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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Deciphering the Dispersal: Weighing the Union's options

Former Chivas USA goalie Dan Kennedy: A Dispersal Draft pipe dream
for the Union? (AP)
There’s a fair amount of questioning as to what exactly will happen in Wednesday’s Chivas USA Dispersal Draft, a once-in-a-dozen-years reminder of MLS’ single-entity structure. The contraction of Chivas this season doesn’t affect the contract statuses of their players, who have deals with the league that will be transferred to new teams via the dispersal draft. (Here's the full draft order.)

That’s the easy aspect of the concept. But it’s more than, “hey, free players!” for a couple of reasons.

First, the Dispersal Draft follows the rules for Stage 1 of the Re-Entry draft. Let’s let the league explain:
“MLS clubs acquiring Dispersal Draft players must take players at their full 2015 budget charges and options must be exercised, including any associated transfers or loans. If a team selects a player in the Dispersal Draft but leaves him unprotected ahead of the Expansion Draft on Dec. 10, he will be available for selection by either Orlando City or NYCFC at that time.

Players unselected during the Dispersal Draft will take part in the Re-Entry Draft, if eligible, or will be made available via the Waiver Draft on Dec. 10.”
Three big caveats to activity are contained therein:

1) Teams drafting a player in the Dispersal Draft must either do so thinking that they represent one of their top 11 players to protect from the Expansion Draft, or strategically select someone who isn’t of interest to either of the expansion teams.

2) Teams aren’t just considering adding a player for the heck of it or even at their fair market value; they have to add the player at the specific salary determined by their previous deal. A team isn't just drafting Nigel Reo-Coker; it is drafting his contract, which it must automatically assume for next season.

3) Teams that want players but don’t want them at their current prices can gamble that they can get them later, either though the Waiver Draft or the second stage of Re-Entry, where teams have the freedom to negotiate new contract terms.

Looking at the history, it’s tough to judge how much action there will be Wednesday. When the only other dispersal draft was held in 2002, divvying up the remnants of the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion, the 10 other teams in MLS selected 11 players. One team passed in the first round, and two teams opted, instead of a player, to grab the teams’ SuperDraft selections that were up for grabs. (That is not a facet of this year’s draft.)

Action will also be affected (I think, hampered) by the fact that picks are untradeable. That makes Dallas’ No. 1 slot less valuable in a way, or at least containing more inherent risk. (Instead of trading the pick to a team that wants Dan Kennedy, for instance, they have to assume the risk by picking him, then hoping they can deal him.)

By that metric, this could be a busy draft. If we look in terms of Stage 1 of Re-Entry, though, it casts a different story. Over the four years that that mechanism has existed, a grand total of 11 players have been selected; 65 of the 75 teams involved have passed their selections without picking a player. (Granted, that’s looking at cast-offs and ill-fits of teams league-wide, not the core of one (admittedly unsuccessful) club with some talent.) Also, it's important to note that the draft continues until all teams pass once; that means clubs like Orlando City and NYCFC could select more than one player.

So what does all that mean? Teams must be judicious. Teams at the top will have a chance to select valuable assets, either young players with upside or veterans. The teams in the middle will have to really love a player to go out on a limb. And the teams at the bottom, like the Union picking at No. 17, might not find much.

So let’s break down what is available:

Chivas’ final roster featured 28 players. Exclude Erick “Cubo” Torres (who MLS is looking to sign to a long-term deal then allocate out) and Carlos Bocanegra (retired) and you’re down to 26. Four players (Luis Bolanos, Leandro Barrera, Felix Borja and Eriq Zavaleta) were on loan, slicing the number to 22.

The Union won’t be in the running for top-level talent. The first four or so picks are pretty easy to forecast. Kennedy will come off the board early. It might not be to Dallas, which already looks like it’ll protect goalkeepers Chris Seitz and Raul Fernandez in the expansion draft; you’d have to think they only go for Kennedy if they’re sure they have a deal in place with someone.

If it’s not Kennedy, then the next best value for Dallas is Marco Delgado, a 19-year-old Chivas homegrown player. At a $77,500 salary and likely under organizational control for a couple more seasons, the 5-8 dynamic midfielder would fit well with Dallas.

Kennedy is more likely to go off the board at No. 2 to NYCFC, while Sporting Kansas City’s defensive woes, injury questions and uncertain future of Aurelien Collin put them in the market for backline help. Either Andrew Jean-Baptiste (despite flaming out in Portland, he’s just 22 with a $95k salary) or veteran Bobby Burling ($122,500) are the obvious options.

A veteran left back like Tony Lochhead (bottom) would
make sense for the Union. But will he still be around? (AP)

Beyond that, things get iffy. Players can be fit into four categories:

- There are guys who represent decent value as squad players based on experience – Burling; holding midfielder Agustin Pelletieri; New Zealand left back Tony Lochhead; well-traveled midfielder Eric Avila; Japanese right back Akira Kaji (for the very short term, as he turns 35 soon); Nathan Strugis, who’ll be on his eighth(!) MLS team.

- There are promising youngsters with salaries under $100k worth giving a look – 6-2 HG forward Caleb Calvert; 23-year-old midfielder Thomas McNamara; Martin Rivero, who is just 25 but has a dodgy injury history; Ryan Finley, who left Columbus under not great circumstances and is in danger of becoming a lottery-pick bust.

- There are minimum players that would be fringe guys – Michael Nwiloh, Matt Dunn, speedy forward Kris Trypak, former RSL HGP Donny Toia, third goalie Trevor Spangenberg.

- There are way overpaid veterans, Reo-Coker ($446,500), Marvin Chavez ($200,000) and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado ($210,000).

Beyond that, there’s Oswaldo Minda, a sufficiently odd case. He’s out of contract but apparently open to staying in MLS. The Ecuadorian World Cup vet who’s prone to rushes of blood to the head made $168k last year and is a serviceable option as a defensive-minded midfielder.

What does that leave for the Union? They’d love to get a young guy like Calvert, Tyrpak, McNamara or Dunn, but they’ll almost certainly be off the board by the time the low teens roll around. Lochhead would be a great get, but he probably won’t be around. Most of those affordable vets – Pelletieri, Burling, Avila, maybe even Sturgis – won’t be available.

I don’t think there’s any worry about them overspending on Hurtado, Reo-Coker or Chavez. Splashing for Minda would be a commentary on where they see the status of the Maurice Edu/Amobi Okugo negotiations. Finley would just add to a logjam of utilitarian forwards, a group that needs a (tall or fast) specialist. Spangenberg would feed the goalkeeper narrative, but he’s an undrafted free agent who signed as a trialist, so not the veteran backup the Union want.

It’s possible they take a flyer on a guy like Toia – a young winger/fullback with upside – but that’s about all that will be left then. Don’t be surprised if the Union pass on their pick.

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