The 2019 edition of the MLS (Super!) Draft takes place this upcoming Friday the 11th of January, and Sporting Kansas City hold the 21st overall pick in the first round, as well as the 45th, 69th, and 93rd overall selections in rounds two through four. Each of those picks is the club’s natural selection after being eliminated by the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference final.
On Sunday, a representative from the writing staffs of each of SBNation’s MLS team sites participated in a mock draft, and with the 21st overall pick, The Blue Testament selected Camden Riley, a senior midfielder at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
Why Camden Riley?
First, a word about the organizational depth chart: the core of the team has remained almost entirely intact, with the players added so far this offseason seemingly meant to provide depth more than regularly game-changing impact. Expecting a SuperDraft pick, especially one taken after the first half of the first round, to make an immediate impact on such a depth chart is unfair and asking too much of the player. Whoever the team picks, the expectation should be that they spend some time at Swope Park Rangers, even with the potentially punishing CCL schedule Sporting KC has this year.
Considering the limitations of picking so late in the first round, draft prep focused on players whose talent seems commensurate with the pick (since “best talent available” at this point can be difficult to gauge unless a top pick slides down the table) and who could meet organizational depth chart needs. Of those players, Riley is one of the more potentially versatile. He has attacking ability (as evinced by his nine goals and five assists during his senior campaign), but he most likely projects as either a #6-style defensive midfielder or as a ball-playing center back, both of which SKC could use long-term and SPR could use in the here and now.
Selecting Riley with the 21st pick hardly seems a reach—MLSsoccer.com’s mock draft has Riley going to NYCFC with the 19th pick, while Soccer By Ives’ mock has Riley going to Atlanta United with the 24th pick. In any case, it should be expected that any player Sporting KC picks at this stage of the first round (and we also should leave open the possibility of Peter Vermes trying to trade away this pick) would spend at least a year primarily at SPR for some seasoning and experience.
And with the departure of Amer Didic and the continued integration into SKC of Wan Kuzain, SPR could use reinforcements at both positions for 2019. At the mother club, the gameday 18 center back positions are locked up by Matt Besler, Ike Opara, and Andreu Fontas, but they are all are 29 years old or older, and how the recently-acquired Botond Barath adapts to MLS is an open question. Meanwhile, I’m increasingly certain that Ilie Sanchez’s backup at the #6 is simply a phantom. I’d be more than willing to take a flier on Riley, stash him at SPR for a year or two, and see if he develops into a serviceable deputy to Ilie, potential long-term replacement of Besler, or neither.
Other Options on the Board
Other players who were still on the board whom were under strong consideration were Jacob Hauser-Ramsey, a natural center back for the University of Connecticut (and a Seattle Sounders academy product and more of a pure defender than Riley, and Tommy McCabe, a #6 from Notre Dame and the US youth national team system. Left back and striker were also depth chart areas of need, but after Marcello Borges and Ryan Sierakowski went off the board, selecting from either of those positions became slightly less appealing.
Here is how the entire 2019 SBNation mock draft went
1. FC Cincinnati – Tajon Buchanon
2. San Jose Earthquakes – Frankie Amaya
3. Orlando City – Callum Montgomery
4. FC Dallas – Siad Haji
5. Chicago Fire – Akeem Ward
6. Toronto FC – Dayne St. Clair
7. Minnesota United – Brad Dunwell
8. Houston Dynamo – Griffin Dorsey
9. New England Revolution – Sergio Rivas
10. FC Dallas – John Nelson
11. Revolution – Marcello Borges
12. LA Galaxy – Prosper Figbe
13. Philadelphia Union – JJ Williams
14. D.C. United – Logan Gdula
15. Colorado Rapids – Andre Shinyashiki
16. Los Angeles FC – Wouter Verstraaten
17. Real Salt Lake – DeJuan Jones
18. Columbus Crew – Ryan Sierakowski
19. New York City FC – Santiago Patiño
20. Seattle Sounders – Hassani Dotson
21. Sporting KC – Camden Riley
22. New York Red Bulls – Peter-Lee Vassell
23. Portland Timbers – Abdi Mohamed
24. Atlanta United – Rece Buckmaster
In our earlier round-up of 2019 mock drafts, SKC selected Akeem Ward, Mitchell Osmond and Abdou Mbacke Thiam. As you can see Ward went 5th after a strong showing in the first games of the Combine. Osmond and Thiam were not selected. That shows what a guessing game this all is, especially in MLS over even other American sports league’s drafts.