John Thorrington marked his second anniversary as Los Angeles Football Club’s executive vice president of soccer operations last week, but for the most part there’s been very little soccer to operate during that time.
Although the MLS expansion team has set up a training academy, reached a development agreement with a USL partner and is ahead of schedule on completing its $350-million home in Exposition Park, it has just two first-team players under contract.
That leaves Thorrington with 28 roster spots to fill less than six weeks before preseason training camp opens, making the next week perhaps the busiest and most important of his front-office career.
On Sunday morning, MLS will open a four-hour window for its 23 teams to sign and trade players, beginning a six-day flurry of activity that concludes Saturday with Stage 1 of the league’s re-entry draft. In between will be an expansion draft, a waiver draft and the start of the league’s free-agent signing period.
“I feel like, with the signings we already made [and] with ones that we feel like are close to the finish line, we’ve set ourselves up well going into this really busy MLS period,” said Thorrington, who is expected to announce his first move during Sunday morning’s trade period.
Thorrington spent much of the last two years preparing for this week, developing a blueprint for the kind of exciting and attacking team LAFC wants to be, then deciding, along with coach Bob Bradley, what kind of players will help them get there.
The team’s first two signings, Mexican forward Carlos Vela and Egyptian defender Omar Gaber, certainly fit that mold — as does Uruguayan teenager Diego Rossi, whom the team is close to signing to a designated-player contract. Thorrington will have several opportunities to fill in around those players this week.
In Wednesday’s expansion draft, LAFC can select up to five players left unprotected by the league’s other 22 teams. Historically, the players picked there have quickly moved on; of the 10 men chosen by Atlanta and Minnesota in last December’s expansion draft, only four remained with the club that chose them.
Thorrington expects that to be the case this week as well.
“The conversations within the league have certainly picked up,” he said.
LAFC has also been active in talks with free agents, which in MLS are players who have had their contract option declined, are at least 28 years old and have spent eight or more seasons in the league.
In the waiver and re-entry drafts, where LAFC will pick last, teams can select players who are out of contract but not eligible for free agency.
Among the players expected to be available are goalkeepers Nick Rimando and David Bingham; defender A.J. DeLaGarza; and midfielders Kyle Beckerman, Matias Laba and Dillon Powers and Teal Bunbury.
“All of our player-acquisition decisions are inter-dependent,” Thorrington said. “Carlos Vela was a huge building block for us. And that informs what we’re looking for in other positions. So with each piece you do see that trickle-down effect.
“Our strategy has been to get those big pieces defined early so that it can help define some of these other decisions.”
The week ahead looms as a busy one for the Galaxy, too, because while LAFC is looking to build a roster, Sigi Schmid is looking to rebuild his. And on Friday he got a lot of extra money to spend on that project when MLS nearly quadrupled the amount of Targeted Allocation Money the league will provide to each team to $4 million annually through 2019.
The Galaxy has also moved to stabilize its front office, signing president Chris Klein to a five-year contract extension. A formal announcement is expected this week.
The team Klein gave Schmid when he took over from Curt Onalfo last July was not one the coach constructed — nor one he particularly liked, which is why the Galaxy declined contract options on 13 players last month. And the exodus may not be over.
The Galaxy is listening to offers for national team forward Gyasi Zardes, who is reportedly open to a trade if the team can find a suitor willing to take on his contract. Zardes made $577,500 last season, according to figures released by the players union.
“A lot of teams have talked to us about a lot of our players,” Schmid said.
Two exceptions are designated players Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos.
“Our anticipation is that they’re going to be in a Galaxy uniform all season,” Schmid said.
Schmid, the most winning coach in MLS history and one who led a veteran Seattle Sounders team to seven consecutive playoff appearances, saw the Galaxy struggle to a franchise-worst 8-18-8 record this year and said the team needs to get better in all facets of the game. That includes improving its defensive concept and getting better at playing the ball out of the back. On offense he wants the team to “be a little bit more cold-blooded in front of goal…and not leave too many chances to go to waste.”