Character is lost and found on unfamiliar playing ground


Seattle DP Bill Lumbergh

"Seattle to select from deep talent pool," claims MLSnet. Yes, and seagulls select from many choices of food at the landfill. I realize we're all scared of another expansion team making us look silly like the Chicago Fire did in 1998, but that's never, ever going to happen again. We've had many other expansion teams since then, and every last one of them has stunk up the continent. Miami got better, CUSA got better, this year Salt Lake got better, San Jose will probably get better next year or the year after, Toronto will...continue to wear red uniforms and play home games in Ontario.

And yet...I kind of like these choices.

Wow, someone put previous expansion drafts on Wikipedia. That saved me a lot of work, whoever but I can make a couple of guesses.

The 1997 version is a little misleading until you remember to sub in Jorge Campos and Chris Armas for Danny Pena and Kevin Hartman. Then the Fire's picks become pretty awesome...of course, had Bradley not demanded Armas as a bonus, this would have been one of the worst moves in the history of the league and the Fire would have finished eighteenth. If we've learned anything, it's that the Fire can't rely on Mexican superstars for success. Less celebrated but just as crucial were the Thornton, Okaroh and Gutierrez picks - crucial for the 1998 success, important for the long-term success of the franchise. Still the gold standard of expansion drafts, faint praise that may seem.

It's forgotten now - in other words, I don't think I can back it up with sources but I'm pretty sure - that Miami was deemed to have had the better day. I think I wasn't the only one who thought this. Raiding the DC United cupboard and quality guys like Vaudreuil and Maessner was supposed to build the spine of a team that, after all, didn't need to blow expansion picks to get their superstar, since Valderrama was on his way. In Miami's defense, the talent pool of that draft was insanely shallow...with the exception of Ezra Hendrickson, easily the best player not taken. The Galaxy dodged a bullet there.

Seven years later, two new teams confidently predicted a repeat of Chicago's success. Two of those guys taken in that draft are still in the league, Andy Williams and Ezra Hendrickson. In those clubs' defense....there was simply nobody to be had. Ryan Nelsen was on his way to Blackburn, Joe-Max Moore and Ronnie Ekelund were on their way to retirement. Plus they had to pick against each other, which wouldn't be the case from here on in. A very difficult situation in retrospect - which sort of makes it amusing to recall how awesome these teams thought they would be.

So it's hard to find excuses for Toronto's performance two years later. By July, none of those players were on the roster, although yeah, taking Jason Kreis hostage is still pretty funny. Among the players TFC left on the table were a couple of Kansas City Wizards named Wil Hesmer and Dave Van den Bergh, which might have altered the course of this year's MLS Cup in imponderable ways.

San Jose did a much better job the next year, with the caveat that much better isn't the same as great. Had Clarence Goodson not fled to FC Swedish Chef or wherever, this might have been a better draft (and a better team). And I sure didn't expect Ryan Cochrane's career to run out of gas/stall out/hit a speed bump/crash and burn (not sure yet which motor metaphor is appropriate). Denilson was the first DP to be exposed in an expansion draft, but not the last - Dallas followed it up again this year. No one has taken the bait yet. LaBrocca, Cepero and Ubiparipovic now stand out as possibilities in retrospect, but that's pretty much the same as trashing Yallop and Doyle for not being psychic.

This year's fan mail to some Sounder?

A MetroBull fan told me in stern, no-nonsense tones that I was way the hell off on Jeff Parke, and that he's going to come back strong next year after this unjust suspension. I had no response, since I was distracted by a shiny object. Clearly someone in Washington state agrees with this fan, and Sigi made a fine choice.

Wait, why did I say Sigi? Sigi's not the Sounders coach. Seattle hasn't chosen a coach. I suppose I was just thinking of MLS Cup.

Most of these guys on the list were pretty useful contributors for their old clubs. Sturgis needs to get and stay healthy, Khano Smith needs to make fewer stoopid plays. King and Evans look like brilliant choices. I'm guessing Sigi wants to make Vagenas his captain. Wait, duh, Sigi's not the coach, why do I keep forgetting that? Riley has a very, very good chance of being chosen again in the expansion draft for Philadelphia.

Throw in Le Toux, Ljungberg and Keller and...this team has holes. But they don't have the big gaping maws up top the Earthquakes had, and they're not a complete hash the way Toronto, Salt Lake and CUSA were. How well will they do? Probably depends on the coach. A little birdie told me that the Sounders were looking at a certain Columbus Crew coach - well, let's see how well Andrulis does with these guys.