Chivas USA coach Preki, to cite just one example, perplexed many of the "experts" attending the 2009 SuperDraft at the St. Louis Convention Center Thursday by passing on California goalkeeper Stefan Frei, whose Generation adidas status and exceptional college career triggered comparisons to 2005 Chivas USA rookie keeper Brad Guzan, now a U.S. national team player employed by English Premier League club Aston Villa.
Preki, though, realizes midfield is the heart of any team, and took Michael Lahoud with the No. 8 pick. Lahoud, one of six Wake Forest players selected, can play on either side of midfield, both of which could be rather bare quite soon.
Left mid Francisco Mendoza has returned to the parent club, Guadalajara, after playing all four of Chivas USA's seasons on loan. Sacha Kljestan, mostly a right mid during his three pro seasons, has gone on trial with Scottish club Glasgow Celtic and though a transfer isn't ordained, it's by no means out of the question.
Several other teams seemingly in need of a keeper passed on Frei, who finally went to Toronto - with TFC's third first-round pick - at No. 13. Guzan being one of the very few exceptions, rookie goalies need time to shine in MLS. Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena, in dire need of solid goalkeeping, acquired Jamaican keeper Donovan Ricketts prior to the SuperDraft.
Ricketts isn't a world-beater, and Caribbean keepers - like Americans and their counterparts in many parts of the world -- can be notoriously erratic, but he's got a lot of professional and national-team experience. Arena also shoved left back/midfielder Ante Jazic down the Home Depot Center corridors to Chivas USA, and obtained tigerish midfielder Dema Kovalenko from Real Salt Lake.
Ergo, draft picks can't be evaluated in isolation. They are usually intertwined in some scheme, be it grand or groundless. Still, that's what we do here.
Here's a quick rundown of SuperDraft 2009, by team, divided into categories, none of them absolute, with emphasis on the higher picks.
DID WELL. Come the opening of training camp at the end of the month, all eyes will be on the first-round picks: tenacious defender Kevin Alston, and a typical Revs' mystery pick, Tampa midfielder Ryan Maxwell, who'd been projected to go lower yet was by no means an unknown.
New England led all teams with seven picks and Alston, a product of Indiana University, will get at least a crack at replacing Michael Parkhurst, whom he resembles somewhat in stature. Andrei Gotsmanov (Creighton) at No. 24 was followed immediately by Dado Hamzagic (Saint Louis); both are midfielders with a few questions but much quality.
To speed the rebuilding of Los Angeles, Arena took a pair of Terrapins in the first and second rounds to strengthen his flimsy defensive core: 6-foot-4 Omar Gonzalez, another GA jewel, and defender/midfielder A.J. Delagarza, respectively. It ain't saying much, but L.A. looks better already.
Dallas used its No. 5 and No. 14 picks shrewdly, nicking tricky forward Peri Marosevic (Michigan) and rugged yet refined defender George John (Washington), respectively. Both are capable of considerable contributions under the tutelage of Schellas Hyndman. Forward Brian Shriver (North Carolina) helped the Tar Heels reach the final four in 2008 and is a real steal at No. 27.
New York coach Juan Carlos Osorio is renowned for his international-market savvy, yet midfielder Jeremy Hall (Maryland) at No. 11 comes highly acclaimed. Defender Babajide Ogunbiyi (Santa Clara), at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, can be as tough to escape as his name is to pronounce. Defender Jack Traynor (Notre Dame) is yet another good player from an excellent program.
DID OK. With two of the first four picks, Toronto could hardly have gone wrong, yet it took a bit of a risk on the injured knee of Connecticut forward O'Brien White at No. 4, and despite the presence of Greg Sutton and Brian Edwards on its roster used the No. 13 pick on Frei.
These picks will need evaluation at midseason. By then, White should have recovered and played a few competitive games, and perhaps Frei is elsewhere, swapped for allocation money, of which TFC is already flush, yet in this league, you can never have enough, since like milk and players, the shelf life is limited.
No quibble with Sam Cronin at No. 2, a very solid midfielder and yet another Demon Deacon who can - as did Maurice Edu before him - learn quickly alongside veteran Carl Robinson, not to mention Dwayne De Rosario, the veteran playmaker acquired from Houston.
Back-to-back slots in the middle of the first round netted midfielder Rodney Wallace (Maryland) and forward Chris Pontius (UC Santa Barbara) for D.C. United. Both are very promising players, but if by season's end neither is starting and United hasn't solved its woes, the vote will be thumbs-down. D.C. needs horses, not yearlings.
The second-round picks -- goalkeeper Milos Kocic and defender Lyle Adams (Wake Forest) - have more than a fair chance to stick, given all the issues D.C. must resolve.
Seattle taking forward Steve Zakuani (Akron) at No. 1 had been expected. The former Arsenal youth player scored 26 goals in 44 games during two college seasons, yet his reputation in England was clouded somewhat by a tendency to shy away from harsh treatment. Defenders Evan Brown (Wake Forest) and Jared Karkas (Azusa Pacific) harken from radically disparate backgrounds, yet for the expansion team, nothing is set in the back line.
Notre Dame defender Matt Besler, the No. 8 overall pick, is a candidate to start soon for Kansas City, yet the departures of foreigners Ivan Trujillo and Carlos Marinelli open up opportunities for forward Doug DeMartin (Michigan State) and midfielder Graham Zusi (Maryland). Keeper Neal Kitson (St. John's) has more than a puncher's chance of landing a roster spot.
DIDN'T DO MUCH. San Jose has some questions up top, with Scott Sealy still pondering overseas options - in Turkey and Israel, at last report - and so used one of its two picks on Quincy Amarikwa, a powerful presence from UC Davis. Midfielder Brad Ring (Indiana) went at No. 17 and is rated highly enough to mark this move as a good one.
Chicago traded up (with Colorado) to take local midfielder Baggio Husidic (University of Illinois-Chicago) with the No. 20 pick. His skill is off the charts and on a good team, he'll have time to settle in, as will a very promising defender, David Sias (UC Irvine), the No. 43 pick overall.
Not many needs for the defending champion, so Columbus - with no first round pick - opted for defender Paul Gerstenberger (Boston College) at No. 30 and forward Alex Grendi (Pennsylvania) at No. 45.
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear hardly needed to show up but he did and grabbed the last GA player available, midfielder Danny Cruz (UNLV), at No. 41. He can do well in the Dynamo system and at least should be acclimated - somewhat - to the heat.
Colorado traded its only pick in the first two rounds (No. 20) to get the rights for ex-Fire keeper Matt Pickens, and took 6-foot-6 goalie Steward Ceus (Albany) at No. 37. Obviously, incumbent keeper Bouna Coundoul's insistence on a much better contract has not borne ripe fruit. Three fourth-round picks rounded out the first Rapids' draft for head coach Gary Smith.
DID WHAT? After getting Lahoud, Chivas USA didn't have another pick until the third round, because it traded away its second-round pick (No. 19 overall) to the Galaxy for the slot used on Delagarza to get Jazic from the Galaxy. Both he and Jonathan Bornstein can play either in the back or midfielder on the left side to fill the hole(s) left by Mendoza's departure.
In the last two rounds it chose midfielder Kyle Christensen (University of Denver) and Jamie Franks (Wake Forest).
Real Salt Lake pulled the most stunning surprise of the first round: midfielder Jean Alexandre (Lynn University) at No. 12. Yet surely RSL coach Jason Kreis knows his attackers, and this kid is certainly that.