After all of the mock drafts, selection swapping, and scarf christenings, the curtains have fallen on the first two rounds of the 2014 MLS SuperDraf. With that, Goal.com writer Justin Churchill joined New England Soccer Today writers Sean Donahue, Ryan Lanigan and Brian O’Connell to analyze the Revolution’s approach during Day 1 of the SuperDraft.
1. What did you make of the Revs taking Steve Neumann with the fourth pick?
Ryan: I think it’s fair to say it was a surprising pick at #4 for Neumann, but it’s clear the Revs wanted him enough to take him then and not wait and see if he fell. It was clear New England needed a goal scorer and Neumann – who scored 41 goals in his four years at Georgetown – fits that mold. Even more appealing about Neumann is that he’s not a one trick pony and nearly matched his goal totals with 34 assists. Heaps has done well with the draft in his brief history and Neumann’s admission that he likes to play as a withdrawn striker looks to fit perfectly in Heaps’ plan.
Sean: As someone who has never been a huge fan of taking strikers with an early pick, based on the recent history of the SuperDraft (since Mike Magee was taken in 2003, only one other player drafted in the top five has ever reached double digits in goals in a season in MLS – Steve Zakuani), I think the Revolution made the correct choice in taking Neumann, who I expect to play a role in midfield based on what I’ve seen and heard of him. While the Revolution have some strong attacking pieces in the midfield, depth here is a huge issue and with Saer Sene likely to miss a large chunk of the season, Neumann could slot right into the line-up. Additionally, with it seemingly only a matter of time before some overseas clubs come chasing Diego Fagundez, it makes sense to bring in more numbers for this area. Neumann was probably the most creative player available in the draft and his ability to create shots for himself and others, use both feet, and take set pieces, should all prove to be assets for the club.
Justin: To be honest I was a little confused, it might have been a little risky to wait on Mullins. However, Neumann could really be a player for the future in New England. A true attacking midfielder, with some raw creativity. That being said, it really didn’t address the immediate needs of the team. Neumann may be listed as a F/M, but he really looks like more of a midfielder.
If i’m in the fourth spot I would have taken Mullins and then gone for Ben Sweat with the second pick.
Brian: After trying to figure out whether or not the Revs and FC Dallas had or hadn’t swapped picks, I became even more confused when I saw Steve Neumann called to the podium to don a New England scarf. Confusion gave way to shock when I realized it wasn’t Patrick Mullins. And while there were plenty of good things said about Neumann, I’ll be honest: the pick didn’t sit well with me until Mullins was taken, albeit seven picks later. I’m still unconvinced about Neumann – a prospect without a true position – at 4. But with Mullins as the chaser at 11, I think the latter pick made the former pick seem somewhat less perplexing.
2. Are you concerned about the questions surrounding Neumann (lack of a true position and lack of physicality) and Patrick Mullins (left-footed striker with an inordinate amount of assists in college)?
Ryan: Striker is one of the toughest positions to make the transition from the college game to the professional level. That said, there’s going to be a lot both Neumann and Mullins will have to adapt to. Neumann admitted after the draft that he sees himself as a withdrawn striker and although you could argue that idea doesn’t lend itself well in a 4-1-4-1, he could fit nicely in the center attacking mid role. For Mullins, he is a pure goal scorer and that’s the important part. When you can get the two-time MAC Hermann winner outside of the top ten picks, that’s a steal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mullins be the guy to get the playing time right away, but it’ll be a tough transition for both of them.
Sean: When the Revolution took Kelyn Rowe two years ago, there were many of the same question about what position he would fit in at/play in MLS. It may have taken the team a season to figure out Rowe’s best spot, but talent/quality has a way of shining through eventually, and Neumann will prove a capable midfielder even if his best position also takes a little time to discover.
As for Mullins, the way the Revolution play under Heaps, it can only be a positive that Mullins has proven to be a good distributor based on his college assist total. If Mullins can use his height and strength to prove an effective forward with his back to goal, he’ll prove a key addition to the team.
Justin: Neumann could be good with New England, Heaps likes to really try players out in different roles on the field. Perhaps he can play the role of a winger in a 4-3-3? Versatility is a good thing in this case.
When you look at Mullins, you can see that he is a pure striker. As the heart and soul of an impressive team at the University of Maryland, he is a safe bet in my book.
Brian: It’s hard not to be. For all the goals and offense these guys produced in school, there’s a list out there longer than a Bobby Shuttleworth goalkick populated with offensive prospects who can’t find the back of the net in MLS. But when you take into account the idea that Jay Heaps loves players who aren’t confined to one role, these picks make perfect sense. If anyone can get the most out of each of these guys, Heaps would be a safe bet to do it.
3. If you’re Jay Heaps, where would you play Neumann and Mullins?
Ryan: At this point, Mullins has to be in the conversation to battle Dimintry Imbongo for the lone striker spot. He has proven has a knack for scoring and that is something the Revs will need. For Neumann, he will likely fit into the center somewhere but don’t be surprised if he adapts himself to the outside of the field. Neumann has a strong creative side and combines that with the ability to score. He’ll have to prove his ability to be a two-way player at the professional level to crack into the lineup.
Sean: With Neumann’s ability to use both feet and cross, Heaps would be wise to attempt to play him on the wing opposite Fagundez, at least while Sene recovers. Rowe and Lee Nguyen have locked down the central midfield slots for the club, but the opportunity exists for Neumann to start right away on the wings and his skillset could aid the Revolution’s sometimes one dimensional play down the flanks.
Justin: I would play Mullins as a left winger in the current system , or look to work a 4-4-2 around him and another forward. Neumann is a bit tricky though, I could see him as a CAM or a winger.
Brian: Depends upon the formation. If we’re talking 4-1-4-1 – a formation I think Heaps is going to stick with this year – I see Neumann playing in an advanced position in the middle of the park, a.k.a. Kelyn Rowe’s role, with Rowe dropping back a bit. This, of course, is contingent upon the presence of a bondafide #6. If we’re talking about a 4-4-2, he’s a withdrawn forward. As for Mullins – unless Jerry Bengtson figures out how to get out of his own way, I’d put the Terp striker up top. He may get knocked around, but I think he’ll adapt and become a force at forward before long.
4. Will Neumman or Mullins be First Kick starters?
Ryan: Both are great additions to the Revs roster, but I don’t see either making the starting XI for First Kick. Dimitry Imbongo wasn’t the most consistent player last year but I think he really elevated his game and will continue to do so this season. He looks to be the starter for the first game and that will leave Mullins battling for a spot on the bench. For Neumann, it could be a possibility, as Kelyn Rowe could possibly move to the outside and Neumann can slide in next to Lee Nguyen in the middle. However, I think Rowe is an anchor with Nguyen in the middle, therefore it will be about finding someone to play opposite Diego Fagundez on the wings.
Sean: As mentioned above, Neumann should have every opportunity to be a first kick starter with Sene unavailable. Perhaps Donnie Smith or a future addition could provide some competition, but at the moment Neumann can be penciled in as a First Kick starter.
Mullins will have to earn a starting spot in preseason. New England will likely continue to look to address their hole at starting striker since Juan Agudelo left by attempting to acquire another international for that spot. That said, Mullins should have a chance to beat out the likes of Dimitry Imbongo, Jerry Bengtson, Charlie Davies and whoever else the club brings in to challenge for a spot up top.
Justin: I think this question will be answered during training camp, a lot of it depends on what happens around Jerry Bengston’s status with the Revs. That being said, Mullins could feature in the opener.
Brian: No to Neumann, maybe to Mullins. I think it’s going to take more than just the preseason for Heaps to figure out where Neumann fits. Right now, I have the midfield (L-R)as Diego Fagundez, Scott Caldwell/unidentified preseason signing, Andy Dorman, Rowe and Lee Nguyen/Charlie Davies as the starting mids on First Kick. As for Mullins – as long as Bengtson and Dimitry Imbongo stay true to their inconsistent selves, the Maryland striker should have a shot at a spot on the First XI come Mar. 9 in Houston.
5. What grade would you give the Revs draft through the first two rounds, and why?
Ryan: Grades for the draft – especially the day after – are always tough, but based on the moves the Revs made and the talent they seemed to pick up, I think they have to get an A again this year. I gave the Revs an A last year after they picked up Andrew Farrell as well as Donnie Smith and Luis Soffner who are back with the team this season. Goal scoring was a big need New England needed to address and they did that by grabbing Neumann at fourth overall and then made a move by trading #12 and #19 to grab Patrick Mullins, a player many expected to go inside the top five. Anytime they can get two players like that in one draft is a good thing. Alec Sundly is similar to Smith from last year – a low risk, high reward possibility. He wasn’t able to partake in the Combine because he didn’t pass his physical but there’s no doubt he’s a capable player as he proved as Cal and could be a nice addition for the Revs.
Sean: A-. Hard to find much fault in the Revolution’s draft. Heading into the SuperDraft, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who though the team could get both Neumann and Mullins – arguably the top creative midfielder and top striker – in the draft. Both players could have a huge impact on the long term future of the club. Second round pick Alec Sundly should also provide some competition at a defensive midfield spot that was a bit of a weakness for the team at times last year. If there’s one knock on their draft performance, though, it’s unfortunate the team had to give up two first round picks just to move one spot up in the draft. That said, it’s hard to judge too harshly on that move without knowing what went on in the negotiations for that trade.
Justin: I would give New England a B +. Mullins is a great pick up, but Neumann was not a necessary selection. It shows some great confidence in knowing that Mullins would fall to the 11th pick though, so the front office did a very good job in that sense. Now Mike Burns will need to look to the transfer market for some of the holes on the team, who knows what kind of financial support he will have.
Brian: A. Regardless of how Neumann and Mullins pan out as pros, the Revolution picked the two best attacking talents. What more can you ask from a club that just lost Juan Agudelo? Heck, they even took a defensive midfielder – Alec Sundly – at 31 to address another weakness. Looking back at who went before Neumann, and who went after Mullins, I can’t give them anything less than an A.