The coin commemorating the 2016 Expansion Priority Draft did not flip Minnesota United FC’s way Sunday, but the team got its coveted selection anyway, Sporting Director Manny Lagos said.
Lagos, in New York for what amounted to a draft to decide order in other drafts, chose the first pick in January’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft. This means the Loons will select from top American college players.
Atlanta United FC won the coin flip, and President Darren Eales chose first pick in the expansion draft on Dec. 13. Having dibs means Atlanta starts the process in which the two teams take turns selecting five players each who were left unprotected by current MLS clubs. Minnesota holds the second pick.
Lagos said Atlanta left the Loons with the opportunity they wanted.
“We wanted to win the coin flip and decide our direction, but if we did win, I would say that we would have gone the same direction,” Lagos said. “It’s a great asset to the club.”
The shortlist of top SuperDraft prospects includes forward Jeremy Ebobisse, who plays for Charleston in the United Soccer League while on loan from MLS, UCLA junior forward Abu Danladi and Bruins teammate Jackson Yueill — a sophomore midfielder and Bloomington native. Atlanta holds the second pick.
Mark Yueill said his son trained with Minnesota the past two summers. While Jackson could become a historic selection, the family’s plans are pending.
“Jackson said it would be super cool to come home and play in front of people he knows,” Mark Yueill said. “But so many things can change, and he loves where he’s at. The first question is whether or not it’s the right time to leave school.”
Getting the top pick in the MLS college draft means something a bit less glamorous than holding the same spot in the NFL or NBA drafts, Lagos said. Those are leagues where newcomers are hailed as the new face of a franchise, or even a savior.
Nevertheless, Lagos hope to build on a run of recent successful top picks such as Andre Blake (Philadelphia, 2014) and Cyle Larin (Orlando City, 2015). There’s also the chance Minnesota will trade the pick. Last year, Chicago took Jack Harrison first overall and traded him to NYCFC.
“With the No. 1 pick, you really want to make sure you get it right, to get the most value out of it,” said Lagos, who kept a manila file folder on hand during Sunday’s event to ensure he followed pre-draft plans.
Atlanta and Minnesota alternated their choices of the other four player acquisition methods.
With its second choice, Atlanta picked allocation ranking order, which organizes teams’ priority to sign national-team players or other players who are returning to MLS.
The Loons then chose the top spot in the USL/North American Soccer League player priority ranking.
Both teams will build their rosters beyond those six player acquisition methods. Atlanta, a club started from scratch, has signed eight players.
Minnesota, an existing NASL club, has priority to sign its current players to MLS contracts. The club is unlikely to sign players until after the season. The Loons are hoping to secure the fourth and final playoff spot. The championship semifinals will be played either Nov. 5 or 6 with the final a week later.
Recent expansion teams have built the middle and bottom of their 28-man rosters through the expansion draft, the SuperDraft and the signing of existing players. Top-tier players often come via trades and international signings.