The Lowdown: Lauletta’s take on expansion process

Dan Lauletta January 14, 2014 70

Ella Masar, seen here with the Red Stars, was selected by the Houston Dash in last week's Expansion Draft (Photo: David Durochik/ISI Photos)

Last week’s Expansion Draft more or less put an end to the process of admitting the Houston Dash into NWSL.  The club now has enough players to field a team, and enough good players to make an impact.  They figure to add at least one more quality player on Friday when they pick 2nd in the NWSL College Draft.  The club has also already sold more season tickets than some games drew in 2013, so their positive effect on NWSL looks like it will be noticeable early on.

What is mildly troubling about the method in which the Dash stocked their roster is that it sets a precedent that will be impossible to follow as NWSL continues to grow.  Once upon a time, North American sports would expand and the new teams would get to pick a few scraps the others did not want and had to slowly and often painfully build through drafting and trading.  It took years.  Over the years standards have been dropped for protecting players for expansion drafts.  This trend, along with free agency, has made it easier or new teams to compete.  And in soccer the pool of players always expands far and wide, never limited to those already in the league or ready to graduate college.  Just ask the Seattle Sounders.

That said, did the treatment of the Houston Dash go too far? Let’s take a look at the ways they acquired players.

Allocation:  This was always going to be a factor since the three federations are offsetting player costs by funding 50 players around the league.  The Dash were allocated Whitney Engen, Melissa Tancredi (since traded for Erin McLeod), and Teresa Noyola, and were given options to add other allocated players in the Expansion Draft.  Of the three, only Noyola played in the league in 2013 (with Kansas City) as Mexico made the odd decision to move players from team to team.  No issues here.

Expansion Draft:  Any Expansion Draft figures to have some good players up for grabs, but the Dash had access to a number of proven stars.  Any team with three or more U.S. allocations—everyone but the Flash—were required to leave one unprotected.  The Dash went with Meghan Klingenberg and elected to leave the other spot on the board, but they would have been within their rights to snatch up unprotected Americans like Nicole Barnhart and Rachel Buehler.  Both are favorites to be on the World Cup team next summer and were major contributors to their respective clubs’ success in 2013.  It seemed a little rough for the system to be set up in such a way that hands were forced to leave them exposed.  Also, had the Dash taken two U.S. allocations they would have had three and could have left two teams with only two.  That seems counterintuitive to me.

College Draft:  This one puzzles.  All indications are that the Dash were originally slotted in at No. 5 in between the playoff and non-playoff teams.  At some point the league took a closer look at it and bumped them to No. 2.  Why though?  Not only did No. 5 seem like a fair landing place, but what was the logic behind No. 2? Did the league simply take pity on the Spirit and make sure they got whichever player they have been eyeing? (The overwhelming consensus is that player in Crystal Dunn.)

The change from No. 5 to No. 2 primarily impacts the Red Stars (original holders of No. 2 and 3) and FC Kansas City (No. 4).  The Blues have the much larger gripe.  It was October 17 when they shipped Courtney Jones to the Breakers for the right to swap 1st Round picks.  That was 47 days after the championship match and while Dash talks had begun behind the scenes by that time, it was clear FCKC made the deal with the No. 4 pick in mind.  Teams who make such trades often do so with a specific player or two in mind.  Sources told The Equalizer after the trade the Blues thought they could get one of two players they wanted.

Sure the Red Stars also drop a spot—essentially from No. 2 to No. 4—but they made their trade in March.  That means they traded on speculation.  Buyer beware in cases like that.  As of close of business Monday, there have already been seven trades involving six different picks in the 2015 draft.  All speculation since no one knows who will finish where or whether the league will expand again.

The future:  All of this will certainly be brought up when future teams are admitted.  But can they possibly be treated as well as the Dash have been? The allocation issue is its own special case, but will teams be required to expose U.S. allocations during future expansion drafts? More importantly, will there be any consistency that will guide teams when they build their rosters? And if multiple teams come in, will they be inserted at or near the top of the draft, knocking down clubs that desperately need talent infusions? Major League Soccer traditionally lets their expansion teams move to the top of the draft, but fresh college graduates are far more vital in the women’s game than the men’s.  There has also never been an MLS expansion club announced for a season for which direct preparation has already begun (not a criticism of the timing of the Dash entry just a fact.)

Most of these issues are little more than some growing pains for a league that was hastily put together a year ago and is still clearly finding its footing when it comes to certain guidelines.  And consider this: barring something far out of left field this will be the first time ever in women’s professional soccer in the United States that all existing clubs will return as is and a new team will join the lineup.

The Trades

Here is some quick analysis of Monday’s trades and news.

Karina LeBlanc was traded to the Red Stars in 2010 but never played for them. Monday she was traded to Chicago again. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Karina LeBlanc to Red Stars for 2nd Round pick in 2015The Thorns inked Nadine Angerer so LeBlanc became a trade asset.  A 2nd Rounder in ’15 may have been a bit light, but they were somewhat backed into a corner since few teams were about to offer anything of substance since everyone else already had a quality starting keeper.  LeBlanc will be a big loss in Portland but Angerer—who captured the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year honor a short time after announcing the Thorns as her new club—is an upgrade in the penalty box.

For the Red Stars, unless you have a strong opinion about the difference between LeBlanc and Erin McLeod, then they basically traded a 2015 draft pick for Melissa Tancredi.  It was Tancredi that came from Houston for McLeod and opened the spot for LeBlanc.  I’d probably give LeBlanc a small edge over McLeod but either way, unless Tancredi lost her edge attending chiropractor school this was a big win overall for the Red Stars.  Also look for backup Taylor Vancil to give LeBlanc a run for her money when it comes to playing time in goal.

Bianca Henninger to Dash for No. 19 pick: I thought the Dash might take Henninger in the Expansion Draft but evidently they figured the price to acquire a backup keeper after the fact was less than bypassing whoever they would have left on the board for her.  FC Kansas City were a little up against it here after being allocated Cecilia Santiago, a promising but young keeper from Mexico.  Santiago is also guaranteed a roster spot so moving Henninger was a virtual necessity.  The Dash now have McLeod and Henninger which should serve them well in their maiden season.

Sinead Farrelly to Thorns for No. 16 pick:  Henninger went to Houston to play for her U-23 coach Randy Waldrum.  The Thorns acquired Farrelly and will reunite her with Paul Riley who took her No. 2 in 2011 (WPS) and also coached her in WPSL Elite.  Farrelly looks to be a player right on the cusp of starting, something she did 10 times in 16 appearances for FC Kansas City last season.  Presently she looks like a first team player in Portland especially until Tobin Heath comes back from France.  FC Kansas City, having acquired two picks Monday, have five of the first 20 and six altogether.  This for the team that took Erika Tymrak at No. 11 last season.  Could the trade also be an indicator that Sarah Hagen is ready to return to the U.S.?

Stephanie Ochs to Dash for Danesha Adams:  Another coach/player reunion as Ochs also played for Waldrum in Houston.  Unfortunately she did not play particularly well for the Spirit last season.  They protected her for the Expansion Draft so they must think highly enough of Adams to have pulled the trigger on this one.  Ochs was taken No. 1 in last year’s Supplemental Draft and Tiffany McCarty was taken No. 2 in the college draft.  Both are now Houston Dash players and all the Spirit have to show for it is Adams, a solid forward who if nothing else will change things up at the goal-starved SoccerPlex.

Free Kicks

-This is the second time Karina LeBlanc has been traded to the Red Stars by Paul Riley.  In 2010 the Independence sent her to the Red Stars for draft picks, but before she had a chance to suit up in the Windy City, the Red Stars packed their bags for WPSL.  LeBlanc wound up in residency with Canada and then had a brief stint with magicJack.

-Interesting move by FC Kansas City to move over to Stanley H Durwood Stadium where they will play to a capacity of 3,200.  Of their 12 home games including playoffs in 2013, all but one surpassed 3,200.  That could create demand for tickets, and it will certainly reduce complaints about football lines.

-The Breakers are also moving, to Harvard Stadium.  There will not be any ticket demand at the spacious old place and there are lines for more sports than you can imagine.  But the location is better and it will give the club some added flexibility.  Dilboy Stadium was ideal for WPSL Elite in 2012 but not so much for NWSL in 2013.

-The imbalanced allocations this season made it inevitable, but trades are now allowed to be made without regard for allocation status.  The LeBlanc trade was the first of them.  Last year allocated players could only be moved for other allocated playersfrom the same federation.

-Another roster change is the addition of a third international spot.  It remains to be seen how many teams are able to take advantage of this.  Allocated players from Canada and Mexico do not count towards the three.

-My prediction for the top five picks on Friday — 1. Crystal Dun (WAS); 2. Kealia Ohai (HOU); 3. Julie Johnston (CHI); 4. Vanessa DiBernardo (CHI); 5. Kassey Kallman (KC).  Kallman is a stretch and probably wouldn’t have been worth the trade in October for FCKC, but she seems to fill a positional need and there are indications the Red Stars are at least willing to move one of their high picks.  Not anticipating being right here.

  • STT

    Nice analysis of everything! Just one question: you say the precedent set will be impossible to follow as things continue to grow, but didn’t elaborate on what exactly will be difficult to replicate.

    (Also, as a note, while Ochs didn’t play well for the Spirit, she’s lit it up in Canberra.)

    • kernel_thai

      Ochs was isolated out on a wing under Jordan mostly because she was a good possession player. Once Parsons took over he immediately moved Ochs up top where she was a factor in the offense again. The problem with Ochs was the same one they had in Portland…the midfield. U know a team has trouble making chances when ur top scorer is a midfielder who mostly scored on PKs. I think ull see exactly what the Spirit gave up assuming Waldrum has the horses to run his system.

      • Rdalford

        Agree that Ochs should perform better within Waldrum’s system in Houston.

      • Carol

        kernel …..exactly!

        Ochs was having to cover the entire left side and drop back and play defender even, under Mike Jorden. She didn’t play forward (proper) till Parsons took over. To judge her last season’s goal-scoring, when she didn’t even play forward till the last what? four games? is ridiculous. Steph was a workshorse utility player last season who played whatever position she was asked to play. Before starting last season, she was MVP of the WNT U-23 4-nation tourny in Spain — under Randy Waldrum’s coaching….and now also doing well in Australia. Saying Steph “did not play particuarly well last season” is an uneducated & gross disconnect on “someone’s” part. Before anyone judges “just stats”, then writes commentaries based off that, they ought to look at and know the full story…..

      • VaFan51

        Agreed. I can’t believe the Spirit would be so impatient and short-sighted with a talent such as Ochs. She will only get better over the next several years and is the sort of young player a team could build around.

        • Carol

          It’s *almost* comical how many players take the fall and bad-labeling for what is really lousy coaching and GM decisions.

          • questioning

            cco- last initial stand for Ochs

        • rufan

          Could Ochs been in the second year (or option year) of a two year contract? Would she even be at Wash next year or “next several years”? Become a “free agent”?

          Kernel_
          What is your thinking of these league contracts? One year (’13) and an option year this year. Therefore free agent next year? (unless a player signs a new contract)

          • kernel_thai

            It’s the $200,000 question. Im having a hard time believing that 70% of the players just become free agents after this season. I wouldnt be all surprised if teams retain exclusive rights within the league for a certain period of time after the contracts expire, making mass movement much harder. I know college players drafted in 2013 but unsigned dont have their rights released until March 10, 2014 and they never signed a thing.

  • kernel_thai

    I dont have a problem with the way Houston’s top draft pick was handled. It seemed like the league looked at the situation in Chicago, Washington and Houston and tried to balance the help between the three. Houston getting the 2nd pick somewhat compensates them for not getting Press. Washington retained it’s top pick for the same reason. I dont feel bad for KC. The purpose for placing Houston #5 was to put them behind the non playoff teams of which KC was not one of. KC took a risk moving up to #4. If they wanted to guarantee their two players would be there four didnt do that. The team I feel bad for is Boston. As it turned out they get no help from reallocation and dont have a key draft selection either. Perhaps a better approach would have been to let the four non playoff teams protect all their US allocated players or at least the teams with only three.

    • newsouth

      Brian Cushing is quite happy to do leg work for the Dash. Everyone knows Ohai wouldn’t have lasted to the 5th pick. Lets see if the new coach goes over management’s head and makes a wild card pick on draft day.

      • NYRick

        You were 100% correct on this and most people including me scoffed at it. Good call and analysis of a back room deal.

    • Silver Frost

      Agree about Boston. They lost Leroux and have nobody anywhere close to her in talent at forward. Maybe Sanderson will be asked to step it up on scoring goals.

      • Steglitz49

        Don’t feel bad for Boston. They dug their own tomb. They may lie in it.

    • FCKCEvans

      I feel bad for Boston in the allocation process but that’s it. They shouldn’t have given up their #4 pick or Sydney Leroux. I know no one feels sorry for KC in allocations but they did get screwed with the Candians and deserved to have the #4 pick that they paid a price for. I’d assume a deal was cut with Houston to allow them to move up to #2.

      • Steglitz49

        Boston suffers from entitlement syndrome. It is a most florid case, possibly terminal.

  • newsouth

    Horrible analysis and the deal with moving into the #2 spot and Press ending up in Chicago, just horrible, or he doesn’t want to rub USSoccer the wrong way.

    • Pressured

      If Chicago can get a quality midfielder, from the draft or an international, then I have them No. 2 behind Seattle.

      • Reality

        With picks 3 & 4 in the draft, they will probably choose Julie Johnston and Vanessa DiBernado in order to provide the mid-field to support Press. However, I don’t think that makes them #2 in the NWSL. Much depends on how they do in the first half of the season before Press arrives. It’s quite possible that they can make it into the final 4 for the playoffs. After that, it depends on how well they will have meshed as a team.

        • NYRick

          If they get JJ and DiBernado, that’s a great draft. I would pick either before Ohai. They do have the makings of a pretty good team if they mesh properly by season’s end as you said.

          • Reality

            Houston needs offense and they will probably take Ohai in the #2 pick.

          • NYRick

            Yes, agree. See my trade option with one of the Red Star draft picks above. Thoughts?

          • kernel_thai

            Im not really sure how DiBernardo fits into the Chicago system. She is a little small to play CAM and Im not sure she is fast enough to play wing.

          • Steglitz49

            Chicago could make the play-offs.

        • NYRick

          Also, since the allocated for allocated player rule was lifted, how bout this for a Red Star trade: the #2 or the #3 pick to SB for KO. That would be a great move if Red Star can pull that off, and it seems evident that KO wants out in NJ. Plus, it reunites thou who shall not be named and KO. Even if KO stays as a left back, which is where she belongs now. They still would have old chemistry on the attacking front.

          • Reality

            As much as I would love to see Press and O’Hara reunited, I think that the main priority for Chicago is to focus on developing an offense that complements Press’s style. Johnston and DiBernardo have the ball handling and passing skills to support an up the middle possession offense which is what Coach Dames tried to implement last year but did not have the players to do it. Now he will, which will make Chicago a real challenge to the rest of the league.

          • kernel_thai

            Im not sure u wont see KO starting the season at right outside back in Foord’s spot. The other problem for trading O’Hara for a pick is they lose a subsidized slot effecting their cap. If they could pull off the deal and draft Johnston, she would fill Bock’s slot but where does O’Hara play on Chicago?

        • Pressured

          This could be fun:
          F Press, Tancredi
          M Johnston, Chalupa, Dibernardo, Osborne
          D Quon, Santacaterina, Lepeilbet, Wenino
          G LeBlanc

          • Reality

            Assuming Johnston & DiBernardo are chosen and no further changes in the roster, that looks like a starting lineup. I have a feeling though there might a few more shoes to drop.

          • kernel_thai

            Sanatcaterina had hip surgery so I doubt she starts the season. If Short is heathly she might take the outside back spot and Wenino mves to CB at least until Hemmings or Santacaterina r ready.

          • Random

            If Chicago fields that midfield they will play so narrow it won’t even be funny. Those are all Center midfielders with the exception of Chalupny who can play outside mid but is too much of an attacking presense to stick out on the wing as none of the other three are as dynamic as her in the AM spot.

            You could argue a 4-5-1 with Johnston/Ozzy as the DM’s and some mix of the others in the 4 more attacking spots maybe Tancredi as the target striker and Press, Dibernardo and Chalupny mixing through the other three attacking midfield positions.
            I know Chicago likes to take Local players so they may be leaning towards taking both Johnston and DiBernardo but they really don’t need both of those players especially with Boxx presumably back sometime mid-late this season. I can only see them taking both to use one of them as trade bait.

          • Steglitz49

            Ms Press must be the target striker. She needs someone up with her. Chicago ought to use a standard 4-4-2 formation.

          • Random

            I’m not saying I want them to play this way I was just trying to point out to @Pressured that that formation didn’t make the most sense with the personnel listed. I personally don’t want to see Press end up as a wing middy or a lone target forward.

          • Pressured

            Chicago could use 1 burner like a Henderson, Ohai or Hayes, but they may not be realistic options.

          • newsouth

            Hayes will be there for the 3rd and 4th picks.

  • Sydonia

    OK Dan, why aren’t there more women head coaches in NWSL? There is now one less than in 2013.

    • morSOC

      Do we know how many women applied for NWSL jobs? Most of the top female coaches are in stable NCAA or US Soccer gigs and as Waldrum pointed out a person has to think long and hard about leaving those positions. Our top women coaches might find more stable “pro” coaching jobs in Europe.

      • Steglitz49

        Unlikely. Women’s pro-soccer in Europe has a lo of men in it.

        There is Pia Sundhage, Sylvia Neid and Maren Meinert, who all coach national sides, but for the clubs the men are reigning even if it it is not raining men.

    • Wear Nikes Drink Gatorade

      That’s a systemic issue that would take at the minimum a column to discuss.

  • wosofan

    Dan — nice write-up, but you’ve packed too many topics, too many questions/issues, into one piece. Generally speaking, I think the expansion draft process was fine, the price of adding a valuable and wealthy (AEG) new ownership group into the league. The Dash’s picks hardly did damage to the core of any other team. Klingenberg hadn’t even played for the Breakers yet. Also, FCKC is not going to lose sleep over the 5th pick, as compared to the 4th pick, and they were happy to trade Jones anyway. And the Dash are hardly a scoring threat on paper — McCarty, Ochs, Masar, Noyola. Not a threatening bunch, even if you add in Hayes or Ohai, etc.

    Finally, Paul Riley is clever — he notes in an interview yesterday with an Oregon news outlet that Angerer is quicker off her line and has a kicking game, allowing the Thorns to play a much different defensive style and alignment than with Leblanc. The Thorns only mistake is not getting bit better value from the Red Stars.

    • FCKCEvans

      I agree with most of your post. However, I don’t think KC is too happy about moving to the #5 pick, some back door deal must have been made. I don’t agree that they were “happy” to trade away Jones, they assumed they were going to get Ohai or Johnston for her, which probably won’t happen now.

      Riley is a good coach no doubt, but also in the interview you quoted he said that Farrelly could be in the national team pool by next summer. Do you agree with that? I don’t. However, I would rather have Farrelly on our bench than a rookie.

      • Rdalford

        If Riley gets Farrelly playing at level she played with Philly then she might make it back into the national team pool.

        • FCKCEvans

          I don’t know if I agree. I think Sinead is very good and i’m not sure we get someone better with that pick in the college draft. However, she didn’t play over, or come in off the bench before Mathias, Jones, or part-time Loyd at the end of the season. But I do think Portland is a better fit for her, especially with Riley. Sinead was a fan favorite in KC I hope she proves me wrong in Portland.

      • wosofan

        Not sure Sinead wants to be on the USWNT. Or, more accurately, wants to do what it would take to make the USWNT. Not a criticism of her, but I’m not sure that’s her 100% dream and focus at this point. Not everyone is a “grinder,” hell-bent on two-a-days and protein shakes in late December. And she hasn’t been graced with the athletic genes of the USWNT alpha-chicks, a la Leroux, Morgan, or Rampone.

        Anyway, Riley is half-correct in his statement. She has the vision, decision-making, and technical skills, to play effectively at that level. Carli Lloyd would give her left arm away, to have this ability. But Sinead doesn’t really have the strength, grit, toughness to play box-to-box midfield for the USWNT. Not at this time, at least. I’d love to be proven wrong, because I enjoy watching her play. Maybe Riley inspires her to make a huge leap?

        • nwslfan

          NONSENSE. I’ve seen her play. up close, very up close. she is gritty. even at the highest levels, player can lose confidence, for a variety of reasons.. getting real minutes in Portland is going to be huge for her. if you’ve been denied a shot NT, after a while, the dream seems distant. I love Riley’s statement, it will light a fire under her ass.

          • wosofan

            maybe she will enjoy a renaissance in PDX. Would love to see it. I’d even root for her to do well, which is something, because I pretty much dislike the Thorns players and owner.

  • FCKCEvans

    Can Kallman play outside back or d-mid? Lots of people are talking about KC drafting her due to recent events but I thought she was a center-back. Kryszik and Brunn are KC’s centerbacks…We don’t need another centerback with the #5 pick.

    • Rdalford

      Agree that FCKC needs DM and outside back to replace Canadians but Kallman may be best player available at #5. Sauerbrunn has flexibility to play outside back (if FCKC is unable to trade for or draft outside back). Kallman could also be backup center back or part of trade deal.

      • Pressured

        If KC gets Hagen, then it’s an all out push for a midfielder to replace Scott.

    • wosofan

      No and no. Kallman is a lot like Sesselman, but with maybe slightly better passing ability and a bit less pace. I would not expose Kallman at outside back for a full game in the NWSL, especially not on a large, wide playing surface, like the Md Soccerplex. Also, she’s never played Def. Mid. before, in college or international. I think Julie Johnston makes a lot of sense for FCKC, if she’s available, because of her flexibility.

      • FCKCEvans

        Thanks, I was very impressed with Kallman’s play in the College Cup and whatever team gets her will be lucky to have her. I’m just not convinced she’s what KC needs with #5.

        • kernel_thai

          Ive seen Kallman play left back but CB is her best pro spot.

  • rufan

    The price paid for getting an expansion team in the league

    “Once upon a time, North American sports would expand and the new teams
    would get to pick a few scraps the others did not want and had to slowly
    and often painfully build through drafting and trading…”
    These teams paid $ to the existing owners to enter into those leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA).

    • Rdalford

      However those expansion teams were buying into established leagues.

      • rufan

        Maybe I was not clear.
        The price paid by existing NWSL teams’ owners to get Houston into the league

        • treehill

          To clarify more: For big established leagues it is the club that is privileged to join, so the club has to accept poor draft picks and allocations and even pay an entry fee.

          For a small league like NWSL, it is the league that is privileged for an MLS-backed club to join, so of course they are going to give the club a good allocation and draft picks.

          It’s not a “trend”, or “Once upon a time” or “dropping standards”. It’s simply capitalism. As long as the NWSL is small compared to MLS clubs, it will work like the second case. If and when the NWSL gets big, it will go to the first case.

          • Lorehead

            Although it turned down Red Bull. For some insane reason.

          • rufan

            The was one team (SB), not the league, turning down an offer that I think we do not know the details of.

          • kernel_thai

            Thankfully, the pressure is now off on that one as Tyreso signed four Brazilians that should keep Newsouth’s mind occupied.

          • treehill

            Since that was a merger with Sky Blue instead of pure expansion, Sky Blue had more leverage than usual. But wthout knowing details I’d agree it looks like insanity was involved.

          • Steglitz49

            It was not a merger. It was a take-over bid but because the owners held all the shares, it stalled. The owners were unhappy about the details otherwise they would have sold.

          • Boston Red

            Does Sky Blue not wanting to sell count as a reason?

          • Steglitz49

            Hear hear! Seems a pretty sound reason to me.

          • Lorehead

            That’s a reason for Sky Blue’s owners to nix the deal, but not a reason for the league to have given them veto power over change that threatens them. (While a forced sale would not have been on the table, letting Red Bull in anyway, possibly in place of Sky Blue, might have been under a different structure.)

  • Diane (DeeG)

    The only real surprise for me was Ochs to Houston. She has been playing together with Lindsey in Australia’s W-League team, Canberra United and doing well, all for naught, apparently.

  • guest

    Is Kelley O’hara being traded?

    • Lorehead

      I was shocked when she wasn’t picked in the draft. Everyone here assumed she must really want out.

      • Steglitz49

        The lady has had an ankle injury requiring surgery. Not necessarily a good bet whatever her spin-doctors might say.

        • Guest

          You do realize she was at camp and participated in scrimmages and it is early January. She was smart and had it fixed early and is at the end of her recovery. It isn’t that hard to follow along these days. I’m not sure why you feel the need to respond to every comment about Kelley’s recovery as though she hasn’t been seen in a year.

  • Pressured

    Off topic – Anyone know if Missy Geha going to play this year or going to be in the broadcast booth?