It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a General Manager in possession of an MLS expansion team, must be in want of a roster.
The nature of the league thus dictates several (at-times annoying) mechanisms for building said roster. International transfers, intra-league trades and a traditional college draft are familiar to fans of various leagues, and they happen on an annual basis, if not more frequently. The Expansion Draft, on the other hand, is a little more rare, taking place only when a new team enters the league.
Expansion teams are given the chance to select players already signed to other teams in Major League Soccer. The existing franchises have the opportunity to protect only a portion of their roster from selection by their new brethren. For those players not on the protected list, there can be a strong feeling of disappointment.
“Certainly, you always want to feel valued, so when you see your name on that unprotected list, it’s always a little bit of a shot to the ego,” said Nashville SC midfielder Dax McCarty. “But then once you get picked up, and once you get selected, and once you come and meet your new teammates and get to your new city, you get really excited about it.”
McCarty’s move to Music City this offseason was a mutually-agreed trade between the Boys in Gold and his previous franchise, the Chicago Fire, and had the blessing of the player himself. However, he’s been subjected to the Expansion Draft process before. In fact, nearly a decade ago, he was not only left unprotected, but was picked by the Portland Timbers in advance of their first year in MLS. He didn’t last long with Portland, though: a Draft-day trade saw him wind up in Washington, D.C., where he ultimately served less than a single year for DC United. His tenure was short, but McCarty was well-regarded enough to earn the captain’s armband during his time in the District.
Regardless, knowing that his services weren’t valued enough by FC Dallas – the club that drafted him out of the University of North Carolina, and the only one he knew in his first five years as a professional – to earn protection from the Expansion Draft still hurt. That he was not only picked, but immediately dealt in the draft didn’t come as a surprise. That didn’t make it any easy to have to uproot his life and head to a new city.
“It’s a little bit disappointing in the beginning, but every situation is unique,” McCarty explained. “I knew about my situation going into it. I think I knew that a trade was already in the works between DC and Portland. That unknown quality wasn’t really there for me. With these other guys, it’s always a little bit nerve-wracking. If you really like the city that you’re in, you’re always a little bit up in the air in terms of if you want to leave or not.”
McCarty’s history of leadership – he’s worn the captain’s armband at every stop since Dallas, from his brief time with DC United, through five and a half years with New York Red Bulls, and most recently a three-year stint with the Chicago Fire – should make it no surprise he sports a relentlessly positive attitude. A bruise to the ego is natural when left unprotected in the Expansion Draft, and other players may let that emotional wound stick with them. McCarty managed to immediately turn it into a new shot for success.
Nashville SC added three players through the 2019 iteration of the Expansion Draft: former New England Revolution centerback Jalil Anibaba, Minnesota United striker Abu Danladi, and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Jimmy Medranda. They don’t have to look any further than their new teammate to see the bright side of being picked by an expansion team.
“The way that I look at it is: it’s an opportunity,” he said. “It’s a new opportunity to be at a club that really wants you, or else they wouldn’t have selected you.”
McCarty may even have some wisdom to impart on a couple players whose situation more directly reflects his own: Timbers centerback Zarek Valentin and Atlanta United forward Brandon Vazquez were selected but immediately flipped by Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs. In the end, players and club management – while they have different interpretations of what it means – recognize that it’s all business.
If anyone needs a reminder to take advantage of the potential downsides of that business, McCarty is available to provide a look at the bright side.