Offseason MLS activity does not pause for long stretches any more. Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft is complete, league transactions continue, and we now prepare ourselves for the January phase of the silly season: the opening of the international transfer window and MLS SuperDraft. We will keep watch on any international transactions that emerge with Sporting Kansas City, but we are setting up our coverage of MLS SuperDraft with a look at the draft's impact since 2007.
Historically, MLS SuperDraft and its predecessor have been the way teams have brought in young talent to bolster their roster. This has changed over time, and there are questions about the NCAA system being an effective method for developing young talent for professional clubs. A recent debate has emerged about the value of MLS SuperDraft in the future.
There are a number of ways to assess the value of the draft, but one method is to look at the careers of players selected in previous editions of the draft. In this series we will go pick-by-pick through recent draft picks to assess the relative value of players and their contributions to MLS. We will also run some numbers to see if drafted player's league contributions have changed over time.
We will specifically look at the top 38 picks from every draft since 2007. We start with 2007 since it is the beginning of the "Beckham Era" when MLS transactions were augmented with the Designated Player Rule, larger foreign player allocations, improving youth academies, and robust international scouting. This review will stop at the 38th pick since it is the final selection of the 2013 SuperDraft, but will note some great selections that occurred in rounds that no longer exist in our final post of this series.
Younger players will be assessed less on results and more on potential, older players will be assessed more on results unless there are unusual circumstances that have hampered their potential. Play in the 2012 season will be given the greatest amount of weight in consideration.
Rather than pull the old web traffic trick of starting with the bottom and going up--let us start at the top of the draft and work our way down.
2007 Maurice Edu (Toronto FC)
2008 Chance Myers (KC Wizards) *currently on Sporting KC roster
2009 Steve Zakuani (Seattle)
2010 Danny Mwanga (Philadelphia)
2011 Omar Salgado (Vancouver)
2012 Andrew Wenger (Montreal)
The top spot is a mix of tempered expectations and on-going potential. Edu and Zakuani had a great pair of years but saw their MLS experiences cut short with a transfer and horrible injury respectively. Our own Chance Myers labored in the reserve league for years before a breakout year in 2011 and is a potential USMNT call-up. Mwanga has a habit of disappearing during games and needs to start performing soon before getting the bust label. It will be interesting to see how Caleb Porter will work with Mwanga. Salgado and Wenger have not met expectations, but they still offer a wealth of potential for their respective Canadian sides.
Best pick: Maurice Edu. I would normally weigh a player more on his MLS impact, but with a number one pick a GM must assume the transfer potential is fairly high. An instant impact for Toronto FC, Edu turned his Rookie of the Year performance into a long stint with Glasgow Rangers and regular appearances for the US Mens National Team.
This is an erstwhile group of serious talent with some big question marks. Nagbe and Mattocks had arguably the two biggest highlights of the 2012 season but also got lost in the shuffle. Soumaré has been repeatedly hit with unfortunate injuries, while Tchani and Cronin are still works in progress.
Best pick: Brek Shea. A league star with 15 USMNT caps. Shea suffered a bit of a slump last year, but it may have been a result of a VERY loaded 2010 and 2011 schedule. With that many minutes, everyone eventually hits a wall. We say he rebounds back to form in 2013.
2007 Michael Harrington (KC Wizards)
2008 Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)
2009 Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)
2010 Ike Opara (San Jose) *currently on Sporting KC roster
2011 Perry Kitchen (DC United)
2012 Kelyn Rowe (New England)
How would you like all six of these guys on your team? As a group, the players at #3 may be the best in this entire exercise, making over 480 appearances in MLS. Michael Harrington's move to Portland offers the starting spot he has earned, while Peter Vermes is smitten with recent acquisition Ike Opara.
Best pick: Omar Gonzalez. This was a tough call. Do you choose the underrated Beltran or the hyped-but-injured Gonzalez? Either of these guys could start on defense for Sporting KC, and the team is not exactly hurting for talent right now. One only needs to look at the play of the LA Galaxy in 2012 with and without Gonzalez to know of his value. Beltran is great, but Gonzalez is equally great with a higher ceiling.
2007 Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake)
2008 Sean Franklin (LA Galaxy)
2009 O'Brian White (Toronto FC)
2010 Teal Bunbury (KC Wizards) *currently on Sporting KC roster
2011 Zarek Valentin (Chivas USA)
2012 Luis Silva (Toronto FC)
It's Sean Franklin and a group of guys fighting for minutes.
Best Pick: Luis Silva. Silva was a bright spot in a disastrous year for Toronto FC, with 5 goals and 5 assists in his last 17 games. His lack of playing time early on may have been due to the team's desire to slowly introduce him to the professional game, or it may have been TFC doing dumb TFC things. Either way, we can't wait to see how Toronto will mismanage his talent in the near future. Sean Franklin is a close second, but I don't think he's been as consistent over his career as his Rookie of the Year season first indicated. Teal is a great presence but he has also shown a maddening lack of consistency in his play. If he can recover from his injury a wiser player he may shoot to the top of this group.
Ciaran O'Brien is our first clear-cut bust to this point. O'Brien played just 19 minutes in MLS, but he packed a lifetime into them--drawing a red card, getting choked by Landon Donovan, and injuring Carlos Ruiz for a month. Think of that last part as you wish. Wells Thompson's career is drawing to a close. Zach Loyd was the Man of the Match in the "I Like That Boon-Boo-Ree" USMNT game against Chile in 2011 and has turned into a defender who could start on most MLS sides. Maroševic is playing in the Balkans now while Casey Townsend ventured further, plying his trade as a forward in the remote Chivas USA front line.
Best pick: Zac MacMath. Keepers are rarely picked this high on the draft list but Philadelphia got a good one here. In 2011 with limited duty he posted 3 shutouts in 8 games. He was better this year. Despite the constant roster shake-ups and front office chaos, MacMath had more saves than Jimmy Neilsen, a lower GAA than Kevin Hartman, and a higher save percentage than Dan Kennedy. Not too shabby.
Things get a bit less obvious with this pick. Andy Iro started strong, but he is now playing for English League Two side Barnet now. Colaluca is in NASL. Rodney Wallace, now with Portland, was criticized by Stumptown Footy for "commanding a large salary for very little production." Sam Garza may be a great player, but the forward spots in San Jose look at lot more stable than they were last year at draft time. Soares and Okugo are the only regular starters to come out of this group.
Best pick: Amobi Okugo. Philadelphia is a strange configuration of really good individual pieces that rarely work well together. When Okugo is shifted into the back line he looks lost, when he's in a holding midfielder role he looks more comfortable. Still, when Okugo's your best option at this pick you begin to wonder if the talent level drops off at this point.
Holy smokes. An outstanding pair of DC wingers (Pontius and DeLeon), the author's favorite young player (Jack Mac) and a solid second striker in Patrick Nyarko. Something something WOW SEVENTH DRAFT PICK EQUALS LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN additional sports cliche!!! Sarkodie has limited minutes but could become the next in line of Dom Kinnear's assembly line of quality defenders and has caught the eye of Jürgen Klinnsman. John Cunliffe now plays for Chorley in the Northern Premier League Division One North--the 8th level on the English league system.
Best pick: John Cunli... wait a sec... Chris Pontius. 2012 Best XI selection, All-Star Game MVP, and instrumental in the playoff push for DC United. He may have been the most invaluable player for his team in the league last year. He has some stiff competition behind him in Jack (personal mancrush) McInerney and Nick DeLeon.
2007 Jerson Monteiro (Chicago)
2008 Josh Lambo (Dallas)
2009 Matt Besler (KC Wizards) *currently on Sporting KC roster
2010 Dilly Duka (Columbus)
2011 Michael Nanchoff (Vancouver)
2012 Andrew Jean-Baptiste (Portland)
Monteiro is out of the league. Josh Lambo is the first player we've seen selected that never appeared in an MLS game. Dilly Duka is a regular in the Crew midfield rotation and made the U-23 USMNT squad this past spring. Nanchoff and Jean-Baptiste play sparingly, and Besler wears horrible sweaters. Ouch.
Best pick: Matt Besler. Besler earned the MLS Defender of the Year award in 2012. His dedication to conditioning and defensive anticipation makes the game look effortless. It's going to be a packed summer for Besler, but he would be well served by getting a starting USMNT slot in the CONCACAF Gold Cup instead of Central American World Cup Qualifiers.
Anthony Wallace earned a USMNT cap, but has been snakebit with a pair of injuries since September 2011 and missed the entire 2012 season. Julius James has bounced around the league and is now without a contract. Lahoud and Anibaba are regular starters, while Schilawski is now playing in the NASL. Austin Berry won in the MLS Rookie of Year Award in 2012.
Best pick: Austin Berry. Both Chicago selections have panned out, but Austin Berry gave Chicago the central defensive presence they needed to help Sean Johnson turn 2011 draws into 2012 wins. He is a solid contributor for the Chicago Fire, and we hate him for that.
2007 Andrew Boyens (Toronto FC)
2008 Pat Phelan (Toronto FC)
2009 Kevin Alston (New England)
2010 Blair Gavin (Chivas USA)
2011 C. J. Sapong (Sporting KC) *currently on Sporting KC roster
2012 Ethan Finlay (Columbus)
Everyone is still playing in MLS, with the exception of Finland-based Pat Phelan. Boyens and Gavin are bit players now, while Alston has been a serviceable right back for New England since his 2010 All-Star Game start. CJ has found a nice role pairing with Kei Kamara in the Sporting front line. Finlay played limited minutes with the Crew this year and none after August. The competitive Columbus midfield is filled with potential, so Ethan Finlay's drop-off in minutes does raise some concerns.
Best Pick: CJ Sapong. Rookie of the Year in 2011, two USMNT caps, and had the 3rd-best Castrol Rating in 2012 of anyone drafted to this point. He is a rock.
Three teams stand out on on this list of Top 10 picks: Sporting KC, Houston and Toronto FC. All have used this portion of the draft in different ways with very different results.
Sporting KC has been masterful in their top selections, getting mainstays of their front and back lines with CJ Sapong, Matt Besler, Chance Myers, Michael Harrington, and Teal Bunbury. When a team can get that kind of talent without hurting their salary cap they are given an incredible amount of roster freedom.
Houston, for all of their on-field success, have made just one Top 10 SuperDraft selection since 2007. Success for them is not dependent on grabbing them trading up to grab the most talented SuperDraft prospects.
Toronto FC's incompetence is clearly demonstrated in their less-than-spectacular group of seven draft selections. This inability to assess young talent may explain why they are constantly bringing in overpriced players to find a winning solution on the field. The draft has likely been more of a hindrance on their ability to craft a competitive team.
Up next: assessing MLS SuperDraft picks 11 through 20.
Think we're off the mark? Who is your best pick in this stage of the MLS SuperDraft? Offer your thoughts in the comments below.