New England Soccer Today

Feeling a draft

Prior to Thursday’s SuperDraft, New England Soccer Today’s Brian O’Connell caught up with co-founder and draft guru Mike Marshall to get his take on the annual cavalcade of aspiring soccer stars.

Brian: When we last spoke, you referenced a number of talented Akron players (Darlington Nagbe, Michael Nanchoff, Kofi Sarkodie, Zarek Valentin, and Perry Kitchen) which have since been named Generation adidas players. Outside of the Akron contingent, how deep is this year’s draft?

Mike: It’s tough for me to say, because I don’t know a whole lot about some of the foreign players in the draft. As far as the college talent available, I’d say that even with the Akron kids, it’s only slightly above average. Beyond the top ten or so college players, I think there’s a significant drop off. Some of the foreign players available (Joao Plata, John Rooney, etc.) might change the overall equation somewhat, but it’s not an especially strong college class.

Mike Marshall thinks Michael Farfan (blue) may be the Revs best bet in the first round. (Photo courtesy

With the draft less than two days away, let’s address the tried and true topic of need vs. best available player. In your opinion, is it better draft according to need, or with an eye toward the best available player?

It depends on the circumstances. The Revs currently have so many holes in their lineup that they almost need to take the best available player, but after signing Didier Domi, maybe it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to take a defender if he’s the best player on their board at #6. Everyone knows they need a goal-scorer, but if they’ve got a guy they like from outside the draft, do you use the #6 pick on a forward who’s going to have to compete with Schilawski and Dube for playing time? Is that the best use of the #6 pick? I don’t know. I guess the best answer is I would draft the best player available, while keeping need in mind.

Point blank: what is the most immediate need(s) that the New England Revolution need to address with their five picks on Thursday afternoon?

I’m not sure the Revs’ most pressing needs can be filled through the draft. They need someone who can replace Taylor Twellman’s production, and they’re not going to find that player on Thursday. Early on, I’d be looking for a winger – someone with some upside who can be in the mix on the left side of midfield or push Sainey Nyassi on the right. They could also use someone to push Pat Phelan in central midfield, a forward with some size who can come off the bench, and potentially a long-term replacement for Matt Reis.

Having said that, who would be the best fit for the Revs with the sixth overall pick? Why?

I’m a big fan of North Carolina’s Michael Farfan, who I think could be that winger who could challenge for playing time early in his career. Mature, skillful, polished, smart — there’s a lot to like about his game. He’s also an excellent passer, and the Revs could really use someone who isn’t a turnover machine in the middle of the park.

The Revs have three picks in the third round. If you’re Mike Burns, do you use all three picks, or do you package them together in a trade for a veteran player and/or allocation money?

Depends on what players might be available for trade. It’s tough to answer that question in the abstract. But keep in mind that rosters are expanding this year, and the Revs still need to get a lot of low-salaried bodies under contract for next season. I think they’ll use at least two of those picks. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they did trade one of them for a player currently in the league – they’ve certainly got the cap space to make something happen if they want to.

How important is this year’s draft in terms of the team’s success in 2011? Without a DPA or big name signing on the horizon, it seems as if the focus will once again fall upon the draft to find key additions to the roster.

It can’t be vital, can it? I mean, if their big off-season acquisitions are Ryan Cochrane, Didier Domi, and the #6 pick in the draft, they’ll probably be drafting in roughly the same spot in 2012. But in general, I think the draft is important because it gives teams an opportunity to acquire young, low-salaried players who could potentially be real difference-makers for the team. In a salary cap league, that’s tremendously important, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the best period in Revs history followed a nearly legendary run of first round picks, and their subsequent decline followed an equally poor dry patch.

Who’s this year’s biggest sleeper?

One player I haven’t heard mentioned a lot that I really like is James Madison’s CJ Sapong, who I thought was the best player in the CAA this year. Big, athletic, scores goals, and he’s still managed to be effective when the competition improves. He’s a little raw, but he’s also the kind of guy that could really blossom in a professional environment. If a 2nd Team All-American can be a sleeper, then this is my guy.

This year, the draft has been whittled down to three rounds. With a greater focus of development academies within MLS, is the SuperDraft becoming an obsolete method of integrating new players into the league?

The Revs better hope not, because they’d be at a huge disadvantage. Academies are great, but they’re not going to catch every potential pro in the country. My sense is there will be some sort of college player draft that matters for quite a while.

New England Soccer Today is your home for coverage of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Starting at 11:45AM on Thursday, we’ll be hosting a live blog from Baltimore covering the draft and welcoming comments and questions throughout. We’ll also have post draft coverage of the Revolution’s picks and where the local New England players end up. If that’s not enough, come back Friday for an hour-long Revolution Recap podcast covering the draft and featuring pre-recorded commentary from players and coaches at the draft.

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