New England Soccer Today

Back to the Drafting Board

It’s the biggest excuse to throw a mid-winter party in MLS: the SuperDraft. The annual gathering of coaches, executives and personnel directors all huddled under one roof to select the next crop of can’t-miss collegiate prospects.

Sure, it may be a crapshoot. For every Steve Shak, there’s a Nick Rimando. A Chris Carrieri for every Brian Ching. A John Cunliffe for every Omar Cummings. And so on.

Here to break it all down with is college soccer guru Mike Marshall, who’s not afraid to admit that the SuperDraft is far from an exact science.

Brian: As someone with a firm hold on the college game, I have to ask: regardless of whether he made the leap to MLS or a foreign league, who’s the best college player you’ve ever seen?  Who’s the best you’ve witnessed in the last five years?

Mike: Well, I look stupid saying it, but I was completely convinced that Chris Gbandi was going to be an MLS star, and would eventually work his way over to a huge European pay day. In the last five years? My two favorites were a couple of forwards… Marcus Tracy from Wake Forest and last year’s #2 overall pick, Darlington Nagbe out of Akron.

So, here we are with the latest edition of the SuperDraft upon us. Which college prospects eligible for Thursday’s draft impressed you the most this year?

I’m hardly going to shock anyone by saying the two players are clearly Darren Mattocks and Andrew Wenger, and it’s very likely that they’ll be the first two players off the board on Thursday. Beyond that, I’m a big fan of UCLA midfielder Kelyn Rowe, North Carolina midfielder Enzo Martinez, and Creighton defender Tyler Polak.

This year, we’re looking at a two-round draft – the shortest one on record. Why is that, from your point of view? Why do you think the draft is being gradually scaled back?

Well, I think it’s kind of semantics at this point, given that the Supplemental Draft is still in place. But I do agree that the league is starting to place less emphasis on the draft, and I think that’s a mistake for several reasons. First, American players historically develop at very different rates. There are a lot of players that burst onto the scene at a young age, only to flame out (e.g. Freddy Adu, Nick Besagno, etc.) relatively early in their careers, and there also seem to be a lot of players who don’t really “find” themselves until they reach college or the pros. For example, Clint Dempsey was considered a pretty good college player until he got to the Revolution, where he began to turn into the player he is now.

Second, it negatively affects the league’s competitive balance. Not to overstate the obvious, but places like Southern California and the Mid-Atlantic region and Texas simply produce more and better players than places like Salt Lake City, Columbus, and New England.

And third, while Academies certainly have their place, they’re hardly foolproof as we’ve already seen cases of European clubs plucking players right from MLS Academies. And they also neglect large areas of the country. There are no MLS teams in places like Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte, Tampa, St. Louis, San Diego, or Minneapolis. Good players from those regions are likely going to end up in college.

Do you feel that the league, as a whole, is taking the college drafts less seriously than it had, say, 6-7 years ago when there were no DPs or development academies? Last year, we saw the Galaxy and Dynamo pull off a pre-draft trade that included a 2014 supplemental pick. It seems that the drafts are losing their significance. Am I wrong in thinking this?

It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it? I honestly believe that if the league keeps heading in this direction, at some point in the not too distant future, a group of the “have not” owners are going to band together to take a really close look at the way this is all structured.

On its face, it looks like there are a number of intriguing attacking players in this year’s draft. Which one, in your opinion, is the most MLS-ready?

It would be easy to say Darren Mattocks, but in terms of the ability to step in on Day One and contribute, I think I’d actually say Enzo Martinez from North Carolina, who I think plays a very mature, pro-style game. Mattocks will get there eventually, but he can fall in love with his speed at times and turn himself into a bit of a one trick pony.

In your opinion, given how “hit or miss” the draft can be, what’s the best approach a team can take toward the draft? Addressing a specific need or taking the best available player?

I’d say it depends. If you’re high up in the first round, then I’d absolutely take the best player available regardless of position. But later on, it becomes such a crap shoot that I think it’s OK to target certain positions as long as you’re not drafting for immediate help.

Agree or disagree: given the Revolution’s adherence to a comparatively tight budget, the front office should place a greater focus – i.e. hiring regional scouts and appointing a college scouting director – on college and homegrown talent rather than devoting additional time and resources to internationally-based players.

Disagree. The draft is still important because in a league with limits on salary and foreigners, there’s always going to be value found in low-cost Americans who can play, but you can’t plan your whole team based on it. There are too many teams, and after a certain point, it really is a crapshoot.

In the last four years, the Revs have boasted a pretty decent track record of selecting defenders (Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes, Seth Sinovic, A.J. Soares), but when it comes to the rest of the field, well, let’s just say that recent drafts haven’t netted next the Clint Dempsey or Taylor Twellman. Why do you think that is? Did the Revs just get lucky on guys like Dempsey, Twellman, Pat Noonan and even Andy Dorman, or are the Revs losing their touch when it comes to drafting attacking players?

A large part of it is simply the law of averages. If you throw in Michael Parkhurst, the Revs had an incredible run of draft picks in the early to mid 2000’s that may never be repeated in MLS history. And since then, there have probably been more misses than hits, although, to be fair, they haven’t exactly been picking in the Top 5 every year.

If you’re the Revolution braintrust, who do you hope to land with the 3rd overall pick? And which player are you hoping is still available once the 22nd pick comes around?

Assuming Wenger and Mattocks are off the board (… which I think is fairly likely), then Kelyn Rowe would probably be my pick, although I could hardly complain too much if they went with Martinez, Polak, or with one of the fairly intriguing forward options. I just think Rowe has the most upside of anyone who’s likely to be available. He can do things with the ball at his feet that most others in this class can’t, and I really like the way he anticipates plays before they happen. He’s got some consistency issues and I think it’s fair to say he can be a bit immature, but that’s something that should improve with time. And with the #3 pick in the draft, you’d better be taking a guy that you think is going to part of your franchise for a decade.

Players I’d like to see on the board at #22 include Louisville forward Colin Rolfe, Virginia defender Hunter Jumper, Louisville defender Austin Berry, and UConn midfielder Tony Cascio.

One Comment

  1. John

    January 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    On Monday, Don Garber said he’d like to expand the SuperDraft format from 2 rounds. So, even within the brain trust there is no agreement. Heck, just change it every year…like the playoff format.
    As for the Revs picks, I would be happy with a Kelyn Rowe, or Chandler Hoffman at #3, and Enzo Martinez, Austin Berry or Kohei Yamada at #22.

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