MLS newcomer Nashville SC selected Minnesota United’s Abu Danladi second overall Tuesday in the MLS expansion draft, ending the former No. 1 overall draft pick’s promising but injury-prone three seasons with the Loons.
United took the UCLA star first in the 2017 SuperDraft before its inaugural season, hoping he would become a centerpiece for its future.
Danladi was selected before Atlanta took 2019 MLS Defender of the Year Miles Robinson second, and before San Jose took Jackson Yueill sixth and Atlanta selected Julian Gressel eighth.
But Danladi’s promising rookie season was offset by hamstring and other injuries in 2018 and 2019.
Nashville’s pick marked the first time United lost a player to an incoming expansion team. Teams each protected 12 players before Nashville and Inter Miami CF selected five each in Tuesday’s draft.
“The unfortunate part is you get punished for having a really deep squad when you have more than 12 really talented players,” United technical director Mark Watson said. “We had some really hard decisions, and we were pretty confident one of our guys would be taken.”
Danladi, 24, scored two goals and had two assists while starting four of 24 games he played this past season as 2018 first-round pick Mason Toye surpassed him for playing time and took the starter’s job late in the season. Danladi played almost twice as many minutes in his rookie season as he did this past season (704).
In 2018, he also was limited by injuries to 15 games and 483 minutes, after an impressive rookie season in which he scored eight goals — four of them game-winners — and had three assists in 27 games.
Danladi made the MLS team of the week twice in 2017 and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting.
United could lose only one player Tuesday, and it did almost right away during a process in which Nashville and Inter Miami CF swapped picks, with Miami selecting NYCFC left back Ben Sweat first.
The Loons receive $50,000 in general-allocation money for losing Danladi and are exempt from the 2020 expansion draft because it lost a player this year. Expansion teams in Austin, Texas, St. Louis and Sacramento will start playing by 2022.
“Those are the only positives that come out of it,” Watson said. “This is the reality of MLS: There’s going to be an expansion draft for the foreseeable future, every year. It’s part of the deal.”
Watson said “thousands” of telephone calls crossed the league in recent days. He said his team didn’t approach making a trade Tuesday, when Nashville dealt two players chosen for a player and allocation money.
United left 13 players available for the expansion, including former designated player Angelo Rodriguez, veterans Miguel Ibarra, Ethan Finlay and Brent Kallman, and recently acquired young midfielder Marlon Hairston, acquired in the trade that sent Darwin Quintero to Houston.
“They were all really difficult decisions,” Watson said. “We really took everything into consideration. Our main objective was to keep our starting group together.”
United’s list also included seven players whose 2002 contract options the Loons previously didn’t exercise.
Watson and United will have decisions to make on 2020 contract options for six more players by Thursday. Free agency begins Monday.