MLS Expansion Draft 101: Everything you need to know

The Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs are, of course, still going on. But soon enough, the offseason will officially kick off with the MLS Expansion Draft.

Here’s a quick guide of what to expect:

What is it?

Similar to other North American professional leagues, MLS holds a draft for expansion teams to select certain players from existing teams to build their roster.

This year, the draft will be held for Minnesota United FC and Atlanta United FC — both of whom will join MLS in 2017.

When is it?

Next Tuesday, Dec. 13, three days after MLS Cup.

How does it work?

The existing 20 teams protect 11 players they wish to absolutely keep and prevent from being selected by Atlanta or Minnesota. Generation adidas and Homegrown players are also exempt and protected from the Expansion Draft.

Minnesota and Atlanta can choose from the remaining players in a back-and-forth draft format, with Atlanta getting the first pick because of a coin flip. The draft will last five rounds with 10 total players being drafted.

Only a single player can be drafted from any one club. So, for example, if a player from the New York Red Bull is selected in the first round, the remaining players on the Red Bulls roster will then be off limits in the draft.

How is the format different this year?

Minnesota and Atlanta selecting five players is a significant reduction than in past years.

In 2014, Orlando City and New York City FC each selected twice that — 10 players — with some existing teams losing two players in the draft (teams were allowed to pull one player back onto the protected list if someone was taken).

In every other MLS Expansion Draft since 2004, expansion clubs picked 10 players, alternating picks in draft format only when two teams entered the league at once (like Vancouver and Portland in 2011 and Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake in 2005). The expansion teams entering the league alone (Montreal in 2012, Philadelphia in 2010, Seattle in 2009, San Jose in 2008 and Toronto FC in 2007) made their 10 picks one after the other.

Back in 1997, expansion clubs Miami Fusion and the Chicago Fire got to pick 12 players each.

Why the change?

In the simplest terms, the league has changed a lot over the past decade and Atlanta and Minnesota have more options to build their rosters. Minnesota is coming over from the NASL, so will have a base to choose from and Atlanta already has several talented players under contract for next year.

Will my favorite team lose a good player?

Considering only 10 players are taken, half of the teams in the league will skate by without any losses. And teams in the other half of the league will be able to protect most of their key guys.

That said, whether due to age or contract status or a variety of other factors, there will likely be some starters or important MLS contributors that will be left unprotected and possibly change teams on Dec. 13.

Will Atlanta or Minnesota find a steal?

The two expansion teams may not be counting on finding a franchise cornerstone but they could very well walk away from the draft with at least one future star.

Just two years ago, for instance, Patrick Mullins was among the players taken by New York City FC (who since traded him to D.C. United, where he became one of the league’s breakout players this season). And in 2009, the Philadelphia Union took Sebastien Le Toux, a Philly icon who remains the leader in just about all of the club’s statistical categories.

In other words, this is definitely something you'll want to follow.

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