The 2008 MLS SuperDraft is done. What it all means won't be known for several months, when rosters are filled by the other mechanisms available to MLS teams, yet some semblance of the future can be gleaned by what transpired in Baltimore Friday afternoon.
The appeal of Generation Adidas players manifested itself once again, as did a strong group of products from West Coast teams, including two of the top three picks plucked out of UCLA and two more in the first round taken from UC Santa Barbara.
Some big names dropped perhaps a bit further than expected. Virginia Tech attacker Patrick Nyarko, another Generation Adidas signee, did go in the first round, but not until Chicago used its first pick, the No. 7 selection overall. Defender Julius James, one of the highest rated defenders, lasted until Toronto took him with the ninth pick.
There are always surprises in the first round: Chivas USA used the fifth overall pick last year to take midfielder John Cunliffe out of Division II Fort Lewis College. No such sleeper cropped up this time, and the biggest shocks were defender Julian Valentin and midfielder Stephen King, rated by some observers as possible first-rounders, falling all the way to the third round.
Rob Valentino (San Francisco) and David Horst (Old Dominion) weren't rated as highly as some other defenders in a pool rated as very strong, yet were taken by New England and Real Salt Lake, respectively, with the last two picks of the first round.
All the attention focused on central defenders perhaps masked a good, if smaller, selection of outside backs available. Three of them were taken in the first four picks, all of them from Southern California schools: No. 1 Chance Myers and No. 3 Tony Beltran (both UCLA) and No. 4 Sean Franklin (Cal State Fullerton).
Here are some of the highlights primarily from the first two rounds, from which most of the players expected to make short-term impacts were taken, along with the most pertinent comments from coaches and other team personnel.
MULTIPLE PICKS. At no previous SuperDraft had so many teams held multiple picks in the first round. Five teams tied up 10 first-round slots, with Dallas, Toronto, Kansas City, Chicago, and Real Salt Lake each holding two, and rather than trading them away, all picks were used. RSL, with three of the first 17 picks, took defenders Beltran and Horst in the first phase, and former U.S. under-17 midfielder Alex Nimo with No. 17 overall.
"We talked about moving our picks around, but to be frank, there weren't offers out there that we valued enough," said Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis. "We talked about moving or pushing our picks around, but in the end we wanted two first-round draft picks."
Kansas City fielded numerous offers for the No. 1 pick - and came close to swinging a trade with Colorado -- but in the end used it on Myers, who can play on either corner but might wind up playing right midfield. With the No. 11 pick Kansas City went for Ohio State midfielder Roger Espinoza. Head coach Curt Onalfo intends on experimenting with a 3-5-2 formation in preseason after playing four in the back the past few seasons. The Wizards took a different philosophy than it had in last year's SuperDraft.
"Last year, we knew Michael Harrington was a guy was ready physically and mentally to come right in and play 30 games," says Kansas City technical director Peter Vermes. "He played 28, and he did really well, so we were pretty close on that.
"This year we were looking for wide play, because it's so important in this league to have that. Chance is an attacking guy. It's our feeling in a 4-4-2 he can play as right defender or right midfield, and in a 3-5-2 he can play out wide.
"Roger is very creative and loves to go at people. He's a very good passer of the ball and a good dribbler. What a lot of people don't pay attention to is that he's actually a pretty darn good defender. He's also a great kid. We interviewed him and we really, really like his personality.
"But with the Generation Adidas players, they don't have that pressure to be successful right away. We have a nice little buildup to get them to where they need to be. And expansion is coming up, so we don't to get caught short if we lose players."
FC Dallas stocked up on youth with electrifying midfielder Brek O'Shea (No. 2) , keeper Josh Lambo (No. 8) in the first round, and tricky ballhandler Eric Avila (No. 19). Their combined ages are 54, with O'Shea and Lambo yet to turn 18.
"It's always a case of seeing how these guys do when they first come in, how quickly they settle," says head coach Steve Morrow. "I'm all for playing young guys, I don't care how young they are or how old they are, if they're ready, they start. We wanted to get a good young goalkeeper for the future and [Josh] is the best around.
"Maybe Brek opened some eyes at the combine but we already had him very high on our list. He's knows the game very well, he's very technical and good in tight situations. He's able to see things and is a good passer. We've got one on each side as well. It gives balance. Bret is obviously more left-footed is more right-footed."
Arturo Alvarez, whose streaky midfield play on the flanks moved him in and out of the starting lineup, just signed a new contract but Morrow admitted his days at Dallas might be numbered. "He's very ambitious and there's every chance he'll be moving on at some stage, so we're covering ourselves for the future."
Chicago addressed its attacking needs with Nyarko and hedged on the status of keeper Matt Pickens, who is out of contract and on trial at English club Norwich City, by taking Tulsa keeper Dominic Cervi, whose impressive play at the combine moved him up the ladder.
Nyarko will finish school before reporting to the Fire, so he won't be counted on to solve the team's goalscoring woes right away. Mike Jeffries, the Duke associate coach passed over in favor of former U.S. international John Kerr Jr. as the new Duke head coach and recently hired as a Fire assistant coach, helped move head coach Denis Hamlett in Nyarko's direction.
"They've played Virginia Tech over the years and Nyarko definitely brings some qualities," says Hamlett. "His passing, his ability to see things we noticed at the combine, so we think he's the complete package. It's going to take some time as far as making the adjustment.
"We were excited he was able to fall that far. He didn't play the one day at the combine and got better the last two days. As far as we were concerned, he was the No. 1 forward available and it's no secret we need to improve on our attacking end.
Toronto, stacked back-to-back with the ninth and 10th picks, grabbed James, out of Connecticut, and also took Pat Phelan (Wake Forest), who might be tested both in midfield and at the back. Several MLS coaches believe that of the many highly related defenders available in the draft James might be the one most ready to step right into a starter's spot.
After picking two defensive players (Beltran and Horst) in the first round, Kreis took foamer Nimo. A year ago, Kreis was a player learning the coaching ropes by breaking down video for head coach John Ellinger. He looked tired yet pleased after his first SuperDraft as the man in charge.
"There was maybe one other area we had hoped to take care of but I think we did very well here today," said Kreis. "We felt really fortunate to get Alex. I really felt he would go [earlier]. We looked at list of wide defenders and we rated Chance really high. There's no doubt he can play in the league and play for a long time.
"With the central defenders, all of them are a little bit different. Horst and [Eric] Brunner are tall guys, Horst is a little bit thicker than Brunner and maybe James is the most ready to play come opening day, but we ended up making that selection and upside, and we think David Horst has a huge, huge ceiling."
Brunner, another of the highly rated central defenders, didn't go in the first round. Red Bull New York used its first pick to take him at No. 16, after expansion San Jose got midfielder Sean Salinas of Furman.
"I think he was one of the stronger defenders," said Red Bull sporting director Jeff Agoos, a rather renowned defender in his playing days, said of Brunner "We rated him right up there with [the top] guys. To have him around and have him available, especially with having a need at that position, I think it was ideal for us to be able to select him."
SINGLE SLOTS. Four teams had just one pick in the first round: Los Angeles, Colorado, Columbus and New England.
Prior to using the fourth overall pick came word the Galaxy had traded right back Chris Albright to New England for allocation money, and it quickly filled the hole with Franklin, whose pace has attracted the eyes of MLS coaches. Frankin is probably isn't quite ready to step straight into the starting lineup, so veteran Chris Klein may keep that position.
The arrival of striker Carlos Ruiz, traded from Dallas for allocation money, prompted the trade of Albright to recoup badly needed cash. The Galaxy team that has struggled the past two seasons doesn't have a lot of assets.
"[Albright] is a winner and he will continue to have success in New England," said president and GM Alexi Lalas, who along with Paul Bravo made the Galaxy's selection in the absence of head coach Ruud Gullit, who is using the next few weeks to move his family to the U.S. from Europe. "It's not something that we wanted to do, it's not something that we necessarily planned to do, but we needed to make salary-cap room. We're not going to replace Chris Albright, he's one of the best right backs in the league. We needed to amass some allocation money."
Colorado head coach Fernando Clavijo wore a hangdog look after the draft. He wanted Myers or Shea and couldn't believe they were long gone as the first two picks before his slot at No. 5. He tried to trade for picks and held discussions with Kansas City to take the first one, but no deal materialized.
With no more picks until the third round (No. 36), Clavijo took talented midfielder Ciaran O'Brien, the first UCSB Gaucho taken at No. 5. "The two guys I thought could make the starting lineup, they were gone too quick," says Clavijo. "That changed the whole outlook of how everything developed.
"We have a very young player in a position we are weak, on the left side, that we need to address, but after that there are some talented projects, but we need more than projects to change the direction we are going."
Nobody took a central defender in the first five picks, so Crew head coach Sigi Schmid had his choice. He took Andy Iro, a native of Liverpool and star of the UCSB team that won the 2006 NCAA championship. Before taking his first MLS job with the Galaxy, Schmid coached at UCLA and maintains extensive contacts in Southern California.
"We really had Andy and Julius James at the top of our lists," said Schmid. "Andy has more size (6-foot-5) and is left-footed, which means he can play with Chad [Marshall] or Danny O'Rourke and be comfortable. The last thing was he's more outgoing on the field and talks and organizes a little bit more. I'd seen him play a lot in college, so there were a lot of good things we were able to check on."
New England had to check into the past on San Francisco's Rob Valentino, since he tore his knee and missed the entire season. Because he still has a year of eligibility left, MLS could sign Valentino to a Generation Adidas contract even though he's a senior. While possessing the size and ruggedness teams look for, he's also a good passer out of the back. His absence deprived the Dons of an important weapon this season.
"He's a no-nonsense guy, an honest, hard-working defender," says New England director of soccer Mike Burns. "He has a soccer brain and any time we're able to get a Generation Adidas player it's a bonus."
By acquiring Albright, primarily a right back the past few years after starting his pro career as a forward and later playing midfield, might the Revs be pondering a change in formation from the 3-5-2 it has used in past seasons with Michael Parkhurst in the middle?
"[Coach] Steve [Nicol] will adjust and adapt our personnel to what he thinks gives us the best chance of winning," says Burns. "Whether that's three or four in the back remains to be seen."
Which teams solved their problems, or at least some of them, also remains to be seen.
Next up is the Supplemental Draft Jan. 24, with several teams opening preseason training a few days later.