Sporting Kansas City goes into this month’s SuperDraft with two picks in hand: the #13 overall pick, which is their natural selection, and the #18 pick, which the club obtained in the previous offseason’s trade of Lawrence Olum to the Portland Timbers for their natural first-round pick plus $50,000 in general allocation money.
Having those two picks is helpful for a club whose core looks increasingly long in the tooth with each passing campaign, but this year’s draft is relatively thin at certain positions of need for the club, especially center back. Here, we highlight three different players who may represent good value for Sporting KC to use one of its two first-round picks on, in spite of the challenges the draft presents.
Mo Adams, CM, Syracuse
SKC may want to take a long look at Syracuse midfielder and Generation Adidas contract recipient Mo Adams with their #13 overall pick. I know it sounds like we’ve seen this one before with Mikey Lopez—plaudits for SKC picking a two-way central midfielder with a great pedigree and a GA contract in hand, only for the player to not pan out—but it seems Adams is, by most accounts, the genuine article. And while there are a number of GA (and non-GA) players I fully expect to be off the board by the time SKC is on the clock, Adams isn’t necessarily one of them.
Selecting Adams makes sense for the club a couple of reasons. One is simply that Roger Espinoza pretty clearly lost a step down the home stretch in 2017. While some of that regression may be chalked up to overuse, the reality remains that Espinoza turns 31 this year with no heir apparent behind him aside from perhaps Jimmy Medranda, who at present must presumably also back up Yohan Croizet at the #10 position and Seth Sinovic at left back.
Another is that Adams shares some of Espinoza’s own traits (and those of Espinoza’s interim replacement and current SPR coach, Paulo Nagamura). Adams has a reputation for toughness, stamina, and the sort of hard-nosed play that Sporting KC fans have grown accustomed to from Espinoza. And as Syracuse’s captain this year, he also likely shares some of Espinoza’s leadership capacities. It isn’t just that Adams is arguably the best #8 available in this year’s draft, it’s that he is also a #8 whose skills could make for as seamless as possible a transition from one #8 to another.
If Adams is indeed off the board by the time SKC is up, Maryland’s Jake Rozhansky is another candidate for a center midfield pick.
Tristan Blackmon, RB, University of the Pacific
While Stanford anchor Tomas Hilliard Arce seems to be considered the most polished, pro-ready player available, and may well end up going to LAFC with the #1 overall pick. But this draft’s cupboard at center back gets pretty bare after him and Generation Adidas player Joao Moutinho (who may or may not remain at center back as a pro), both of whom I fully expect to be off the board by the time SKC picks at #13.
Still, center back represents a position of definite need for SKC with Olum dispatched to Portland a year ago, Kevin Ellis deemed persona non grata midseason, and Erik Palmer-Brown now at Manchester City (unofficially). Amir Didic is, essentially by default, the current #3 center back on the club’s depth chart behind starters Matt Besler and Ike Opara, and I have to think that the club has gambled on Opara’s health one too many times to let the center back depth chart remain that thin.
Enter a specimen like Tristan Blackmon. Blackmon was generally deployed as a right back by the University of the Pacific, but at 6’2” and 180 lbs, he (unlike Moutinho) certainly has the size to play center back professionally. Blackmon could end up having the same sort of career arc as Ellis, who initially appeared in SKC games as a fullback but transitioned to playing almost entirely at center back. He earned notice for his defensive awareness and mobility for such a tall defender, traits that he shares with incumbent center backs Besler and Opara, and with four goals and five assists last year, he represents an offensive threat from deep as well. If SKC elects to fill its hole at center back depth with the draft, a defender like Blackmon could represent some quality competition for Didic as both players continue to mature into MLS-level pros.
Alan Winn, F, North Carolina
SKC still seems intent on solving its #9 woes on the transfer market, but if the club is interested in a longer-term project, North Carolina’s Alan Winn is an interesting possibility as a forward who could end up at either striker or winger. He is cut in the sort of cloth of a Krisztian Nemeth or Daniel Salloi who has a striker’s skill set but could fit into Peter Vermes’s system as a goal-scoring winger, something the club has shown repeatedly since Nemeth’s departure that it could use once more.
Winn’s 11 goals and 2 assists—despite beginning the 2017 season injured—speak to his productivity, and he has the added dint of a USMNT youth program pedigree. His proclivity for not just shooting but finding the net could add a finishing touch that, combined with Salloi or Gerso Fernandes, could go a substantial way towards taking the pressure off of SKC’s future #9, whether Diego Rubio or another striker. Or, that striker could be Winn himself—he’s only 5’10”, but as the fans know from Dom Dwyer’s tenure, Vermes is hardly averse to deploying a shorter #9, and sending Winn to the weight room to add some muscle mass to go along with his clinical skill set could create a viable candidate for first-team minutes in 2019 and beyond.
These are just three potential candidates for Sporting KC to take with one of its two first-round picks. Who do you think might, or should, be selected, and why? Have your say in the comments!