WASHINGTON — This week’s MLS Expansion Draft for the Portland Timbers andVancouver Whitecaps FC will present conundrums for most every team in theleague, but D.C. United may occupy the most unenviable position of the 16 otherclubs.
After all, it’s hard enough to rebuild your own team withoutthe prospect of an old coach swooping in to claim one or two of his favoriteplayers.
Former United head coach Tom Soehn is now director of socceroperations for the Vancouver Whitecaps, and his thorough knowledge of much ofthe DC roster leaves the Black-and-Red feeling somewhat exposed as theyconsider how to hang on to as many assets as possible.
“Everybody knows Tommy has his guys that he likes – I can’tsay that I’m one of them, I don’t have any idea,” DC defender Marc Burch said.“But I know Tommy has his guys that he likes, people with the attitudes and the[style of] play and everything, his style of people. So I think there will besome guys that played for Tommy that he’ll be definitely looking at if theydon’t get protected.”
With DC’s young talents Andy Najar (right), Bill Hamid and ConorShanosky already protected by the league’s homegrown player policies, it mightseem strange for the league’s last-placed team to fear being plundered by anexpansion side. But coaches and players who spend time together “in thetrenches” through long MLS campaigns develop a familiarity that cannot beeasily replicated with trials and scouting reports.
"A big thing with coaching is knowing guys intimately andknowing exactly what you get, because the unknown factor is a tough one,”United technical director Chad Ashton said last week. “Because you don’t knowtheir personality, you don’t know at crunch time what kind of guy you’re goingto get. And when you’ve coached guys ... you know what kind of guysyou’re getting. You know their strengths, you know their weaknesses.
“I’m sure [Soehn’s] got an idea who he’s going to be goingafter,” he added. “It’s a tough situation for us, but it is what it is.”
Ashton was Soehn’s second-in-command during Soehn's three-yearstint at the helm in Washington, and the two men still keep in touch, thoughAshton says soccer matters are rarely broached.
Their clubs have already showna mutual interest in one of this year’s top young prospects, United Statesyouth international Omar Salgado, a Generationadidas signing who has trained with Vancouver, Portland and most recentlyDC. The rangy striker is likely to be one of the top picks in January’sSuperDraft.
Meanwhile, Ashton and United general manager Dave Kasperwill try to minimize the interest of the league’s newcomers in Wednesday’sexpansion draft, even as they accept the likelihood of losing at least oneplayer.
“You definitely want to protect your best guys, but at thesame time, you may leave guys unprotected that you think they don’t want orwon’t pick,” Ashton said. “I know one time we had nobody picked,and everybody looked at it like we were just a bad team. But to me, you’ve madesome really good decisions if nobody gets picked. You’ve figured out whatthey’re looking for and what positions they’re trying to fill and that sort ofthing.
"You’re probably going to lose at least one guy but if you don’t loseanyone, it’s a real positive.”