MLS expansion teams stock roster in draft as wheeling and dealing continues

By Neil Davidson


Portland Timbers goalie Donovan Ricketts

TORONTO _ Orlando City SC and New York City FC stocked their rosters Wednesday, with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver among those losing players via the MLS expansion draft.

As often happens in such drafts, some moves were temporary. New York took Toronto FC winger Daniel Lovitz in the fourth round, only to trade the 23-year-old back for allocation money when the trade window re-opened after the draft.

More wheeling and dealing is expected.

“We’re a brand new team. We need players,” said New York City sporting director Claudio Reyna. “So we’re looking and shopping and trying to do everything we can to create the absolute best team we can.”

New York City FC took Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy in the sixth round while Orlando City SC chose Montreal Impact defender Heath Pearce in the seventh.

Montreal added to its roster via a separate waiver draft, taking English midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker with the first overall pick. The 30-year-old former West Ham, Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers player split last season between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Chivas USA.

“He fits the profile we were looking for in a midfielder,” Impact head coach Frank Klopas said in a statement. “He has strong leadership qualities and his addition will be positive for the group.”

Orlando opened the expansion draft by taking veteran Portland Timbers goalie Donovan Ricketts. The 37-year-old Jamaican international, a former member of the Montreal Impact, was MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2010.

“Hugely experienced, over a 100 caps with Jamaica,” said Orlando coach Adrian Heath. “More importantly he’s been absolutely fabulous in this league.”

Orlando traded for Houston goalie Tally Hall on Monday but the all-star goalie is coming off knee surgery. Ricketts and Hall made a combined US$473,500 last season, suggesting one may be moved.

New York City FC coach Jason Kreis took two of his former Real Salt Lake players in midfielder Ned Grabavoy, second overall, and defender Chris Wingert with the final pick. Wingert is a native of Long Island, N.Y.

Kreis called the two players important pieces during his time at Salt Lake who would add leadership to his new team.

Kreis took two other New Yorkers in San Jose defender Jason Hernandez and D.C. United midfielder Thomas McNamara.

New York used its second-round pick on New England forward Patrick Mullins, a rookie who turned heads when he came on as a substitute in the recent MLS Cup final.

The draft upped New York’s roster to 19 players including English midfielder Frank Lampard and Spanish forward David Villa. Orlando increased to 22, including Brazilian star Kaka.

The numbers quickly changed.

Orlando traded the rights to defender Eric Gehrig, taken from Columbus with its 10th pick in the expansion draft, to the Chicago Fire for a second-round draft pick in 2016.

Teams were allowed to protect 11 players in the draft, with Homegrown players exempt. They could lose only two players, with another player protected if one was selected.

Toronto protected fullback Mark Bloom after losing Lovitz while Vancouver opted to keep midfielder-forward Nicolas Mezquida. Montreal protected Donny Toia.

Lovitz started the season on loan to the Wilmington Hammerheads but ended up seeing action in 18 games for Toronto with five starts.

“Our goal was to come out of the expansion draft with our team intact,” Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “We did our homework and took measures to ensure that would happen prior to the draft. To that end, we accomplished what we set out to do, and now our full attention can set on improving the team for next season.”

The 30-year-old Pearce started 20 games this season, his first with Montreal, making three appearances as a sub. The three-time MLS all-star has also played for FC Dallas, Chivas USA and the New York Red Bulls as well as in Germany and Denmark.

He made $100,000 last season with the Impact, a bargain for a veteran defender.

Ballouchy had MLS stints with Real Salt Lake, Colorado, New York Red Bulls and San Jose prior to playing last season for Vancouver after being taken in the re-entry draft.

The Moroccan midfielder saw just 297 minutes of action in nine games last season _ and 20 regular-season games in total over the last three seasons _ but just being on the field was a success story after undergoing reconstructive surgery on both knees.

Kreis played with Ballouchy at Real Salt Lake and eventually trade him in a deal that netted him Kyle Beckerman.

“At the time it was a very very difficult decision for me because I liked the way Mehdi played so much,” said Kreis. “Every team he’s gone to, I’ve continued to watch him … Another selection that we’re very very pleased with.’

Kreis also took a gamble in the seventh round on FC Dallas defender George John, who missed all of the 2014 season due to knee surgery. But when healthy, the six-foot-three John drew attention from European clubs and had a loan spell with West Ham United.

Columbus, Colorado, D.C. United and New England also lost two players each. Colorado then chose Chivas defender Bobby Burling in the waiver draft.

Expansion draft

Orlando City SC

Donovan Ricketts, Portland; Tony Cascio, Colorado, Jalil Anibaba, Seattle, Pedro Ribeiro, Philadelphia, Lewis Neal, D.C. United; Jairo Arrieta, Columbus; Heath Pearce, Montreal; Danny Mwanga, Colorado; Mark Sherrod, Houston; Eric Gehrig, Columbus.

New York City FC

Ned Grabavoy, Real Salt Lake; Patrick Mullins, New England; Jason Hernandez, San Jose; Daniel Lovitz, Toronto; Tony Taylor, New England; Mehdi Ballouchy, Vancouver; George John, Dallas; Thomas McNamara, D.C. United; Sal Zizzo, Sporting Kansas City; Chris Wingert, Real Salt Lake.

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