Heading into the Philadelphia Union’s home date with the San Jose Earthquakes on July 10, everything was going great for Shea Salinas.
The 24-year-old had started seven of the last nine games for the Union, proving his worth as both a winger and a fullback. He settled nicely into Philadelphia, bonding well with his new teammates and fans. And he was anxious to show the Earthquakes that they made a mistake by leaving him unprotected in the 2009 expansion draft.
But instead of gaining any redemption, Salinas suffered an injury that halted his momentum, led to what he’d call “an awful two months” and would eventually lead to his departure from another team.
Unprotected in Wednesday’s expansion draft, Salinas was swiped by the Vancouver Whitecaps, ending his up-and-down stint in Philadelphia and leaving Union fans to wonder if they would miss out on seeing the youngster unlock his true potential.
For Union manager Peter Nowak, it all came down to that fateful game against the Earthquakes when Salinas suffered a stress fracture that put him out of commission for two months.
“Unfortunately for Shea, he started seven games and played in a little bit more than half of our games,” Nowak said. “Of course we have to look at that. As much as we’d love to have him with us this season, that’s the unfortunate beauty of the expansion draft.”
At no point did the Union manager say that Salinas didn’t have the capability to become a great MLS player. What he did imply was that it would be unfair to protect him over players that had done more to prove it on the field.
When Salinas returned from injury in mid-September, he had trouble finding his place on the team as midseason acquisitions Sheanon Williams and Justin Mapp firmly entrenched themselves in the starting lineup, both in positions Salinas used to occupy.
So for the second straight season, the Texan became expendable. And for the second straight season, his blazing speed, low salary and relative youth made him an easy choice to be drafted by a new team.
“At the time, I felt like I was going to get protected and I wasn’t,” Salinas said back in July about the 2009 expansion draft. “[The Earthquakes] decided they wanted to go a different way or they didn’t think I’d be picked up. It surprised me, but I’m happy here in Philadelphia and I like it a lot.”
Now he has to start over again, nearly 3,000 miles from where he had to start over before. And when he does, he will have learned a valuable lesson: one bad step can change your life, for better or worse.