A primer on MLS expansion draft strategy (why Pappa and Parke were left exposed)

A primer on MLS expansion draft strategy (why Pappa and Parke were left exposed)

Major League Soccer

A primer on MLS expansion draft strategy (why Pappa and Parke were left exposed)


Marco Pappa (ISIphotos.com)

                                              Photo by ISIphotos.com

When the lists were released on Monday of players who would be made available in the expansion draft, two names that drew plenty of scrutiny from fans were those of Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa and New York Red Bulls defender Jeff Parke. Not protecting these two fan favorites might seem like shaky moves but there are methods to the madness.

In the case of Pappa, sources tell me the Guatamalan winger will see his salary requirement increase dramatically if he were to join another MLS team, so a high price tag (nowhere near the $33,000 he made in 2008) is a safe bet to scare off a Seattle team that already has two wingers in Freddie Ljungberg and Sanna Nyassi. Seattle would be more inclined to select either veteran defender Brandon Prideaux or first-year midfielder Stephen King.

The case of Jeff Parke is a bit different.

Parke just completed the final year of his MLS contract and is therefore a free agent and can go to Europe if he chooses. Even if he doesn't, a new MLS deal would still need to be negotiated and Parke (despite the recent drug suspension) is good enough to ask for and deserve a deal north of $100K a year.

Is Seattle really going to use one of its 10 expansion picks on a defender who A) isn't guaranteed to re-sign with the league B) has a four-game suspension waiting for him in 2009 and C) might wind up costing a pricey salary even if he does sign? Parke is actually one of the better defenders available in the expansion draft, but don't be surprised to see Parke head to a smaller European league before possibly returning to MLS to play for his hometown Philadelphia team in 2010. That doesn't mean the Red Bulls don't want Parke, but it did mean that Parke was a player the Red Bulls could factor on Seattle passing on.

Ultimately, that is what the expansion lists are, a game of chicken where teams leave players exposed they figure the expansion team either can't afford or will be scared off by. Is there a chance Seattle could try to be shrewd and take a player it either doesn't need or can't afford? Sure, as we saw when Toronto FC grabbed then-Real Salt Lake forward Jason Kreis in their expansion draft. The difference in that instance was that Toronto actually could have used Kreis and it was pretty well known that Kreis was a big part of Real Salt Lake's future plans. 

If anything, the TFC-Kreis situation has taught teams to be somewhat cautious and smarter about their process. Now a team like Chicago knows that while Seattle could theoretically take Pappa in order to trade him back to Chicago, the Fire can stand firm and force Seattle to either sign him or waive him (or trade him elsewhere, but the market for unproven young foreign players on six-figure salaries isn't a big one).

Seattle has three simple tasks coming up on Wednesday: find some players who can start for Sounders FC, find players who are good values and find some players who could draw a good price in a trade. For teams like Chicago and New York, they are banking that the quality players they did leave exposed have just enough risks and question marks to convince Seattle to look elsewhere.

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