The Expansion Draft has come and gone through Major League Soccer this week, and Orlando City unexpectedly landed right in the middle of it, both gaining and losing a player thanks to new expansion side Atlanta United.
Ten picks later, Orlando City walked away both a winner and a loser.
In the draft, the Lions lost left back Mikey Ambrose, who was signed mid-season by the club from Orlando City B, to Atlanta. Ambrose was left unprotected by the club, despite getting a handful of opportunities down the stretch of the season. Ambrose showed a good deal of promise in those appearances, arguably out-playing Luke Boden.
I wouldn’t say it was a damaging loss, but it took away from what little depth Orlando City already had at the left back position with Boden’s option not picked up for 2017.
Little did we know, however, it would all work out in the end.
Within hours of the draft’s completion, Orlando City announced it had dealt away its natural first-round pick in the 2017 SuperDraft (No. 8 overall) to Atlanta for left back Donny Toia, who was drafted No. 1 overall by Atlanta in the Expansion Draft.
Having played in Montreal for the past couple of seasons, Toia hasn’t gotten a lot of national attention — at least certainly not in Orlando — for his more defense-first style of play. Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis’ familiarity with Toia, who was an academy player at Real Salt Lake while Kreis was still at the helm of the Utah club, makes him a safe choice for the new gaffer. That connection makes it a good pickup for Orlando.
The move for Toia, at first, was tough to make out for me. Losing a top 10 draft pick is hard to justify, even if you see the value of the SuperDraft declining with more and more top prospects signing Homegrown deals rather than heading to the college game. But I think, in Orlando’s case, the club needed a good left back for a low salary, and Toia gives that to them. I think we’re seeing in this instance that it’s not always about spending big to find the right players, and Kreis knows that just as well as anybody in the league, having been successful at RSL with a relatively small budget.
While Orlando City lost a solid young player in Ambrose, it got something even more important in the end: an assurance that the team will have a quality starting left back in 2017 — something the club has yet to see up to this point since entering MLS.