Next Wednesday, December 21st, the 2023 MLS SuperDraft kicks off and Sporting Kansas City have the 8th pick. Sporting KC have been here before. They previously built their core through the draft. From Roger Espinoza in 2008 to Graham Zusi and Matt Besler in 2009, and Dom Dwyer in 2012. Peter Vermes and his recruitment team have shown an ability to find diamonds in the draft. Can he and Sporting KC do it again?
After a tumultuous year of ups and down, Sporting KC have their highest draft position since they selected at #4 in 2010 and selected Teal Bunbury. Peter Vermes has stated the team has two needs this offseason: A right center-back and a third striker.
While the draft has not produced many successful strikers (Daryl Dike and Cyle Larin aside) it has historically produced several talented center-backs. Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Aaron long, Miles Robinson, Ike Opara, and Walker Zimmerman were all taken in the MLS Draft, all of whom have played with US Men’s National team (USMNT).
This draft, like previous drafts, there isn’t much offensive talent but it’s the defensive talent in the draft that Sporting KC should be looking at. Here are my picks for Sporting KC in the 2023 MLS Super Draft.
Joao Victor Souza, Center Back, Boston College
A towering 6’2, 195 pounds, Victor Souza, certainly has the size to play CB in MLS. Yet, what is most intriguing about his game is how skilled he is. Victor is right-footed and great with the ball at his feet. I watched his game against Duke, and he had no problem bypassing and driving through pressure from the forwards.
He also is a very accurate passer. In watching his games, he time and time again put his midfield in good positions with long ball switches, short line-breaking passes, or medium chip passes over the defense. He has a very good passing range that fits the possession-style offense that Sporting KC loves to play.
His positioning is also very good. Regularly he played against quick and strong athletes, many of whom will be drafted next Wednesday, and he always put himself in a position to make a play on the ball, especially in one v one situations. Probably his greatest attribute though is his toughness. Souza is not afraid of getting stuck in and making tackles, but he does so carefully. He will make the occasional Espinoza-esque sliding challenge to win the ball back, but for the most part, he is calculated in his challenges.
MLS Comparison: Alexander Callens
Souza and Callens share a few similar traits: both are good with ball, and both a ruthless in the tackle. Moreover, both Souza and Callens have the technical capability to step outside and play the fullback position if needed. If Souza can replicate Callens remarkable MLS career, he will have been a huge steal for any club that takes him.
How does he fit?
He should slot in well on the right side of Andreu Fontas. If his transition to the speed of the MLS game goes well Souza could serve as a cerebral destroyer-type center back—one that will make timely challenges, mark defenders well, and keep the game flowing in possession.
Boston College admittedly was a poor team this year going 4-7-5, but Souza was the clear lone bright spot. He did not play with another MLS-caliber teammate like many of the others who will be drafted. Souza played in a team that had little offensive talent, so he did not get to shine in the way many others did this year. Though he isn’t the supreme athlete that many others are his greatest talents shown through and if I’m Peter Vermes and the Sporting KC staff, he would be my top pick for the number 8 pick. Here are some highlights that capture his well-rounded game.
Hamady Diop, Center Back, Clemson
Diop was widely regarded as one of, if not the best, CB in college soccer this year. At 6’0, 186 pounds, he isn’t the tallest center back, but he is certainly one of the strongest and most athletic. Diop is primarily left-footed but could easily slot in on the right.
Diop is very technically sound as a center-back. He will either progress the ball forward or play passes to teammates that put them in scoring positions. He is also good at playing in possession. Diop’s passing range is very expansive. He can hit every type of pass from the long ball switch to the line-breaking passes to forwards or midfielders. He has the technical ability to play left-back as well. Clemson thought as much of his ability that he was often the primary freekick and penalty taker.
My only concern with Diop is in aerial duels. In watching him, he does well to position himself to win aerial battles, but I did often see him lose out to taller and just as strong center forwards. Does his ability in possession make up for his lack of height?
MLS Comparison: Kamal Miller
Like Diop, Kamal Miller is a bit undersized at 6’0 but is very technically gifted and athletic. They both understand how to use their strength in challenges and stifle forwards. If he can replicate some of his performances of Miller, Hamady Diop will have a long career in the MLS.
How does he fit?
Clemson regularly held possession against teams and often played high up the field to press. This would suit Sporting well as Peter Vermes often has his center backs higher up to help win and keep possession in the opposition’s half. I know Vermes is looking for a right-footed center-back, but if Diop is available you have to take him. He will likely get a Generation Adidas contract and his game is tailor-made for the current fast pace, physical style of the MLS.
On a team that regularly produces MLS SuperDraft picks, Diop stood out as the best player. His mix of athleticism and technical ability is what many Sporting Directors are looking for in a center-back. Diop strikes me as the “take the best available” type pick. It’s uncertain that many teams in the first seven picks will be looking for a center back but if Diop falls his ability is hard to pass up. Moreover, as Fontas ages someone will need to push Voloder for that starting spot and Diop can do that. Here are some clips of highlights of Diop’s game.
Hamady Diop (Clemson) is the best pro CB prospect in the college game, great athletic profile combined w/ excellent progressive qualities in possession. Strong technical ability, expansive passing range and the composure + intelligence to break lines as a ball carrier + passer. pic.twitter.com/bR3wcoGLO6— Ben Green (@beno_greeno) September 19, 2021
What about you? Who do you think Sporting KC should take with the 8th pick in the MLS Draft? Let us know in the comments!