mls Nashville SC

How USL to MLS expansion sides built their rosters – part two

Hey, that guy’s going to be one of Nashville’s MLS players!

If you missed part one of this post yesterday, make sure you check it out. Herein, we take a look at how teams moving up from USL (or in a couple instances, other lower division leagues) built their inaugural rosters.

2015 Orlando City SC

Previous league: USL Pro (USSF third division)

2009 Outcome: (12-14-8), 16th of 20 MLS teams

2015 Signings
Mechanism Players Signed Minutes per player
Expansion Draft 5 650
Traded for 6 1141
MLS SuperDraft 4 480
Signed from overseas 7 1273
Free signing intra-MLS 1 96
Loaned from overseas 2 1011

Orlando City had an extremely poor Expansion Draft, with only Lewis Neal getting significant minutes (1509). Or at least, extremely poor in terms of grabbing guys they wanted to use for themselves: they did flip a couple players that they picked before the season even began, getting financial and/or player assets in exchange.

They also traded for a number of players, including starting goalkeeper Tally Hall. The rest of their trades saw mostly minimal time (though Servando Carrasco and Amobi Okugo drag the average down: it was a straight one-for-one swap midseason, so they basically filled one roster spot between the two of them). Adam Bedell was the rare player that gets traded for, but still doesn’t get a single minute: that’s bad scouting.

The returns on the SuperDraft look meager at first glance. Only one of the four players selected played more than just a few minutes, and even he didn’t crack the 2,000-minute mark. Meh. Oh by the way, he also scored 17 goals, finishing fifth in the Golden Boot standings, won Rookie of the Year, and was sold for somewhere in the range of $2 million after a three-year stint in Orlando. To me, Cyle Larin was a very good use of the first overall pick in the Draft.

Orlando City started their business with a specific move in mind: they signed Brazilian standout Kaká during their final year in USL, but did not bring him in immediately, instead loaning him back to the AC Milan team from which he was signed. That signing (and US International Brek Shea’s signing from Stoke City) may look more like fan service than anything, but both were reasonably effective: Kaká led the team in minutes with 2439 and assists with seven, and Shea was 10th on the team in field minutes played – given the fact that he was on DP money, your mileage may vary as to whether that was enough.

OCSC got a couple of short-term loans from Championship sides during the second half of the English season (first half for MLS). Seb Hines got some good minutes, while Martin Paterson barely saw the field.

This is the first team we’ve seen that signed zero (0) players from its lower-division side, though USL was at the time a third-division league, and OCSC was basically founded to try to get to Major League Soccer, so there wasn’t much of a base to build on, I guess.

Lessons: Can I reiterate enough that you should scout the hell out of the first several picks available in the MLS SuperDraft, and probably ignore the rest of it. If you can find a patsy to unload a bunch of your picks, since they’re effectively useless while the assets you get in return aren’t, more power to you.

Additionally, don’t assume that aging stars – or “name signings” – have to be only to sell tickets. Kaká was an effective player for OCSC, and Brek Shea was at the very least good enough (and the defending champs signed him this offseason, so there’s a bit of recognizable talent there).

Lastly – lots of lessons here – using international loans to grab short-term help from guys who may not play in the second half of their European seasons is an interesting avenue to explore. It obviously requires a little more patience on the scouting (and more relationship-building with those teams), but the payoff can be worth it.

2017 Minnesota United

Previous league: NASL (USSF Division 2)

2017 Outcome: (10-18-6), 19th of 22 MLS

2017 Signings
Mechanism Players Signed Minutes per player
Signed from Minnesota United NASL 5 1605
Signed from overseas 8 1182
Traded for 8 1401
Expansion Draft 2 763
SuperDraft 1 1391
Free signing intra-MLS 3 224
Loaned 4 167
Signed and loaned to NASL Minnesota United 1 0

Minnesota United signed five players from its NASL team. That’s a reasonable number. The problem? Outside of Justin Davis (hey! we know him! He played 492 minutes), they all played a ton of minutes. It’s one thing when that’s Christian Ramirez, who was getting USMNT call-ups while playing for an NASL team. It’s another entirely to see three of your top six field players in terms of minutes played coming from an NASL team.

Minnesota’s signings from overseas were hit-or-miss. A few guys were in that 500-minutes range where my thought is “didn’t really contribute,” and Josh Gatt literally didn’t play a minute (they traded him early in the season). Then Jerome Thiesson was the team’s leader in minutes played. I feel like a couple of the European signings could have been “appeal to a Northern European heritage fanbase” (which to me can also become a little problematic very quickly), given the guys who didn’t play were mostly from Norway/Sweden.

United was very active in the transfer market, giving up buckets of GAM and TAM for players (and doing some straight player-for-player swaps, too). Alas, they only acquired a couple guys through these mechanisms that ended up playing decent minutes: starting keeper Bobby Shuttleworth played nearly every competitive minute after MNUFC gave up Femi Hollinger-Janzen for him. Kevin Molino was the third-leading field player in minutes played, and cost $650k in allocation money.

Minnesota did horrible business in the expansion draft: they flipped a couple guys immediately, and even traded Jeff Attinella for a second-round pick in the following year’s draft. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that literally anybody who has played a minute in MLS is more valuable than nearly every second-round pick in the recent history of MLS combined. That’s FC Cincy-level bad business (more lolling at Cincy in the next section).

While Minnesota United used all four of its draft picks, only one of them signed with the team (again, if you aren’t going to sign a guy, trade away the asset, IMO). Abu Danladi is still with the team, so at the very least that was a solid pick.

Lessons: Unless you want to lose and lose big, don’t rely too heavily on guys you bring up from USL. It’s one thing to sign guys with the intention of making them MLS players. It’s another entirely to sign guys who have found their level in the second division and expect them to play big minutes after a promotion.

Also: don’t let other teams play you for a rube in the transfer market. Minnesota United made a ton of trades, giving up reasonably talented players – or worse, monetary assets, including allocation money – in exchange for guys who couldn’t get on the field. In a similar vein, snagging guys from the re-entry draft or other free agent-type acquisitions from within MLS probably means you’re going to get a guy that you don’t want to count on for anything more than depth (to Minnesota’s credit, two of their three acquisitions in that vein were backup keepers, the right way to use those assets).

2019 FC Cincinnati

Previous league: USL

2019 Outcome: (4-2-13) 24th of 24 in MLS – in progress

2019 Signings
Since we’re about halfway through the season, mentally double these minutes to compare to the other teams’ inaugural years
Mechanism Players Signed Minutes per player
Signed from USL FC Cincinnati 7 533
Signed and loaned to USL FCC 2 379
Expansion Draft 4 547
SuperDraft 6 162
Loaned from overseas 2 629
Traded for 6 999
Transfer from overseas 4 994

This is the poster-child for how to do horrible business as an MLS expansion team. In a way, I’ll give them a pass, because all reports are that they are spending light in year one (including in wages) as they complete their soccer-specific stadium. In another, more accurate way, I will not, since a lot of what they’ve done has been akin to lightning money on fire. “We don’t want to spend” rings hollow when you’re still unloading assets and not getting anything of value in return.

So: they’re running with plenty of players from the USL squad (cheap, probably not MLS-caliber – and proving to be that way), plus the two that they signed mid-season least year and loaned from their MLS operation to USL – we won’t even get into how Fanendo Adi is making $2 million this year for zero goals and one assist more than halfway through the season (if we want to talk being horrible at this whole thing).

I actually think they did reasonably good business in the Expansion Draft: as I’ve said in part one of this story and so far in this one, I think that’s a good place to get guys who you can scout very well (probably not have to pay a ton), and expect to play. Cincy flipped one of their picks for an international slot, and the other four are getting reasonable minutes right now. It’s for a team that’s terrible, so maybe they aren’t good players necessarily, but Cincy figured out the right way to utilize the Expansion Draft.

I’ve expounded extensively on how the SuperDraft is pretty useless outside of the top half of the first round or so. FC Cincinnati actually traded valuable TAM to get more late-round draft picks, which is king of the stupid moves. Three of their draftees are on loan with USL clubs, and only Frankie Amaya – the first overall pick, thus the only one you should expect to contribute – is playing regularly for FCC.

They also did a bunch of trading with Allocation Money (since they probably were going to save money and not use that allotment, this is where the “maybe their use of it isn’t stupid” comes in, even though it is probably still really stupid), including the hilarious trade of giving up a ton of assets to acquire Nick Hagglund, then watching Toronto FC use those very assets to sign former US International Omar Gonzalez – a much better player at the same position.

Their international business has been fine, though their scouting (they’re paying a goalie $200k and he can’t get on the field over a USL keeper) could probably use some work.

Lessons: Just don’t.

In part three of three, at some point in the coming days: a look at what Nashville SC can learn from these teams, and at the progress they’ve already made on the 2020 roster.


  1. The Jeff Attinella trade included the player rights for Miguel Ibarra who has been a starter in all of 2018 and 2019 after they used those rights and acquired him back from Leon


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: