On paper, the Expansion Draft is typically a big part of the roster building process for clubs entering Major League Soccer. Orlando City, of course, is no stranger to the event, having been involved in the draft with New York City FC in 2014. In just a couple of weeks, both Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United will get together to participate in the Expansion Draft — on a smaller scale, however, with each club getting just five picks as opposed to 10.
On Thanksgiving Eve, Orlando City announced its first six roster moves of the off-season, including declining Pedro Ribeiro’s contract option for 2017. In releasing Ribeiro, the club severed ties with its last player from the draft which took place almost exactly two years ago.
Every club has a different approach to the Expansion Draft, which means every club ultimately has mixed results.
So let’s take a quick look at each pick and what the Lions got from it.
No. 1: Donovan Ricketts — The Lions shocked a lot of people by going goalkeeper with the first overall pick, taking Ricketts from the Timbers. The aging Jamaican goalkeeper was the club’s opening day goalkeeper, starting each of Orlando’s first 10 MLS matches before Tally Hall returned to full health and officially took over the starting gig. Ricketts posted two shutouts, made 21 saves, and let in 14 goals.
Final result: he was traded to the LA Galaxy on July 30, 2015 for a second-round pick in the 2016 SuperDraft. That pick was later sent to D.C. United, in addition to targeted allocation money, for a first round pick in the 2016 draft, which the Lions used to select Hadji Barry.
No. 2: Tony Cascio — Cascio was taken with the Lions’ second pick, which would prove to mean nothing for the club. Cascio, coming off an ACL injury that forced him to miss most of 2014, sat on the bench in each of Orlando’s first three MLS games before nagging back problems arose and eventually sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Final result: Cascio was released by the Lions last winter. He didn’t play a single MLS minute for the club.
No. 3: Jalil Anibaba — Anibaba’s Orlando City days didn’t last very long. In fact, the American forward was almost immediately shipped to Sporting Kansas City in the deal to bring Aurelien Collin to Orlando.
Final result: Collin wound up being a major piece of the Lions’ expansion season, appearing in 28 games. The French defender’s second season in Orlando didn’t go quite as well, as Collin played in just two games for Adrian Heath before eventually being traded to the New York Red Bulls on April 29. Anibaba ultimately brought a Collin rental for just over a year and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.
No. 4: Pedro Ribeiro — The longest-tenured Lion of the Expansion Draft class, the big, versatile favorite was a useful depth player for Orlando City in 2015. Ribeiro appeared in 18 games last season (eight starts), scoring two goals with two assists. 2016 was a much different story, with back surgery in May holding him out for nearly the rest of the season. He played in only three games this season, but none under Jason Kreis.
Final result: Ribeiro’s contract option was declined by the club earlier this week.
No. 5: Lewis Neal — Neal appeared in 21 games (18 starts) for Orlando City in 2015. He was an important player for Heath after Kevin Molino’s season-ending ACL injury and Cascio’s recurring back problems. He didn’t score any goals — he actually became infamous in Orlando for missing a couple of easy sitters — but recorded one assist.
Final result: Neal was released by the club after the 2015 season, only to stay in the organization, signing with the Lions’ USL club as a player/coach for 2016.
No. 6: Jairo Arrieta: The veteran striker looked to be a starting candidate, if not a capable backup, when the Lions drafted him with their sixth selection. But he would never suit up for Orlando City.
Final result: Arrieta was traded to D.C. United in early January of 2015, for an international roster slot.
No. 7: Heath Pearce — Another player the Lions were hoping would be a key piece of their inaugural roster, Pearce never actually signed with Orlando after being selected in the draft due to reported differences in contract negotiations.
Final result: Pearce left MLS altogether and signed a contract with Allsvenskan club IFK Göteborg in January, 2015.
No. 8: Danny Mwanga — Hoping to do with Mwanga what he did with Dom Dwyer in 2013, Heath and Co. took the former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick following a pair of disappointing years with the Colorado Rapids. Mwanga appeared in just four MLS games (one start) for the Lions in 2015. He didn’t score any MLS goals for the club, although he did score the winning penalty in a shootout win over Charleston in the U.S. Open Cup.
Final result: Mwanga was released by the club during cuts last winter.
No. 9: Mark Sherrod — The Lions selected Sherrod from the Houston Dynamo with their second to last pick. He wasn’t a Lion for very long, though.
Final result: Sherrod was traded to the San Jose Earthquakes the day after the draft for a second-round pick in the 2015 SuperDraft. The Lions went on to use that pick to select Akeil Barrett 25th overall. Barrett was waived a few weeks before the 2015 season and wound up playing with the Jacksonville Armada last year.
No. 10: Eric Gehrig — And last but not least, the Lions selected the Columbus Crew defender with their final pick in the draft and immediately shipped him out as well.
Final result: Gehrig was traded to the Fire almost immediately after the selection for a second-round pick in the 2016 SuperDraft. On Aug. 6, 2015, Orlando City traded that second-round pick to the Crew in exchange for forward Adam Bedell, who was loaned out to Denmark and never appeared in a game for the Lions. Bedell was released by the club last off-season.
Every Draft Is Different
At the end of the day, every club has its own plan to navigating the Expansion Draft. Clubs rarely look at it as an opportunity to significantly improve their team. For Orlando City, the club took some big bets and weren’t able to get the returns they were hoping for, while using other selections as trade chips.
Yes, there were much better players available that went unselected in the draft, but what you also rarely see are the pre-draft trades and back-door deals to keep those players from being selected.
What the Expansion Draft essentially boils to down is a mechanism meant to give teams more bodies. What they do with those bodies — or assets in some cases — is entirely up to them.
Looking back at Orlando City’s draft two years later, it’s easy to see why MLS almost did away with the event altogether.