New York City FC and Orlando City SC are both still more than three months away from playing their first official matches, but they squared off in a competition of sorts Wednesday, and at least from the start, NYCFC got the better of its expansion classmate to the south.
New York City FC put together a very promising list of players in Wednesday’s MLS Expansion Draft, outdoing Orlando City with a group that includes proven veterans and some injured players with considerable upside.
NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis figured to grab at least one of his former Real Salt Lake players, and he managed to take two in Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert, both key starters on Kreis’ RSL teams. The tandem should be able to slot into the NYC starting lineup from day one.
Orlando City picked a pair of established veteran starters in Donovan Ricketts and Heath Pearce who could slot in from day one. Ricketts should slide into the starting goalkeeper role while Tally Hall recovers from a torn ACL, while Pearce is a good left back who could wind up being a steal, particularly if he re-signs to a reasonable contract.
Where NYCFC came away the winner is in the upside department. Grabbing former New England forward Patrick Mullins was a masterstroke, acquiring a rookie who was one of the more promising first-year attacking players in the league. Tony Taylor is a former U.S. Under-23 forward/midfielder who has potential as well.
The reclamation projects who could make NYCFC’s expansion draft a real coup are George John and Tommy McNamara. John was one of the best young defenders in MLS before knee injuries derailed his career. McNamara had the look of an MLS Rookie of the Year contender early on in the 2014 season before tearing his ACL with Chivas USA. If John and McNamara return to health, and thrive under Kreis, NYCFC could point to these picks as the ones that made their draft. The risk involved in those picks were also not that high considering they were the seventh and eighth players chosen by NYCFC.
Orlando City won’t be too worried about the perception of a weak expansion draft, not with the additions of Aurelien Collin and Amobi Okugo. The club may have missed out on Dax McCarty, who sources say the New York Red Bulls won’t trade despite being offered a good trade package by Orlando, but Collin, Okugo and Kaka makes for a nice trio to build around, and Ricketts and Pearce should also be solid day one starters.
The Lions didn’t completely waste the rest of their picks. Tony Cascio is a talented winger who had a strong rookie season before having 2014 ruined by a torn ACL, and Pedro Ribeiro showed some good flashes as a rookie for Philadelphia. Then you have Danny Mwanga, a former No. 1 overall draft pick who has never matched a strong rookie year in 2010 but is still just 23 years old.
What has to be remembered is that, despite the fact both expansion teams selected 10 players Wednesday, their work toward building 2015 rosters is far from over. NYCFC still has a designated player to sign and up to four Manchester City players it could add on loan, while Orlando City has two designated player slots open and an international market to shop in this winter. Then there is also the 2015 MLS Draft, which the teams will hold the top two picks in.
In other words, it’s too early to say for sure which of the teams will be stronger, and if either will be a legitimate contender in year one. Time will tell which team really did fare better in the MLS Expansion Draft, but early signs suggest NYCFC has the edge as we draw closer to 2015.