Two weeks ago Andy Williams may not have been considered Real Salt Lake's best option in the 2004 MLS expansion draft. However, after the Jamaican international midfielder received his green card, and then Jamaica was officially eliminated from World Cup qualifying on Wednesday, suddenly Williams' intrigue shot through the roof.
"I will admit, when Jamaica didn't advance through World Cup qualifying, Andy Williams became a lot more attractive," said Steve Pastorino, Real Salt Lake's general manager.
Because of that, Real made Chicago's Williams its first overall pick in the expansion draft (second overall). Chivas USA nabbed Los Angeles' Arturo Torres with the first pick.
Salt Lake is Williams' sixth different MLS team in seven years, but don't be fooled he isn't a cancer in the clubhouse like some journeyman midfielders.
Until Williams received his green card, he was classified as a senior international player a designation which teams are only allowed four of. As a result, the talented attacking midfielder was forced to bounce around the league.
During his seven-year career, he's tallied 16 goals and 57 assists.
"He's had a number of good years and we felt it was someone we needed," said Salt Lake coach John Ellinger.
With its second pick, Salt Lake went with Chicago keeper D.J. Countess, the player the team hinted all week would be its first pick. The 22-year-old played for Ellinger when he coached the under-17 U.S. National team several years ago.
In the last two years, he started 24 games for Dallas in 2003, but only played twice this year with Chicago.
Salt Lake made a point to focus on the midfield in the next two rounds by picking New York's Pablo Brenes in the third round and New England's Brian Kamler in the fourth.
"We felt the midfield would be the hardest thing for us to get," said Ellinger.
With Brenes, Kamler and Williams, suddenly the midfield has the potential to be a strength instead of a weakness.
Real wrapped up the draft by picking Columbus defender Nelson Akwari, San Jose midfielder Chris Brown, Dallas defender Matt Behncke, New England defender Rusty Pierce, D.C. United defender Kevin Ara and Columbus forward Erick Scott.
"One thing we were looking for was versatility of the team," said Ellinger. "We were hoping what happened today would happen."
With MLS leading scorer Jason Kreis already on board after Monday's trade with Dallas, and the 10 players acquired in Friday's draft, both Ellinger and Pastorino are excited about the direction of the franchise.
Despite the hype surrounding the expansion draft, attended by more than 300 fans at the team's draft headquarters at the Skybox Sports Grille, much of the talk centered around a player in Germany.
U.S. National Team star player Clint Mathis spent six seasons playing in the MLS before signing a contract with Hannover 96 in the German Bundesliga this past offseason. The situation has hardly been a good one. Mathis rarely plays, and he's already expressed interest in re-signing with the MLS when the next transfer window opens on Jan. 1.
"He's one of the few guys on a team that can take a game over at any moment when he wants to," said Ellinger. "It's no question we're trying to get him."If Mathis, 28, reaches an agreement with the league, which handles player salaries, Salt Lake would have the right to accept the allocation and Mathis' high salary before any other team.
MLS Expansion Draft
Real Salt Lake
2. Andy Williams, Chicago, MF
4. D.J. Countess, Chicago, GK
6. Palbo Brenes, NY/NJ, Def.;
8. Brian Kamler, New England, MF/Def.
10. Nelson Akwari, Columbus, Def.
12. Chris Brown, San Jose, MF/Def.
14. Matt Behncke, Dallas, Def.
16. Rusty Pierce, New England, Def.
18. Kevin Ara, D.C. United, Def.20. Erick Scott, Columbus, For.
1. Arturo Torres, Los Angeles, For.
3. Orlando Perez, Chicago, MF
5. Ezra Hendrickson, D.C. United, Def.
7. Francisco Gomez, Kansas City, Def.
9. Antonie de la Torre, Colorado, Def.
11. Matt Taylor, Kansas City, For.
13. Craig Ziadie, NY/NJ, Def.
15. Jamil Walker, San Jose, For.
17. Thiago Martins, D.C. United, For.19. Jeff Stewart, Colorado, Def.