This Friday (the 13th, of all days), the 2017 edition of the MLS SuperDraft kicks off, and Sporting Kansas City will wade into the draft waters armed with at least a first-round pick and a third-round pick (Sporting’s second-round pick was traded to Houston as a part of the Brad Davis trade, and reportedly, the fourth-round pick has been given to Portland in exchange for the rights to Christian Volesky).
Attempting to predict the third-round pick is an exercise in throwing spaghetti to the wall and seeing what sticks, but there is enough information at hand to make an educated guess at which players might be off the board by the time the Sporks make their first-round pick at #14 overall.
It is a pick with very real value—previous #14 overall picks include Shalrie Joseph, David Horst, George John, and Ned Grabavoy—and after Sporting royally goofed in their strategy in last year’s SuperDraft (the club honed in on just one player, goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, and when San Jose surprised most observers—and, clearly, SKC—by picking Tarbell, Peter Vermes and co. jettisoned the pick to DC United for a relatively minimal amount of allocation money -- $125,000). It is especially important for Sporting to find a player who can fit into its hard-charging 4-3-3 system.
Who might such a player be, and what players will end up being unavailable for Sporting to pick (without trading up)? Read on for a (halfway) mock draft, where predictions for the thirteen picks leading up to Sporting’s are predicted:
Minnesota United FC: Jeremy Ebobisse, striker, Duke. Jackson Yueill, UCLA’s attacking midfield maestro, has hometown roots in Minnesota, but even with a Generation Adidas contract in hand, he probably doesn’t represent the best possible use of the #1 overall pick, especially for a side that still has as many holes to fill as MUFC does. Despite somehow missing out on a Generation Adidas contract (possibly because he’s under contract with Nike), Duke’s Jeremy Ebobisse represents a consensus top-two talent, and since MUFC only has New England Revolution backup Femi Hollinger-Janzen currently rostered at striker, the Loons could certainly make good use of him. Put differently: MUFC has so many needs that the strategy of picking the best player available, regardless of position, is also apt to address a position of need.
Atlanta United FC: Abu Danladi, striker, UCLA. Unlike their expansion counterparts in southern Canada, Atlanta already has a solid core of players, but like the Loons, AUFC still cannot (and should not) pass up the chance to draft the best talent available. Whichever of the striking duo of Ebobisse and Danladi that MUFC do not take, expect AUFC to seriously consider. Despite missing significant time due to injury, Danladi still scored seven goals for UCLA and nabbed a coveted Generation Adidas contract. In Atlanta, he would have the luxury of apprenticing under the seasoned Kenwyne Jones instead of having to be thrown directly into the fire. Alternatively, AUFC could trade this pick to their expansion compatriots so that MUFC can nab both Ebobisse and Minnesota native Jackson Yueill before he goes off the board within the first few picks.
Chicago Fire: Gordon Wild, Maryland. The perennially sad-sack Fire have some solid building blocks in defense now with Brandon Vincent and Jonathan Campbell (who many projected SKC to draft) from last year’s draft and have Homegrown center backs Grant Lillard and Mauricio Pineda besides, but they are still in dire need of more help up top. After the Ebobisse/Danladi duo, Maryland’s Gordon Wild represents the best pure goalscorer remaining on the board, having gone wild in 2016 (see what I did there?) to the tune of fifteen goals for the Terps in 2016. He may not represent the finished product of Ebobisse, or the sky-high upside of Danladi, but he ought to meet a key area of need for the Fire in their ongoing rebuilding project—scoring goals.
Houston Dynamo: Jackson Yueill, attacking midfield, UCLA. With Ian Harkes reportedly set to sign a Homegrown Player contract with DC United, Jackson Yueill, who was Abu Danladi’s teammate at UCLA, represents the best creative playmaking talent in the 2017 SuperDraft. With 11 assists plus two goals for the Bruins last year, Yueill is a *very* nice consolation prize to Harkes. I originally thought the Dynamo might be thinking striker with their pick, considering this draft’s depth at that position and Houston’s own woes there (see also: Torres, Cubo), but with the DP signing of Mauro Manotas and the loaning in Alberth Elis, they seem set at striker for the forseeable future after the Will Bruin trade. Playmaking, on the other hand, remains a glaring need, and one that Yueill meets.
Columbus Crew: Miles Robinson, center back, Syracuse. The Crew’s backline has seen massive turnover in the past several months, with skipper Michael Parkhurst being shipped off to Atlanta, former Wizard Tyson Wahl retiring due to concussion aftereffects, and 2016 midseason signing Gaston Sauro being shelved for all of 2017 due to knee surgery. The Crew need someone immediately capable of rotating with, or playing alongside, newly-signed DP centerback Jonathan Mensah, and along with Notre Dame’s Brandon Aubrey (whom the Crew might just as easily pick), Robinson represents the consensus as the best of the available center backs this year, to the extent that he was the only defender this year to score a Generation Adidas contract.
San Jose Earthquakes: Brandon Aubrey, center back, Notre Dame. Alongside Real Salt Lake, I think San Jose will be taking 2017 as a year of transition away from an aging core to some newer faces. At center back, former USMNT stalwart Clarence Goodson has already been cut, and while Andres Imperiale looks slated to start alongside club vice-captain Victor Bernardez in central defense, Imperiale and Bernardez are 30 and 34, respectively. Whichever of the Robinson/Aubrey duo remains on the board by this point would be the player I expect San Jose to pick to freshen up their aging spine. Aubrey is an excellent pure defender in the mold of Goodson and should fit in well.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Shamit Shome, central midfielder, FC Edmonton. The Caps have several needs, notably at striker and right back, but with the top strikers all off the board and Sheanon Williams brought in to play right back, there are a couple other areas of need that the Caps can address with this pick, especially in central midfield, where Canadian Generation Adidas player Shamit Shome can line up preferably as a #8, but who some see as a future #6. Either way, Shome should be able to provide some critical midfield depth to the Caps, and the fact that he is Canadian and on a comped GA salary only sweetens the deal.
AUFC (again): Chris Odoi-Atsem, right back, Maryland. Atlanta has an enviable backline already—especially for an expansion side—anchored by former Columbus Crew skipper and USMNT defender Michael Parkhurst and augmented by loaned-in USMNT left back Greg Garza, but where they could still use depth is at right back, where Mikey Ambrose and Zach Loyd are decent, if unremarkable, candidates. Odoi-Atsem appears to be the consensus best fullback available in this year’s SuperDraft, and one certainly worth expending a mid-first round pick on.
Columbus Crew (again): Reagan Dunk, right back, Denver. If Odoi-Atsem does fall this far, this might be a difficult choice for the boys in Columbus. Fortunately for the Crew, this is a deep draft at right back, which is the Crew’s other current defensive need (left back looks pretty well stocked for the time being with Waylon Francis and Jukka Raitala). Denver’s Reagan Dunk, as an attack-first right back with some questions defensively (think Igor Juliao), probably better matches the Crew’s system better than the remaining fullbacks on the board, so my guess is that Berhalter and co. prefer him.
Portland Timbers: Justin Schmidt, center back, Washington. A few mocks I’ve seen have Schmidt falling all the way to RSL in the #13 slot (RSL’s GM coached Schmidt at UW), but if both Robinson and Aubrey are off the board at this point—which I think is a good bet to make—then, given Portland’s well-known needs in central defense, that Schmidt will be headed south on I-5 to the Rose City as the best available center back (although some mocks have Portland taking Dayton’s Lalas Abubakar with this pick, so feel free to take my assessment of Schmidt with a grain of salt).
Chicago Fire (again): Colton Storm, right back, North Carolina. As I noted in their #3 pick, the Fire are pretty well-stocked at left back and especially center back, but at right back, where they have MLS journeyman (and former Wizards mainstay) Michael Harrington stationed, they could still do with an infusion of talented youth. With both Odoi-Atsem and Dunk off the board, Storm represents the best fullback available in a draft that is pretty deep at that position. Like Harrington, he is a versatile fullback who is comfortable in both attack and defense and could push to start in 2018 or 2019.
DC United: Nick DePuy, striker, UC Santa Barbara. While Patrick Mullins made an immediate impact after his midseason arrival and should be penciled in as the default starter up top in the wake of Alvaro Saborio’s offseason departure, the cupboard after him gets bare pretty quickly. Chris Rolfe and Lamar Neagle are secondary forwards, not target men, so someone will be needed to spell Mullins. DePuy saw his stock drop some this year, but on talent alone he is probably still worthy of a mid-first round pick and with his 6’4” frame and relatively strong command on the ball for such a big guy, he could help provide the sort of big, battering-ram presence that Saborio has.
Real Salt Lake: Jacori Hayes, attacking midfielder, Wake Forest. Much like San Jose, RSL will be focused this year and next on beginning to turn over their aging core as aging veterans depart (Javier Morales) or begin to look towards retirement (Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando). RSL has spent the last several years revolving around diminutive playmakers (Joao Plata, the aforementioned Javier Morales, the incoming Slovakian DP Albert Rusnak), and the 5’7” Hayes, with an excellent technical command of the ball, could be the next in that line of Lilliputian maestros who set defenses alight while also having the benefit of probably being the best player available at this point. New Mexico’s Niko Hansen is also a possibility if creative playmaking is what RSL are looking for more of.
Sporting Kansas City: Julian Gressel, attacking midfielder/secondary striker, Providence. With the signings of Gerso Fernandes and Latif Blessing on the wings, the clearest long-term need for our Sporks is central midfield, where both Roger Espinoza and the newly-recalled Benny Feilhaber are on the wrong side of 30. If someone like Shamit Shome is still on the board at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see Peter Vermes take a long look at them, but for the moment, Julian Gressel likely represents a bit of a reach here—he’s probably closer to a late-first round pick than a mid-first round pick—but he represents the skill set that Benny developed in Kansas City as a two-way #10 who can score goals, and as Benny himself has demonstrated, it is a skill set that is much in demand.
What do you think? These things are made to be dissected and agreed or disagreed with, so have your say in the comments.