2020 expansion priority draft day is here

Mike Jacobs (left) and Ian Ayre (right) photo courtesy Nashville SC.

That time that every young child aways with bated breath is finally upon us: that golden day where Nashville SC will flip a coin for first priority in roster-building mechanisms to enter Major League Soccer in 2020.

For Club and Country will be at MLS Headquarters today for the priority draft! If you aren’t following on social media already, make sure you hit me up to get the updates all day.

From the original release, here are the five items that Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre and GM Mike Jacobs will be divying up with Inter Miami CF’s Jorge Mas and Paul McDonough:

  • No. 1 pick in 2019 MLS Expansion Draft
  • No. 1 pick in 2020 MLS SuperDraft
  • No. 1 position in Allocation Ranking Order
  • Penultimate position in MLS Re-Entry and End-of-Year Waiver Order
  • Penultimate position in Discovery Player Ranking

They’re typically listed in numerical order, but for the sake of clarity – since the order of priority for those items is what will be determined today – I’ve changed that to bullet points.

So: Mas and Ayre (the symbolic/administrative representatives of each club) will likely perform the highly official – ceremonial – coin flip, with the winner (likely represented by Jacobs and McDonough, the teams’ respective technical representatives) able to pick which of the five roster-building methods they want, and the teams alternate until each of the five is selected.

Very quickly (I’ve gone into much further depth in the past if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty), here’s what each of them is:

No. 1 pick in 2019 Expansion Draft. The Expansion Draft will take play Nov. 19. Each of the two expansion teams can select up to five players from the existing MLS roster pool. Every team except D.C. United, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, FC Dallas, the Houston Dynamo, and the New York Red Bulls (who had players selected by FC Cincinnati last year, and are safe from being cherry-picked in this round) can “protect” – remove from the pool – 12 players, and anyone else is fair game for Nashville and Miami.

Essentially, five picks per team (10 total picks), and they’re picking from the 13th “best” player on 10 other MLS sides (they have to come from 10 different teams, with no side poached from twice) .

No. 2 pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. The traditional college entry draft. The expansion side that doesn’t pick this mechanism gets second pick, and otherwise it’s a typical American “ascending order of finish” affair.

No. 1 position in allocation ranking order. The allocation ranking order is how teams are eligible to sign – to over-simplify things – former MLS players or US Men’s National Team players returning from overseas. If Christian Pulisic were to come back to America tomorrow (spoiler alert: he will not!) the team first in the allocation ranking order has the right of first negotiation with him – or can trade the allocation spot to a team that wants to negotiate with him.

A fuller explanation is here, including the current allocation order.

Penultimate position in MLS re-entry and end-of-year waiver order and penultimate position in discovery player ranking. These are both… less important. They are, respectively, first priority in signing players of waivers and a dispute-resolution automatic win (“discovery players” is an over-wrought process, but largely know that the discovery ranking only settles disputes in a situation that rarely arises where two teams claim discovery rights on a player on the same day).

So what order should they choose?

Here’s what MLSSoccer.com’s Andrew Wiebe predicts:

First, you take poll position on either adding MLS experience to your roster via the Expansion Draft or fielding trade offers for eligible players. Either you get Day 1 contributors, something you value more in return via trade or, ideally, a couple of both. LAFC put on a clinic (Tyler MillerLatif Blessing, and Marco Urena stayed on the roster and Jukka Raitala and Raheem Edwards turned into Laurent Ciman) in 2017.

Second, you grab the top spot in the SuperDraft. Maybe that’s Virginia’s Daryl Dike. Maybe that’s someone else. Maybe that’s a couple hundred grand in allocation money or a player capable of impacting your first team via trade. Again, your scouting matters, and so do your relationships. You ought to know who the best players are, how they might affect your roster build and which teams rate them should a trade opportunity materialize.

Third, you go for the Allocation Order in the hope that 1) there’s a player on the list you want to sign (like Guzan) and you won’t have to pay another team to do so or 2) another team will eventually be so smitten with an Allocation Order player that they’ll pay you for your place in line. Either way, you should land a player or cash.

I differ slightly in opinion, though it really matters what you want to prioritize. The difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the SuperDraft can be huge – with college soccer becoming decreasingly important in the development landscape, for better and for worse, the “established stars” in NCAA soccer are more obvious and apparent – whereas picking between several different teams’ existing 13th-best player necessarily means you get, at best (hypothetically, since obviously there are wide ranges in quality of roster composition) the 288th-best MLS player in the Expansion Draft.

Of course, given the interpersonal relationships and differences in clubs’ scouting abilities, a smart GM knows where he can get more value. Do you know a guy who Miami is likely to pass on at No. 1 is better than the guy that they’ll pick in the SuperDraft (thanks to superior scouting)? You can prioritize it a little less. Do you know that – as a rumored example, this is not actually known to be happening – Atlanta United won’t be protecting Darlington Nagbe because he’s ready to move on anyway? Might be worth getting that top Expansion Draft spot over SuperDraft spot.

It comes down to what the technical staff prioritizes based on both imperfect and perfect information in this particular game-theory exercise – with obviously very high stakes.Jacobs and Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre

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