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Charlotte FC Expansion Draft

Written by: Vaughn Pollman

As Charlotte FC’s inaugural season draws near, more and more details regarding the club are coming into focus, and important dates can now be marked in pen on calendars. The club announced on Thursday that the team’s first home match at Bank of America Stadium will be on Saturday, March 5th, 2022, as we host the LA Galaxy in primetime at 8 pm ET. The game will be the team’s second, with the season opener being on the road versus a yet-to-be-named opponent as part of Major League Soccer’s opening weekend on Saturday, February 26th.

But before all of that happens, Charlotte FC has just under 100 days to complete the assembly of their first-team roster through offseason drafts, trades, and player signings. The countdown to preseason training is even sooner than that, so time is of the essence in filling roster spots between MLS Cup and the first-team training sessions in January.

On Tuesday, December 14th at 7 pm ET, three days after MLS Cup, all eyes will turn to Charlotte FC as we make up to five selections in the 2021 MLS Expansion Draft to help fill out the team’s inaugural first team roster. According to a report from Joe Bruno, the selections will be made during a live draft show from Bank of America Stadium with selection reactions from head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez and defender Guzman Corujo.

In last year’s draft, Austin FC selected players from the San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls, Nashville SC, Los Angeles Galaxy, and Orlando City SC. By having players selected, those teams are exempt from losing a player to Charlotte FC in this year’s selections. The remaining 22 teams will submit a list of 12 protected players from their senior, supplemental, and reserve rosters. In addition to these 12 protected players, any player who has a designation as a Homegrown Player* or a Generation Adidas Player** is automatically protected as well. 

Charlotte FC brass will have approximately 24 hours ahead of the draft to comb through the list of unprotected players from which they will make their selections. Last year, the official list of unprotected players was released at 1 pm the day before the draft, so we can expect that list to be made public on Monday, December 13th. Like the NFL or NBA drafts that you may be more familiar with, selected players are often traded immediately following the draft based on pre-arranged deals with other teams. With that being the case, Charlotte FC may essentially make a selection on behalf of their trade partner. Tradeable assets tend to be protected under-contract players, General Allocation Money, International roster spots, or MLS SuperDraft picks.

One wrinkle that Charlotte FC will have to consider in selecting players is the players willingness to come to Charlotte. Many players who are left unprotected are also out-of-contract or players who did not have option year’s picked up by their club. Last year Austin used one of their selections to pick a regular MLS starter in Joe Corona. Corona ultimately did not want to play for an expansion team and did not come to terms with Austin FC on a contract. He submitted his documentation for the MLS Re-Entry draft and was selected by the Houston Dynamo, who essentially swiped up his MLS rights and came to terms with them instead, leaving Austin FC empty-handed with a wasted pick. A mistake Charlotte FC will surely work to avoid replicating.

If history repeats itself, Charlotte FC may also complete trades ahead of the expansion draft during a half-day trade window on December 12th with an unwritten “gentleman’s agreement” with their trade partner to leave unprotected players unselected. For example, before the 2020 MLS Expansion Draft, Nashville SC traded for Los Angeles Galaxy centerback Dave Romney, a staple on their backline. As part of this trade, Nashville did not select any other players from the Galaxy. It’s possible one of these deals is already in place, with Tom Bogert reporting that Nashville SC and Charlotte FC have struck a deal to exchange two international roster spots for a record sum of GAM, or General Allocation Money. Also of note, last year, Austin FC traded for five players during the half-day trade window ahead of their expansion draft, so we can expect some player movement starting Sunday the 12th.

So, what will Charlotte FC’s strategy be in selecting players during the actual draft? First of all, we will likely look for players who are on “cap friendly” contracts. Additionally, we will likely look for a player or two who is considered to be an MLS veteran. Someone who can help other players acclimate to the rigors of an MLS campaign and provide both on-field and off-field guidance to his new teammates.

Maybe we take a flyer on a player who has been fighting for minutes at their current club? Value should be the target. MLS teams tend to net a starter or two, role players, and depth pieces, such as backup goalkeepers in the expansion draft. This can either be by direct selection or by a trade, as mentioned before. Considering the current squad members, I expect Charlotte FC to look at positions like outside backs, wingers, goalkeeper, and midfield depth to help fill out the roster through the expansion draft.

LAFC arguably had the best expansion draft ever in 2017, netting four starters, including Tyler Miller, who helped them earn the 2019 Supporter’s Shield before being traded to Minnesota for $200,000 of General Allocation Money (GAM). This was an instance where a team made an impact selection, finding a starter, and then net a healthy return for him via trade years down the road. Success in the expansion draft should be measured not by immediate returns necessarily, but by being deemed equally savvy in retrospect.

* Homegrown Player: A player who has spent at least one full year in a team’s Academy who signs their first professional contract with the first team. CLTFC’s homegrown territory is North and South Carolina, and there are other regions of the country that are not designated to a specific MLS team, so CLTFC can recruit players from those open territories to join their Academy as well. For example, Charlotte FC cannot recruit a player from Atlanta, GA, but they could recruit a player from Anchorage, AK. For more info on Homegrown Players, check out this article from the club: 

** Generation Adidas Player: Generation Adidas contracts are signed by a select few college underclassmen ahead of the MLS SuperDraft. These contracts are reserved for some of the top young talents in the draft and are sponsored by Adidas and the league. A player on a Generation Adidas contract does not count against a team’s salary budget until they have graduated from the Generation Adidas program. Last year, Austin FC’s first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft, Daniel Pereira, was a Generation Adidas player, for example.

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