NWSL expansion, MLS precedent and devious tactics

Want some irony?

The person at the epicenter of the biggest controversy in MLS expansion draft history is now the managing director of the Houston Dash, which will stock its roster in the first NWSL expansion draft Friday.

Brian Ching was (and still is) a Houston legend, a key figure in the Dynamo’s early MLS success. The Dynamo left him unprotected in the 2011 expansion draft, figuring no one would take him.

Naturally, the Montreal Impact took him. Brian Straus explained:

Houston officials had gambled that Ching’s age (33), salary ($412,500), recent injuries and public preference for retirement over Quebec would scare off Marsch. Instead, the coach called the Dynamo’s bluff and made an instant enemy in Texas. Now, the Dynamo will either have to trade for Ching or let the long-time face of the franchise go.

And it wasn’t the first time this had happened. Here’s Ives Galarcep:

In 2006, Real Salt Lake tried a similar move by leaving then-captain Jason Kreis exposed in Toronto FC’s expansion draft, never thinking that the Canadian club would be interested in a 33-year-old American striker on a relatively high salary. Toronto FC wasn’t interested in Kreis, but was fully aware that Real Salt Lake had made Kreis their poster boy heading into the 2007 season. TFC selected Kreis and ultimately forced RSL to pay a $125K allocation to give him back.

So Kreis made it back to RSL, where he went on to be their coach for several good years. And Ching made it back to Houston — for a surprisingly low price of one draft pick. Ching finished out his playing career in Houston, and now he’s the one who gets to turn the thumb screws in the expansion draft.

When you look at the protected/unprotected list that someone curiously leaked in the middle of the night, you’ll see some surprising names. Nicole Barnhart. Karina LeBlanc. Becky Edwards. Tiffany Weimer. Ashlyn Harris. Lori Lindsey. Sarah Huffman.

A couple of those players are goalkeepers, and they’re less likely to be taken now that we know Houston has Erin McLeod.

Some other players are simply value decisions — maybe Player X has more long-term potential than Player Y. Or maybe losing Player Y would give the team more flexibility under the salary cap.

Some of these players are gambles, like Ching and Kreis. The teams figure Houston will shy away, not wanting to use a lot of salary-cap space or not wanting to bring an angry player to camp.

But look at this from Houston’s perspective. Suppose you really want, say, a player on Western New York’s protected list like Samantha Kerr or Kat Reynolds. Maybe you pick Sarah Huffman and say, “OK, Flash — we’ll give you Huffman for Kerr.” Maybe toss in a draft pick to make sure it happens.

For that and for several other reasons, don’t expect the dealing to stop on draft day. In 2010, the Portland Timbers (sibling team of the NWSL’s Thorns) drafted 10 players in the expansion draft. A couple of their picks weren’t playing in the league; the Timbers merely stashed their rights. Others were immediately traded elsewhere.

So you’ll all forgive me if I don’t do a mock expansion draft. Too many moving parts. And unlike MLS players, NWSL players don’t even have their salaries released to the public.

A couple of side notes:

– Did some teams know about the McLeod deal while other teams did not? That would explain why Barnhart, Harris, LeBlanc and company are floating around. Why not just announce it ahead of time so the teams have all the same information before submitting their lists a few days ago?

– Can we drop the myth that the Spirit is trying to stock its roster cheaply? They overspent on some players last year, and they saved up money early to acquire Toni Pressley and Conny Pohlers. You can say they managed their cap space badly, but they weren’t fielding an Atlanta Beat team against the rest of the league’s magicJack.

– Another precedent for the NWSL: A lot of indoor soccer players in the 2000s were picked in expansion drafts but immediately traded back to their original teams for draft picks and whatnot. One factor: Some players had second jobs. And a low-budget league doesn’t want to pay to relocate families.

– So does Houston take Tasha Kai and deal her to Portland in hopes that she’ll want to reunite with Paul Riley? Boom bam, everybody.

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