The journey of a new MLS franchise is a unique path. Most major American sports leagues very rarely expand, while around the world clubs are typically a century old or start out, domestically, at the lowest level. However, in the world of MLS, the creation of a roster ready for the season-opener is a series of hoops and hurdles. Tuesday marked a quick burst of roster depth for both Minnesota United FC and Atlanta United through the MLS Expansion Draft.
Atlanta and Minnesota are set to join MLS for the 2017 season, becoming the 21st and 22nd teams respectively. Each club has stayed active throughout the last year with stadium news, head coaching appointments and selective signings.
To bolster each roster, the MLS allows clubs to protect 11 players on their roster, leaving everyone else at risk of being taken — however, only one player can be selected from a particular team. The draft lasts only five rounds and no trades are allowed. Here is a look at who each team took and how that impacts their current roster.
Atlanta won the right to select first and eventually went defensive with all five picks. They selected:
- Round 1: Donny Toia (D) (Montreal Impact)*
- Round 2: Zach Loyd (D) (FC Dallas)
- Round 3: Clint Irwin (GK) (Toronto FC)
- Round 4: Mikey Ambrose (D) (Orlando City)
- Round 5: Alex Kann (GK) (Sporting Kansas City)
Atlanta's first pick, Donny Toia, was then dealt to Orlando City SC in exchange for their first-round 2017 MLS SuperDraft pick.
The name that immediately jumps out on that list is Clint Irwin. Just days after nearly winning the MLS Cup with Toronto FC, he was left unprotected by the club and is now off to an expansion side. Obviously, Toronto could always make a deal back for him, but they are most likely moving in another direction at the keeper position. Irwin will offer great experience for the forming Atlanta defense.
The other notable addition in the expansion draft was Zach Loyd, who has 180 appearances for FC Dallas. Loyd even has three caps for the USMNT and will surely be in the opening day lineup. Atlanta’s most notable signings to date are Michael Parkhurst (over 200 MLS games and 25 USA caps) and Trinidad & Tobago star striker Kenwyne Jones (over 200 EPL matches and 23 goals for his national side).
The biggest early boon for the expansion side is the fan support. Back in August, MLS confirmed that Atlanta had already secured 22,000 season ticket purchases. With a brand new stadium being built and a wealthy owner (Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank), expectations will start high.
Minnesota United FC
Minnesota are definitely behind the curve on roster size, but they’ll have their former NASL side to pull from as needed. Heading into the expansion draft Minnesota had only signed three players. On Tuesday they selected:
- Round 1: Chris Duvall (D) (New York Red Bulls)*
- Round 2: Collen Warner (M) (Houston Dynamo)
- Round 3: Mohammed Saeied (M) (Columbus Crew)
- Round 4: Jeff Attinella (GK) (Real Salt Lake)
- Round 5: Femi Hollinger-Janzen (F) (New England Revolution)
Following the draft, Duvall was immediately traded to Montreal in exchange for Costa Rican international Johan Venegas.
Jeff Attinella has provided quality spells for Nick Rimando when Rimando has been away on international duty or injured. Hollinger-Janzen is any interesting acquisition, a 23-year-old striker with all the physical skills. He scored a goal every four games in college and helped lead his team to the NCAA title. He may be able to reproduce those results as the focal point of the Minnesota attack.
The MLS focus shifts to Wednesday and the Waiver Draft at 4:30 pm ET, which you can follow along with on MLSsoccer.com.
Free agency opens today.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) December 13, 2016