mls Nashville SC

Expansion Draft: Claudio Reyna and Mike Jacobs, dealmakers?

Mike Jacobs header photo from file, via Zoom.

When Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs sits in front of his computer a week from today, he’ll know how Austin FC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna feels.

The opportunity to build your roster on Expansion Draft day is one that Jacobs had just a year ago. Of course, the circumstances were very different. You can bet Reyna won’t be making his selections (or having celebrities announce the selections) in a packed bar on Sixth Street, like Jacobs did on Broadway last year. And Reyna’s draft won’t feature the back-and-forth of alternating picks with a fellow expansion team, as Austin FC doesn’t have a counterpart like Inter Miami was to Nashville last year. However, the opportunity is similar nonetheless.

Of course, Reyna himself also knows what it’s like to make picks on Expansion Draft day, too: he was New York City FC’s Sporting Director before the Blues entered the league in 2015, and was the brains behind the picks made on Dec. 10, 2014. He will join rarified air as one of very few front-office staffers to be on the choosing end in multiple MLS Expansion Drafts – Inter Miami’s Paul McDonough, who was in the captain’s chair Orlando City in 2014, is the only other man to do it twice*.

* McDonough was also Vice President of Soccer Operations for Atlanta United’s Expansion season – and had major personnel responsibility – but Carlos Bocanegra held the more-direct role.

What can each man’s Expansion Draft history tell us about the likelihood that Nashville SC has a player selected in a week’s time, and what type of player that might be?

2014 Expansion Draft – Reyna for NYCFC

Until the most-recent few editions, Expansion Drafts were much larger, with each expansion side selecting 10 players from around the league (while existing teams used to be able to lose multiple players, which is no longer the case). Throwing a further wrench into the works, Chivas was also dissolved after the 2014 season, and the Goats’ players were distributed by a dispersal draft (Reyna picked midfielder Matt Dunn in that mechanism.).

In the Expansion Draft proper, Reyna’s NYCFC picked second, alternating with Orlando City SC – coincidentally led by McDonough – for 10 selections. Here are those picks:

  • MF Ned Grabavoy, Real Salt Lake
  • F Patrick Mullins, New England Revolution
  • D Jason Hernandez, San Jose Earthquakes
  • D Daniel Lovitz, Toronto FC
  • F Tony Taylor, New England Revolution
  • MF Mehdi Ballouchi, Vancouver Whitecaps
  • D George John, FC Dallas
  • M Tommy McNamara, DC United
  • D Sal Zizzo, Sporting Kansas City
  • D Chris Wingert, Real Salt Lake

Of those 10 picks, three never played for NYCFC: Lovitz (whom you may recognize!) was immediately traded back to TFC for allocation money*, John retired after having missed the entire preceding season, and Zizzo was immediately flipped to New York Red Bulls for goalkeeper Ryan Meara.

* Clubs that lose a player in the Expansion Draft are given allocation money to compensate – it was $50k in GAM last season and this season, though I can’t find a source for what it was back then. NYCFC essentially turned its pick into allocation money in the trade.

Among the 10 picks, Reyna clearly had two deals agreed to prior to the Draft, and it’s possible the John deal was also pre-agreed to get him off the FC Dallas books. The remaining players had at least one season with NYCFC – the majority played out two-year contracts and moved on – and only one one of them ended his career with the club (Ballouchi). Mullins with Toronto FC and McNamara with New England are the only two still in MLS six year later.

It’s also worth noting that in the three expansion drafts when Reyna was on the other side of the exchange, NYCFC had zero (0) players picked. In 2019, when he was on the way out at City to take over his current role with Austin, Inter Miami CF picked Ben Sweat wirth the first pick. Clearly, this is a guy who manages to make deals to ensure he gets what he wants.

2019 Expansion Draft – Jacobs for Nashville SC

The most recent Expansion Draft was much discussed in this space in contemporary times. Here are the nitty-gritty results:

  • F Abu Danladi, Minnesota United
  • D Zarek Valentin, Portland Timbers
  • D Jalil Anibaba, New England Revolution
  • F Brandon Vazquez, Atlanta United
  • D/M Jimmy Medranda, Sporting Kansas City

There were plenty of immediate deals: Valentin was flipped to Houston Dynamo in exchange for goalkeeper Joe Willis (I’d say that worked out well!), and Vazquez went to FC Cincinnati for $150k in Targeted Allocation Money.

Nashville also picked up Lovitz from Montreal Impact for $100k in combined allocation money, and goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas from Sporting Kansas City for $175K in combined allocation money (part of a deal that allowed them to ensure Medranda would be left unprotected by Peter Vermes, as well). While neither Medranda nor Zendejas worked out at Nashville (Zendejas was flipped to Minnesota United mid-season and Medranda went to Seattle just before the close of the in-season trade window), you can see a pattern of extensive deal-making going on here.

So…?

These are two General Managers who are willing – even excited – to make deals. Both, of course, will only do so if they believe such a deal benefits their respective clubs.

We already know some of the pieces Austin has in place. The roster already includes Paraguayan winger duo Cecilio Domínguez (a 26-year old Designated Player) and Rodney Redes, 20. They’re also reportedly on the verge of signing centerback Julian Cascante from Portland Timbers as soon as the trade window opens Saturday morning, and are a team of interest for veteran Liga MX defender Paul Aguilar. On the flipside, rumors that the club was on the verge of signing Mexico international CB Miguel Layún have been denied by Layun himself.

Going forward, Reyna has given some insight into what he’s looking for in the domestic market:

“We’re watching and following the league closely, continue to scout players internationally with the eye towards bringing in a bunch of players in December and January,” Reyna said.

Reyna said the club will be targeting a number of players with MLS experience for both their talent and understanding of the league

MLSSoccer.com

For a Nashville team that built on similar principles, that could be a sign that the Boys in Gold will have a vulnerable group going into Expansion Draft day. However, given the history for both of these club executives, you can be pretty confident that, if Austin selects a player from Music City, it will be part of a deal that Reyna and Jacobs have verbally agreed to in advance.

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