Mint Chips: Grading Charlotte FC’s Expansion Draft
As the 2022 season rapidly approaches (less than 11 weeks!) Charlotte FC has had the opportunity to add key pieces to their roster via the expansion draft.
Historically, players taken in the expansion draft have had limited utility for their teams. This is especially true in the era where expansion teams have just 5 picks, and when international players are easier to bring in. Still, with just 12 players set aside for protection, teams are forced into hard choices and quality is there for the taking.
How did Charlotte do? It’s hard to analyze picks without knowing what the front office has in store for the team. There are players in the pipeline that we do not yet know about, and that will affect whether or not the players selected have an impact. Here’s a quick report card — we’ll see how the picks hold up over time.
The Trades: A
Tristan Blackmon was a key part of LAFC’s best moments, a stalwart in their deep CCL run in 2020. At the same time he was a bit of a tweener, neither a fullback or center back, and while he played well early in the season he struggled with fitness late. Charlotte gets a nice chunk of GAM for the deal, and that is probably worth more than the player.
Ismael Tajouri Shradi is a good forward, and probably has hit his ceiling as a depth option for a title contender, but on a budget charge greater than 600K he’s a steep option for an expansion team. Flipping him to LAFC works for both teams as LAFC gets a proven player with a green card up front, while Charlotte completely recovers the GAM hit for the international spots they took from Nashville. NYCFC can’t bet too upset either; they get 50K in GAM, 600K of cap space, and protection from next year’s expansion draft.
Expansion draft picks represent an opportunity cost, but scanning through the list of players available it’s hard to say you’d take many of them over 400K in GAM and the flexibility it provides.
Anton Walkes: A
Everything about this pick screams steal. Walkes is a young player entering his prime years as a CB. He’s a physically capable CB who is familiar with a possession style, especially after Atlanta United. He improved significantly from year one to year two in MLS. His budget charge is rather low, and while he does require a international slot hopefully he can earn a green card sooner rather than later.
Adding strength along the spine of the team has been a priority early in the roster build, and this pick gives you additional strength and flexibility in the defensive group.
McKinze Gaines: C+
It’s hard to grade a player that has so little top level pro experience. This is a pick that’s about upside, but for a player that is almost 24 how much more development can be expected? He played 212 minutes for Austin, most of them coming late after Austin’s season was already over. He did score a goal and didn’t look completely helpless.
What does Gaines bring to the table? Again, with such a small sample size at a high level it’s hard to fully tell. Based on what I’ve seen, Gaines is a player that has experience on both the right and left side. He’s a right footed winger, and in a possession system it’s often better to have a player like that on the left and working inside.
Gaines has elite speed and can open up a defense with his vertical ability. At first he will likely be coming off the bench against tired legs, as he’s probably not MLS starter quality. His technical ability is solid but not spectacular.
Joseph Mora: D-
I just don’t get this pick — Mora has little upside, was beaten for a starting job by a teenager last season, and shares a position with two players already on the roster — Fuchs and Armour. You can argue that Armour might not be ready and that Fuchs will need support, but I don’t buy it. Mora will either actively take minutes that Armour could use for development, or he will get beaten out by Armour and then you’ve wasted the pick.
You could also argue that there weren’t many better left backs available (and you’d be right) but then Charlotte could have just… not taken a left back. Again, they have two, and Lindsey can fill in if necessary. If you’re absolutely desperate for a LB, Mustafa Kizza was available for about the same budget charge. He’s also younger and performed better in 2021.
The stated justification for picking Mora was MLS experience, which is about the worst possible reason to pick a player in the expansion draft. Pretty much every player you get is going to have MLS experience by definition.
Charlotte came out of the expansion draft with genuine value in GAM — and that’s more than many teams have done. Anything after that is a bonus, and adding a very good young CB and an upside winger is a nice outcome. Even if Gaines never plays more than 500 minutes in a season, it’s a solid draft.
The Mora pick is, in my opinion, a huge whiff. Charlotte should have used that pick on a better player in another position, especially considering they still do not have a solid GK to compete with Sisniega. Steve Clark may have not had the best MLS Cup final, but he got Portland there and was positive over the season — you’d be hard pressed to do better.