Shea Salinas is only 24 years old, but the sport of soccer has already taken him to the corners of the continent – from Texas to South Carolina to California to Pennsylvania and, coming soon, to British Columbia.
For the young midfielder, that part has been fun. Last week, while practicing with the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps FC in Ventura, California, he called it an “adventure.”
But there is also a part that is not fun: the feelings of hurt after being left unprotected in the Expansion Draft.
For the second straight year, Salinas was surprised that his team allowed him to be swiped by an expansion squad. Only this time, those feelings were amplified by a conversation he says he had with Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak just prior to the 2010 Expansion Draft.
“I didn’t think it was an issue because he told me I was protected,” said Salinas, who joined the Vancouver Whitecaps after playing one season with the Union. "I didn’t even watch to see the list. Once I saw my name, I knew I would go.”
For the Union, the last-second acquisition of veteran midfielder Brian Carroll just before the Expansion Draft meant another name had to be left exposed. And for as much as the club liked Salinas, he was the odd man out. Union officials declined to address Salinas' comments directly, but Peter Nowak did explain the decision-making a bit after the Carroll trade was made.
"The deal with Brian Carroll happened very fast and unexpected, but we felt that this was a good piece to add to our roster for so many reasons," the Union manager said last month in a media conference call. "In this case, someone had to go off the list. It wasn't an easy thing. We're attached to our boys."
Salinas was understandably disappointed, but he's used to those kinds of feelings. After playing well through two seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes, the Texan couldn’t believe his first MLS team didn’t want to stick with him. But he quickly fell in love with Philadelphia, finding a nice apartment right in Center City with his wife, Julie, and exciting Union fans with his speed and ability to push the ball forward.
Now that he’s headed to Whitecaps FC, he hopes to find similar peace and comfort in Vancouver. But Salinas just can’t help but wonder why teams aren’t valuing him more.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” said Salinas who, aside from last season’s game against Toronto, has never been to Canada before. “It’s a good thing teams are picking me up, but it’s not a good thing I’ve been left unprotected twice now. I’ve yet to plant roots somewhere. I’ve yet to be a consistent player. I want to be on a winning team.”
If there’s one thing Salinas can take with him to Vancouver, it’s his experience with expansion teams. When he joined the Earthquakes in 2008, the team was revived after a two-year hiatus. So essentially every time Salinas has joined an MLS team, it was new to the league – all of which makes him remarkably hardened for a 24-year-old.
“This is my third expansion team so I have a little experience,” he said. “I know how difficult it is to pick up points in the first year. Definitely something I stressed to my teammates is we don’t need to look at ourselves as an expansion team. We need to fight for every single point.”
His departure aside, Salinas has good memories from his time in Philly. His stunning goal against Houston while playing in his home state was the biggest highlight, he said. Playing all 90 minutes in the team’s first game at PPL Park was another. And he’s grateful that the Union coaching staff showcased him as both a midfielder and defender.
But after suffering a stress fracture midway through the season, Salinas just couldn’t find his way back into the rotation once he was healthy – certainly a factor, he admits, in the Union’s decision to leave him unprotected. Even so, he was sad and shocked to leave.
“I thought I’d be in Philadelphia for a while,” he said. “My wife had a good job. The fans liked me. I thought I had a good relationship with Peter. Things change, I guess.”