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Exploring Possible Alternatives To MLS's Expansion Draft

MLS's Expansion Draft is unfair to the current teams in the league, but what is there to be done about it?

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer is currently on break, the Copa America is going strong, the United States has won its group in said competition, and the Philadelphia Union currently sit in first place in the Eastern Conference. Quite a state of affairs we live in right? So let's take a hard left turn and use this time to talk about the expansion draft!

Lost in all the fanfare of the Union's run of play and the Copa is the fact that as things currently stand, there will be an Expansion Draft sometime just after the end of the MLS season. Some teams more than others stand to lose talent that they can't protect.

For those totally unaware of the Expansion Draft and what it entails, here is a quick rundown. Whenever an expansion team enters Major League Soccer, a draft is held. The team (or teams) entering the league get to pick players from currently existing franchises. The only way a player can be protected from being selected in this draft is one of three ways. The first way being that the team protects them and they only get 11 selections to do so. The second way is that they are a homegrown player from the club's academy. The third is that the player is still subject to a Generation Adidas contract. 

It goes without saying that there is a lot of strategy that goes into this draft. If your team is facing the possibility of losing a player, you have to plan out how to protect him while leaving a player exposed that you may not want to lose. You know that the other team may not take due to factors like international status, salary, and so on. It's a particularly nerve wracking time to be a fan, because sometimes when you see the protected list come out you say to yourself, "Oh hell..." because often times there are one or two players you don't want to see wearing another team's jersey. To sum it up the expansion draft is one of the most teeth grinding times of the year for both management and fans.

Which is why it needs to be eliminated.

Of course, this has apparently been discussed before in Major League Soccer. I believe now is the time to actually go forward with it. My reasons for the elimination of the expansion draft are several.

1. It's not always fair to all teams. More often than not, teams lose players that compliment their roster. You may argue that it is indeed "fair" that this happens, however the fact of the matter is that not all teams lose players and it weakens teams that have managed to build a cohesive roster. Considering that the draft tends to happen right after the season ends (the 2015 draft happened just three days after the MLS Cup final was played), it means that sometimes teams are now scrambling to replace players in an off-season that isn't terribly long to begin with.

2. It rarely works out for the player taken in the expansion draft. In the 2014 expansion draft a total of 20 players were taken, out of those 20 take a guess how many are still playing for the club that drafted them? Six. 6 out of 20 which means that only 30% are still with the same team a mere two years later. Out of those six taken only two are actual starters with their teams and those guys are Jason Hernandez and Tommy McNamara.  

3. Given the number of teams entering the league, there is going to be a whole lot of player movement. Atlanta, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Sacramento, St. Louis, Detroit & San Antonio are all either entering the league or are widely rumored to be under consideration. Obviously Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minnesota are all done deals with the teams entering in 2017 or 2018. However, if the league allows some of the other previously mentioned cities into the league over the next two years, Major League Soccer is potentially looking at four expansion drafts in as many years. That suffice it to say will be a mess and dilute the talent pool across the league.

4. If your team loses a player (or players) it gets nothing from the draft. This hurts in a league built on parity. If your team spent time developing a player and for whatever reason you're unable to protect them and they get taken, your team just lost all that time, money and effort spent in training a player in your system. Not to mention you're left empty handed.

So I've stated some of my reasons for not being a huge fan of the expansion draft, you may or may not agree with them, but let's say that later this season I get a call from Don Garber and he says, "Okay Matt, we'll get rid of the Expansion Draft if you can propose something that will work better in it's place, so whaddya got?"

I'm glad you asked Don.

I have two main things I would do to compensate the new teams entering the league while allowing the established teams to keep the talent on their roster.

1.  Increased allocation money. First order of business, we need to give the new teams some currency that they can spend to acquire talent. Obviously we have no real idea how much any one team actually has but the league does. Let's say that the highest amount of allocation money that a currently established team has is $800,000. If I'm in charge of the league, I take that amount and double or triple it. So for example let's say that Real Salt Lake has $800,000 in allocation money, Atlanta United will now enter the league with $1,600,000 or $2,400,000. Allocation money is a hugely useful tool within the league as it allows teams to acquire talent. If you give a new team an overwhelming amount of it, it will allow them to both acquire established talent and allow the established teams to benefit from trading away current talent, not to mention allowing the new team to buy down the salary hit of an incoming player as well.

2. Allow increased temporary, untradeable international slots. The international slot rules exist to force teams to not over rely on foreign talent to build winners and to facilitate the growth of soccer. However, I'm advocating a temporary increase of international player slots to allow the new team to go outside of the United States and sign either young exciting talent, or established veterans that have played in higher leagues. These "Temp Slots" as we'll call them would be untradeable, and would expire after two or three years. This would give expansion teams the option of trading away the base international slots to teams within the league to acquire more players. This in turn would allow established teams to also go out and acquire more foreign talent. The amount of Temp Slots would be only one or two tops.

Obviously my system isn't prefect, however, I feel that it is more "fair" to the established teams in that there are at least two methods to compensate them for the talent they could potentially lose. Do you agree with getting rid the expansion draft? What would you do differently with it? Let us know!