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

Marco Pappa (

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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.


  1. Ives,

    How is Jose Angulo on the rev’s exposed list if he doesn’t have a contract with them? Or does he have a contract? Or is it just a discovery claim still? can they expose a player with just a discovery claim?

  2. @TL

    There are no free agents in MLS. Jaqua couldn’t play for Seattle – even if they were willing to sign him for more than Houston was – unless Seattle traded for his rights.

  3. Seattle will take Jaqua, but Onstad would be a silly choice anyways. He’s said that he doesn’t want to move again soon, and if he isn’t playing in Houston there are good chances that he’ll retire and become a goalkeeping coach.

    I was kinda hoping that Houston wouldn’t give up Jaqua and trade him for Chris Eylander to be the future keeper after Onstad retires, but if you look at who’s protected (with the international rules forcing the Dynamo to protect either Kepne or Caig) I want to lose people on that list even less than I want a future at keeper. If Ashe is unprotected, think about the others who did make Houston’s list. Who do you loose to keep Jaqua? Boswell? Eddie Robinson? I don’t think so. Lose the player that you were going to and suffer as few losses as possible.

  4. Athority:

    No offense taken. I’m not going to say that he is the winger he once was, but I haven’t seen him play particularly well in the middle either, and I still think that the wing is his best position. He still is a decent crosser, and he is great at running into the box when needed as well.

    On a random note, I went to his wikipedia and noticed that he was the 2002 MVP of the Premiership. That surprised me quite a bit. That’s certainly a bigger personal award than Beckham has won…unless you count those two ESPYs he got (which are an embarrassment to soccer fans all over the world).

  5. If Nate Jaqua is a free agent at the end of the season, then Seattle doesn’t need to either work a deal with Houston or pick him in the draft. I would assume someone else on the Houston list is going to be swiped up.

  6. Chrös, have the Superliga teams been finalized?

    The Fire, Chivas and KC will draw well. New England? Not so much.

    Hopefully the league places the Fire and Chivas in different groups and hosts most of the games at Toyota Park and the HDC.

  7. Ethan,

    With all due respect……if you think Freddie’s strength is on the wings……you haven’t seen him play in the past 2 years.

  8. Onionsack, I humbly disagree with your assessment that “100K goalkeepers are not great trade bait.” First off, 100K is actually below average for a starting goalkeeper in MLS so getting a GK who can start and play okay for 100K is actually a net gain.

    I would argue that goalkeepers are hotter commodities than defenders because there are far fewer established goalkeepers out there (and most of the top GK in the league are getting up there in age). I like Parke and think he’s a solid defender but the fact remains Conway has more trade value and will fetch a bigger prize once he is put on the market.

  9. Ethan, like most rumors people mention on here, I’m sure it was not a reputable source. Possibly the infamous “bartender from New York” gave him the scoop.

  10. Leaving Parke unprotected was an error no matter how you slice it. While i agree these are gambles to begin with, the secret of gmabling is to reduce your risk as much as possible and bet on the favorable odds.

    Now i realize teams will take players to trade, but 100K goalkeepers are not great trade bait especially with 4 game suspensions. I think Conway nprotected would have been the wise choice. At least lest risky than Parke.

  11. As for Freddie, why play him in center midfield? His strength is on the wing. Hopefully Seattle will learn from the Galaxy’s error when they put Beckham in middle, but every indication is that they will/have not.

  12. Ric:

    Where did you hear that rumor? THouston has put up several very enticing players. Wade Barrett and Craig Waibel have been key elements for one of the best defenses in recent MLS history (not just this season but over the last several). Corey Ashe should be a starting winger in this league. Pat Onstead is great trade bait. Patrick Ianni is a solid young player. And Nate Jaqua is an established forward who longs to play in Seattle. Perhaps part of the Houston deal is that the don’t take one of those players, but a Houston player will definitely go. If they don’t, they are effectively choosing to trade for Jaqua when they could have him for free. That doesn’t make sense.

  13. Secondly, how does the trade thing work, (Ric, talking partly to you), say, if Seattle DID take Onstad, what do they pay for him and how do they trade him off to someone else (and what do they pay?)?

  14. So, is the team drafting (in this case Seattle) required to pay the current salary, the going rate, negotiate a deal with the player or team, or what? What determines the cost of players they draft?

  15. I hope the Sounders DO NOT pick Onstad … I really can’t stand that guy. With Keller starting and Chris Eylander his backup, Seattle will be just fine in goal. No need to go after Onstad the Grouch. If they go after a keeper, it’ll be Preston Burpo.

    I think Jaqua and Prideaux are no-brainers, and Nik Besagno is also a local boy who might be worth going after. Jorge Flores would be interesting. Ante Razov might have a couple of years left.

    Snagging Eddie Gaven though would be huge.

  16. Yes, the lists (at least for the Red Bulls) are screwed up. I saw a different list on Wikipedia that seemed more likely.

    The way these lists are it would mean Red Bulls were able to protect 14 players…

  17. As far as RBNY protecting 3 keepers, I bet they plan on trading Conway (probably get a pretty penny from a team like LA or Chivas), and most of the RBNY defenders did not look particularly great in the latter half of the season.

  18. There’s something screwed up with the Red Bulls list that Ives posted. As far as I can tell, according to Ives’s list, they’ve protected 14 players:

    Juan Pablo Angel

    Terry Boss

    Andrew Boyens

    Danny Cepero

    Gabriel Cichero

    Jon Conway

    Kevin Goldthwaite

    Macoumba Kandji

    Dane Richards

    Jorge Rojas

    Luke Sassano

    Seth Stammler

    Sinisa Ubiparipovic

    Dave van den Bergh

    So who knows if they really protected 3 keepers. I suspect not, and the list is just screwed up.

  19. We can afford to lose 1 of those keepers, and to top it off, Seattle has Keller anyway!

    I’m FURIOUS over this. I may not re-new season tickets.

  20. Caleb Patterson-Sewell was unprotected. Still 3 Gks though…that’s a bit much epically leaving your back line completely exposed. Then again, they way they played this year as a whole, i can’t say i blame them.

  21. Per the owners’ discussion around Ljungberg’s signing, I believe they plan to use him centrally and not as a winger. Of course things could change, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pick up some of the good wing players made available — like Eddie Gaven and Corey Ashe.

  22. I’m not a fan of leaving Pappa exposed as well as a Fire fan. I understand the method to the madness, but with Blanco being loaned out to Santos Laguna, there’s a chance he might enjoy being in Mexico again, and want to stay. So the Fire could lose Blanco and Pappa, I’m not a proponent of this.

  23. >The Red Bulls are protecting 4 friggin goal keepers.

    Who? I read the list, but I honestly don’t recognize any keepers. Cepero isn’t even listed.

  24. BlueWhiteLion,

    Remember, though, that this is still a risk because Seattle could take Onstad, then trade him to, say, LA, which needs a keeper.

    Of course, there’s also a rumor out there that Houston and Seattle have an agreement that Sounders won’t take a Dynamo player (or one pre-approved by them) as part of an upcoming trade for Jaqua.

  25. I understand the argument about Parke but I think that Seattle still signs him. With the banned substance issue i think it will make it harder to move abroad which I think it makes it easier for the league to lock him up. Hey may still end up a bit above 100k but with the new roster structure that is going to be the new average in MLS.

  26. “FYI:Seattle has already said that Freddie is going to be playing a central role and not as a winger. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took Pappa but I also think they will have an eye on Prideaux…Posted by: GD”

    Thats what they said about Beckham. And everyone knows how that turned out.

  27. Another option for Seattle would be to take someone like Prideaux and deal him to a team that needs defenders desperately, like, oh, say, LA. That’s a strategy that someone on the evil evil evil Site That Will Not Be Named suggested.

    I don’t like the idea of Stephen King going unprotected; he can play in the middle of the park and if he stays out of injury trouble looks like he’ll be a very competent and at times stylish midfielder in the years to come.

  28. Thanks for the primer, Ives. I have never really paid attention to draft rules and strategy in the past, but am doing so now.

    I was thinking along those lines of strategy when I saw Onstad unprotected. “Well, if Seattle has Keller, they probably won’t shell out the bucks for Onstad”. I guess I am learning. 🙂

  29. Jl- per reworking contract: he doesnt have a contract for them to rework…. the league will be setting it when they sign him, just like any other player…. or at least thats my take on it…. still, the chance of losing Pappa?? risky….

    i think the Fire are banking on losing Prideaux….

  30. Jl- the 33k is what he’s getting paid for his loan services… but if Seattle pick him, they have to sign him and his salary is bound to be drastically different…

    whats so strange with that??

  31. Explain how a team can have an addendum in a contract that says if this player goes to another team, his salary jumps by leaps and bounds? Is he on loan, and these are terms of the loan? That seems genius by Chicago, and silly that MLS would allow such language in a contract.

    Also, can’t Seattle rework any contract they pick up? So couldn’t they tell Pappa you are taking this contract or not playing in MLS, similar to what NE did to the Angulo kid?

  32. GD -oooooooooooooooooooooooohhh well thats interesting twist on things….. but i stand firm that they’ll go with Prideaux especially with the likes of Smith, Cooke and Gaven all available…

  33. also with the likes of Khano Smith, Cooke, and Gaven, i think Pappa is truly not a thought…. Pappa has a couple games of partial experience, and all 3 of those wingers have at least 1 full season as a starter in experience…. i still feel winger isnt a spot they’ll be hitting up…

  34. FYI:

    Seattle has already said that Freddie is going to be playing a central role and not as a winger. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took Pappa but I also think they will have an eye on Prideaux…

  35. Curtis Spiteri – i think Prideaux is as good as gone… a local boy who has MLS experience, solid in the back, and isnt going anywhere….

    not to downgrade Pappa, but IF seattle already have 2 most likely starter wingers, i think they have to pay attention to other spots…. Prideaux will add some solidarity to the back line…. Pappa would merely be fighting for a starting spot over an already establish player in their system and their DP O.o….

    the more i look at it, the safer i feel for Pappa… BUT that doesnt mean they wont try to make him trade bait…

  36. Chrös – i am stoked that the league has arranged it so that not 1 team can participate in both tournys….. while CL is obviously more prestigious, but Superliga is still good exposure to quality mexican sides… hopefully they start to incorporate more leagues and actually treat it as a “UEFA” tourny…

  37. I bet Seattle takes Pappa, and then makes the best of it by trading him to antother team. Why do I think that?

    Seattle’s management is smarter than the Fire’s.

    – Curtis

    Long time Chicago fan

  38. Of course the game that the Fire are playing with Pappa is risky but who is the safer bet of the players they did protect?

    Mapp is the only option for my money but the club obviously continues to be enamored with him based on the extension they just gave him. Rolfe, McBride, Blanco, Pause, Thorrington, Conde, Segares, Soumare, Busch are no go’s.

    So the question is Dasan Robinson w/o an escalator clause or Pappa with one as Ives explained.

    Ironically, the thing the tow have in common is neither played significant minutes this year. So all the squawking by the fans is proabbly much ado about nothing.

  39. Even though Seattle has Keller (and I think a replacement from USL all lined up) I would not be surprised at all if they bit on one of the goalies available. Plenty of teams could use a new goalie. If LA had any trade bait at all, they could easily get Seattle to take Onstad or Crayton and get a steal there.

  40. Thansk for the explanation on Pappa.

    With the lack of transparency of contracts its tough for us fans to sort through the details when an event liek the expansion draft crops up.

    Maybe a question for a future Q&A but now that the 2008 season is doen and dusted who are the MLS particpants for 2009 tourneys (SuperLiga / CONCACAF Champions League) ?


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