Wilkinson and Spencer Prepare for MLS Expansion Draft

Technical director Gavin Wilkinson and head coach John Spencer look ahead to Draft

Wilkinson at player signing

Photo Credit: 
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

With the Portland Timbers announcing their first four players this week, technical director Gavin Wilkinson and head coach John Spencer have also been huddling with their coaching staff to set their sights on the Major League Soccer Expansion Draft on November 24 at 11 a.m. Further details were released yesterday by MLS but to sum up, the Timbers have the first pick in a 10-round draft, alternating with fellow MLS expansion team cousin, the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Existing MLS teams can protect 11 players on their current roster. Generation adidas players who haven’t graduated at the end of the 2010 season and Home Grown players are automatically protected. Designated Players do not share any automatic protection unless it is already spelled out in their contract with a no trade clause. Moreover, no existing MLS side can lose more than two of their players from the draft. If one of their players is selected by Portland or Vancouver, they can then add another name to their protected list.

With all this in mind, it is a challenge in figuring out how to prepare for such an undertaking.

“The first step is that we have identified all the players that we like,” said Wilkinson. “The second step is just making rough predictions on who we think may become available.”

While predictions are one thing, there is also the task of trying to build a club that reflects the type of squad you want to have. With three out of the four signings this week being members of the USSF D2 version of the Timbers—Steve Cronin, Ryan Pore, and Bright Dike—bringing in a host of new players can get complicated but also brings a level of competition to the roster.

Spencer believes that that kind of competition is essential towards building a strong club.

“Right now we have a small core group of players that are going to make the big step up from Division 2 to Major League Soccer,” he said. But he also added, “I don’t think there’s one position at this club that we can say that this guy’s nailed down to start for sure so if there’s any quality players available [in the Expansion Draft], irrespective of what position they’re playing , we have definitely got to be looking at them."

Melding that competitive element within the squad also presents a balancing act.

“You look at the mentality of the squad that you’re trying to create,” said Wilkinson. “You look at the characteristics and the players that you want—and they’ve got to add to the group, not take away from the group. So the players that we look to bring in through the expansion, we’re going to try and do due diligence on every single player.”

How they are able to do that due diligence is also a challenge. The Timbers can work, predict, list and plan, but acquiring information on a player through the regular channels does pose some problems. Wilkinson, Spencer and their staff have been poring over rosters and information but as Wilkinson pointed out, “If we started making phone calls about players now, people would start to have an idea of who we’re interested in, and the other part is, is that it would be a lot of wasted effort in finding out about players that may not become available. So, we will wait.”

The Timbers will wait, but they are definitely busy currently preparing as well as they can. They know that they will be in for a hectic week following the MLS Cup on November 21.

MLS Teams are required to submit their list of protected players to the league by 2 p.m. on Monday Nov. 22. “We have two days to work through everything,” said Wilkinson. “So we’ve all spoken internally about who we want to be our number one pick should he become available.” Spencer summed it up succinctly, “We want to have competition at every spot, so it’s a long process. It’s a difficult one but one that we’re looking forward to.”