing roster. Having an even playing field is a hallmark of the A-League, and if were to lose that we’d be losing one of the main draw cards of our game.

    A draft may not be the answer, but when it comes to our talent pool, there’s no questioning that the A-League needs to prepare for life before expansion.

    Domenic Trimboli
    Domenic Trimboli

    Writer, communicator and failed centre back. Occasional tweeter (you can follow him @dom_trimboli), infrequent video-maker and reliable email responder.

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    The Crowd Says (25)

    • December 10th 2014 @ 2:10pm
      Towser said | December 10th 2014 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

      “But do we have an existing talent pool that’ll support a similar start-up twice, three times, four times over? I’m not sure.”

      I am, no we dont. Any extra talent needed for expansion and to maintain, indeed improve the quality of the A-League must be imported.
      The USA has probably 10 times the number of players we do a massive pool.
      Cant vouch for their quality ,but I do know the college sports system is a production line of talented sportsman in all sports catered for.
      That’s something,because we dont even have a population the size of California that cant be replicated. here.

      • December 10th 2014 @ 3:16pm
        strayan said | December 10th 2014 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

        (“But do we have an existing talent pool that’ll support a similar start-up twice, three times, four times over? I’m not sure.”

        I am, no we dont. Any extra talent needed for expansion and to maintain, indeed improve the quality of the A-League must be imported.)

        and what do you base this judgement on champ? i wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss young local untried talent. there are plenty of good young player sin this country all itching and desperate for that chance at senior ey-lick football. expand the number of clubs in the league, fill them up with talented young local players and a sprinkling of quality foreign imports and we’ll be right

        • December 10th 2014 @ 6:46pm
          Towser said | December 10th 2014 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

          “And what do you base this judgement on champ”
          Called experience.
          Anybody whose been around football in Australia for decades can see we don’t have the home grown talent,based on observation over that long period.
          Ask yourself this question,why is it that the players who are standouts in the A-league are the imports.
          Plenty of young Australian players overseas in lower leagues in Europe,most wouldn’t even make the present squads in an A-league team.
          Watched the Roar hammer a couple of NPL clubs also over the last couple of seasons. If the young players I saw at these clubs are an indication of the desperate chomping at the bit young players,then we’re in deep sh*t.
          The best young Aussie players are already at the Roar and even they are shaded(as it is as I mentioned above) by the imports.
          If you wish to believe we have the player pool to do similar to the USA that’s your right and your opinion.
          My opinion is that to believe we have that number of quality players to replicate the MLS situation is pure fantasy.

      • December 10th 2014 @ 10:55pm
        melbourneterrace said | December 10th 2014 @ 10:55pm | ! Report

        And you base that on what? There is a stack of talent in the NPL and below that is getting ignored.

    • December 10th 2014 @ 2:48pm
      Midfielder said | December 10th 2014 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

      Excellent article and the MLS system seems a clever way forward.

      • December 10th 2014 @ 3:04pm
        rookoz said | December 10th 2014 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

        Not sure about that, MLS and it’s team loss $US100 million last year (

        And it looks like NASL are gunning for being the top league as well.

        • December 11th 2014 @ 5:56pm
          Australia Football King said | December 11th 2014 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

          MLS is not losing 100 million dollars. I live in states, so I should know. Leagues claim they are losing money, when ever you have CBA talks coming up in states. In reality MLS just signed a new TV deal in the states, plus have both Canadian & International TV deals. And SUM also brings in alot of profit for the league. The NASL doesnt even have a TV deal & almost all of their clubs{except the delusional Cosmos} dream of MLS.

    • December 10th 2014 @ 2:48pm
      Gazmon said | December 10th 2014 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

      Can’t see a draft here working, not in the same way the AFL has it. It also helps that all players in the MLS are contracted to the MLS themselves and ‘farmed’ out to clubs.

      I can certainly see NYCFC taking Cahill, means he stays in NYC for his family and you have the Axis of Awesome with Cahill, Lampard and Villa 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      December 10th 2014 @ 2:55pm
      Fussball ist unser leben said | December 10th 2014 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

      Nice article, Domenic.

      Was wondering what all the draft talk was about on Twitter – you’ve provided a superb overview.

    • December 10th 2014 @ 3:18pm
      AZ_RBB said | December 10th 2014 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

      In regards to the talent pool in question, do we know how many Australian footballers are going straight from the NPL to overseas clubs? I was listening to Soccer Stoppage Time a few months back and they were ruing the fact that something like 20 players from WA clubs had moved straight to teams in Europe and other parts of the world, settling to play for lower division clubs.

      • Roar Guru

        December 10th 2014 @ 3:30pm
        Fussball ist unser leben said | December 10th 2014 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

        I presume the NPL clubs try to push players in this direction because they will get bigger cuts from the player transfer.

        I’ve read the FFA regulation puts an artificial ceiling on the transfer fee paid by A-League clubs to NPL clubs. This definitely needs to change – remove all regulations & make it an open market.

        • December 11th 2014 @ 9:25am
          Swampy said | December 11th 2014 @ 9:25am | ! Report

          I couldn’t agree with you more Fuss.

          It was installed as a measure to help the A League clubs financially. Poorly thought out and in practice a disaster.

          For clubs below the A League there is no incentive to sell players to the A League clubs. Conversely it means the A League clubs have a smaller pool to develop players from – really just limited to the youth team setups.

          It’s dumb to the extreme.

    • December 10th 2014 @ 6:40pm
      Terry said | December 10th 2014 @ 6:40pm | ! Report

      Great piece. There should be more articles about learnings for the a league from the fantastic MLS. There are significant differences between the skill levels and quality of football played in the two leagues with the MLS clearly superior. In relation to the respective national teams the socceroos have much to learn from the US too. The USA have qualified for every World Cup since 1990 and have reached the quarter finals in 2002. In addition they got out of their group in Brazil, a group which featured Portugal and winners Germany. They are ranked 24 in the FIFA rankings. In contrast the socceroos finished in Brazil with no points, are ranked 102 in the FIFA rankings and have only qualified for four world cup in their history.

      Much can be learnt from the US in relation to association football. If Davie Gallop does his job well it is conceivable that in 20 years football in this country may have reached the heights that the MLS currently enjoys. Interestingly, despite the a league’s low standard and the socceroos’ lack of success, association football is far more popular in Australia than the USA. Go figure!!!

      • December 11th 2014 @ 3:55am
        SlickAs said | December 11th 2014 @ 3:55am | ! Report

        MLS is superior to A-league? Talk about cultural cringe!

        I live in Houston, TX and go along to the Houston Dynamo games. In what way are they superior? I go along with Europeans and the stands a conversation might go like this:
        “Can you believe these guys are full time professionals? And this is all they do? I mean you take anyone and make them full time and they should be better than this!”

        Lumping long balls forward into a crowd of players, passes to wingers hitting them in the middle of the back because the pass is coming from the wrong angle and the winger the wrong body shape, no attempt at keeping possession.

        You get the A-league game of the day on at the pub late night, and the same guys are wowed by the A-league. The possession football, the passion of the crowd, pitch invaders at the Sydney derby. “It’s like Europe! Unbelievable! What is going wrong here?”

        The A-league is the envy of those here. “Maybe in 10 years football will rise here like it’s doing in Australia.”

        I guess the grass is always greener and anything beamed from across the world takes on a sheen.

        • December 11th 2014 @ 5:04am
          Bondy said | December 11th 2014 @ 5:04am | ! Report


          Thats just Terry’s point of view because Terry follows a sport that nobody plays outside Australia so you can’t be really blame him for putting the A League down , I guess . Terry lives in his own little world where jealousy and envy reign supreme …

          • December 11th 2014 @ 9:38am
            Terry said | December 11th 2014 @ 9:38am | ! Report

            bondy- The a league is to the MLS what your team the north Sydney/ manly/ Gosvegas Mariners are to Bayern Munich!

            • December 11th 2014 @ 11:30am
              Bondy said | December 11th 2014 @ 11:30am | ! Report

              NFI …

        • December 11th 2014 @ 6:00pm
          Australia Football King said | December 11th 2014 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

          And no one in the US, watches A-league games. Its all European,Liga MX & MLS in the states.

        • December 11th 2014 @ 6:07pm
          Australia Football King said | December 11th 2014 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

          No one in the US, watches A-league games. Its all European,Liga MX & MLS in the states. And yes the MLS is superior. Better players & better talent in all areas of the pitch. And watch A-league games here in states, because I’m Australian & in no way do I see possession football or near the passion of the crowds I see in MLS. Please dont let this guy fool you people in this comment section into believeing people in the states watches the Aleague. You have second division teams that average more then some A-league clubs. The A-league is NASL level. Football in the states is more develop then what you see in Australia.