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Where are the rookies?
by Paul Kennedy, April 15th, 2008 10:12AM
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[MLS] Major League Soccer isn't like American leagues such as the NFL and NBA, which have ready-made stars emerge from their drafts each year.

The lack of young impact players is the most glaring weakness of American soccer, leaving MLS clubs to struggle to make use of the annual player draft.

For evidence, one needs to look no further than the first round of the MLS SuperDraft. To date, eight of the 14 players taken in the first round of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft have yet to play while three other players have played a combined 27 minutes.

The only first-round picks to have started so far are Kansas City's Chance Myers (No. 1 pick) and Roger Espinoza (No. 11) -- who have made one start apiece -- and Sean Franklin (No. 4), who has started the last two games for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Indeed, the Wizards and Galaxy are the only teams to make big use of the 2008 SuperDraft.

Kansas City's Jonathan Feathers (No. 25 pick) leads all players with 270 minutes of action.

The Galaxy, starved for talent to play alongside DPs David Beckham and Landon Donovan, have started three rookies the last two weeks -- Ely Allen, taken with the No. 21 pick, Brendon McDonald, taken at No. 46, and Franklin.

Allen and McDonald rank second and third among all SuperDraft picks with 225 minutes and 212 minutes of action, respectively, after three weeks.

New York midfielder Luke Sassano (No. 32 pick) is the only rookie to have played every minute for his new team.

The only goal from a player taken in the SuperDraft has come from Houston's Geoff Cameron, taken with the No. 42 pick.

It is too early to tell whether this will go down as one of the weakest first-year classes in MLS history, but it is clear that it is harder for rookies to break into MLS.

Playing time for first-round draft picks was also slim in 2006 and 2007: less than half of them (12 of 25) played in the first three weeks of their rookie seasons.

MLS's increasing reliance on foreign players is a major factor.

In this past weekend's seven games, 33 percent of the starters were imports -- foreigners who come to the United States or Canada to play in MLS or college. In the comparable weekend five years ago, the percentage of import starters was only 15 percent.

2008 MLS SuperDraft, Round 1
1 Kansas City-Chance Myers (UCLA) 135 minutes

2 FC Dallas-Brek Shea (U-17 National Team) 0 minutes
3 Real Salt Lake-Anthony Beltran (UCLA) 7 minutes
4 Los Angeles-Sean Franklin (Cal State Northridge) 180 minutes
5 Colorado-Ciaran O'Brien (UC Santa Barbara) 19 minutes
6 Columbus-Andy Iro (UC Santa Barbara) 1 minute
7 Chicago-Patrick Nyarko (Virginia Tech) 0 minutes
8 FC Dallas-Josh Lambo (U-17 National Team) 0 minutes
9 Toronto FC-Julius James (Connecticut) 0 minutes
10 Toronto FC-Pat Phelan (Wake Forest) 0 minutes
11 Kansas City-Roger Espinoza (Ohio State) 110 minutes
12 Chicago-Dominic Cervi (Tulsa) 0 minutes
13 New England-Rob Valentino (San Francisco) 0 minutes
14 Real Salt Lake-David Horst (Old Dominion) 0 minutes
(Action through April 13.)

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