If all eyes were on David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy last Sunday as they hoisted the MLS Cup, the Montreal Impact took centre stage on Wednesday when it made its choices for the MLS expansion draft.
Through its ten picks, a trade and an acquisition, the Impact added a total of 12 players to its roster. With the four players that were already signed – Nelson Rivas, Evan Bush, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Hassoun Camara – the Impact now has 16 players signed on for next season.
Impact coach Jesse Marsch has said that he has yet to really delve into the kind of formation or strategy he would want to adopt next season, but he sure has a variety of options with half of the players on the current squad easily being able to play in more than one position.
The Impact’s first order of business in the draft was picking Houston Dynamo forward Brian Ching, even after he suggested that he would retire if Montreal selected him. However, in the post-draft press conference, Marsch explained that while the Hawaiian striker does not want to come to Montreal, he had good value and teams would want him – Houston above all of course.
In other words, Ching is going to be used as trade bait. If that means being able to get a player such Houston defender and Quebec native Andre Hainault, for example, then it’s a great move. However, the Impact organization won’t exactly be in the driver’s seat as far as negotiations go, because ultimately they have to get rid of a player that absolutely doesn’t want to be with them. Furthermore, considering Ching has strongly insisted that he wants to finish his career in Houston and Houston alone, are there really "other teams" beyond the Dynamo that would seriously be interested in Ching?
On the other hand, Houston definitely wants to see Ching – the face of the franchise – play out his last season in MLS with the Dynamo in their new stadium. How much Montreal can actually get for him remains to be seen, but it was probably a good gamble.
The second forward the Impact picked was ex-Chivas USA star Justin Braun. At six-foot-three and 190 pounds, Braun is the kind of big forward that would almost even have the Montreal Canadians wishing that they were a part of the draft.
Other than being the sort of prototypal forward – someone who’s physically strong, good in the air and has good finishing – he’s also surprisingly quick and pretty technical for his size. However, he’s been plagued by inconsistency.
Braun was picked up, along with Gerson Mayen from Chivas, in exchange for one of the picks the Impact had made: James Riley. It’s not as amazing as it looks, but it’s still a decent move.
Along with the already signed Ubiparipovic and Camara, the Impact added six midfielders: Sanna Nyassi (Colorado Rapids), Gerson Mayen (Chivas), Collin Warner (Real Salt Lake), Jeb Brovsky (Vancouver Whitecaps), Justin Mapp (Philadelphia Union) and Josh Gardner (Columbus Crew). While Gardner is actually a left fullback, he can also play on the left side of midfield. Considering the fact that there were two other left fullbacks chosen in the draft, he will probably end up being a back up to Mapp at left midfield or he could be trade bait.
Mapp has everything you’d want from a wide attacking midfielder: he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s a good passer and crosser of the ball, he’s excellent in one-versus-one situations and he can even score goals from time to time. Picking him instead of a far more expensive and – until now – very disappointing Freddy Adu just makes sense.
Nyassi is also a wide attacking midfield player, but generally plays on the right side. Having both Mapp and Nyassi playing together might be too unbalanced for a 4-4-2 but they might work better in an attack minded 4-2-3-1 or perhaps even better up front as the wide forwards in a 4-3-3. Nyassi is known for his blistering pace and could also play up top as he has done with the Rapids, but he can often be sloppy in possession.
Mayen is also a right-sided attacking midfield player that the Impact knows well because of his loan spell with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer league.
Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerway figured the Impact would take one of its players and he wasn’t wrong. Warner is a very versatile player who can play in just about any position in the midfield: in the middle, on the right side or as a more advanced attacking midfielder supporting the strikers. He’s been in and out of the Salt Lake line-up this season but he’s done well when called upon. The Salt Lake fans will surely be upset to have lost him.
Brovsky was certainly a surprise pick, but he’s still an all around box-to-box midfielder who would work well in a central midfield role in a 4-4-2. He also proved at the end of the last season in Vancouver that he can play at the right back position as well. Hence, he’s a reliable depth player.
The Impact picked three defenders in the draft – Bobby Burling (San Jose Earthquakes), Seth Sinovic (Sporting Kansas City), Zarek Valentin (Chivas) – and picked up Tyson Wahl from the Seattle Sounders in exchange for allocation money.
Kansas City fan favourite Sinovic and American under-20 international Valentin were left unprotected and that was a surprise. They will most likely start in the left and right side of the defence. Sinovic had a breakout season last year at Sporting and has proven to be a very good two-way left back; he’s competent in the defensive end and is very good at getting forward and making things happen. Valentin will probably have a relatively more stay at home role. He can also play at centre back if needed.
Burling wasn’t probably in anyone’s top ten pick list. He’s not the fastest centre back, nor is he stellar in possession. But he’s a no nonsense defender, and that’s the sort of quality you want from a backup centre back. Marsch also knows him well from his time at Chivas.
Wahl started his career as a central defender but learned to play at left back in his last two seasons with the Sounders. Considering Camara can also play in the middle, Wahl will probably be more of a back up left back to Sinovic. He’s also a set piece specialist, which will come in handy.
THE FINAL PEICES
As far as players are concerned, all the Impact have left to do now is sort out the Ching dilemma, make the four or five final additions to the twenty man roster, and then figure out who will make up roster spots 21 to 30 – players who have minimum salaries and aren’t included in the salary cap.
The Impact organization will certainly feel that they got more than what they expected to get from the draft. Director of soccer operations, Matt Jordan said in the summer that he was expecting, "realistically three starters" from the draft. With the likes of Sinovic, Valentin, Mapp, Nyassi, and whoever they can get from a possible trade for Ching, they may have somewhere between four to five strong first 11 players from the draft alone.
All that is encouraging, and surely the Impact fans have reason to be excited. But as Marsch has said on numerous occasions, it’s all about how it comes together in the end, and that means the hardest part is still to come.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer who covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com. Follow Nick on Twitter.