[MLS] From the Eastern Conference, only Columbus and New York reached the playoffs last year, and both of those teams have lost one of league’s top players the past few seasons – Guillermo Barros Schelotto of the Crew and Juan Pablo Angel of the Red Bulls. Toronto FC and D.C. United have new coaches, and the Wizards have lost veterans Josh Wolff and Jimmy Conrad. Starting with D.C. United, which has the highest pick of the eight Eastern teams, here’s a rundown of what teams need heading into the SuperDraft ...
D.C. UNITED. Danny Allsopp is back in Australia, so the search for a reliable goalscorer resumes.
United picked up Josh Wolff in the Re-Entry Draft and Joseph Ngwenya in the Expansion Draft, and has retained Designated Player Branko Boskovic as its playmaker, though Santino Quaranta, Chris Pontius and Andy Najar can also supply chances. It needs a pure finisher, full stop. Latino heritage could steer it in that direction, be it one of the South Americans on display at the Combine or one culled from its own connections.
United has signed Uruguayan defender Rodrigo Brasesco, 24, on loan from Racing Club in his native country. General manager Dave Kasper says he can play centrally or at right back, which is where Jordan Graye – now with Houston – played much of last season. That slot is especially important for D.C. as it grooms and nurtures Najar, who played most of the time on the right flank.
Its options are many with the third pick, and United’s management believes its solid cast of returning young players and a healthy Pontius can greatly improve on last year. Yet D.C. needs a major player, be it by trade or with a high pick.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 3, 31.
PHILADELPHIA. The Union reportedly tried to sign Penn State forward Corey Herzog as a Homegrown Player, and who knows how many heads he turned by coming on as a sub on the second day of Combine play to score twice. He netted 38 goals in 44 games during his last two college seasons, so his prowess is established, yet the Union picked Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney in the first round last year. Can it go to that well again?
Poor defending and some soft play in central midfield plagued the Union for the first two-thirds of its inaugural season, so the team may be required to address those needs first. If Sebastien LeToux comes anywhere close to his remarkable 2010 season, a reliable defense and a solid performance by incoming goalkeeper Farid Mondragon can propel Philly into the playoffs.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 5, 23, 41.
NEW ENGLAND. The Revs fell out of the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade and truth be told, no aspect of the team’s play measured up last season. Several members of the back line regressed, the attack sputtered, and even Sharlie Joseph – who missed a month attending a substance rehab facility – didn’t match his usual standards. Re-Entry signing Ryan Cochrane is a capable defender but hasn’t started regularly the past two seasons, and New England’s other Re-Entry claim, midfielder Fred, left MLS for his native Brazil.
New England should get a valuable contributor with the sixth pick but so pressing are its needs it might also work a trade to move up from its next slot at No. 24. Poor decisions last year contributed to its demise. One of last year’s foreign signings – midfielder Joseph Niouky – turned into a bust and has moved on. Second-round pick Seth Sinovic struggled in the second half of the season.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 6, 24, 39, 42, 54.
CHICAGO. The departures of attacker Freddie Ljungberg, forward Brian McBride, and defenders C.J. Brown and Wilman Conde leave big gaps, and role players like Peter Lowry and John Thorrington aren’t that easy to acquire, either. It seems unlikely the Fire can pass up on a defender if one of the top performers in the draft is available, but Coach Carlos de los Cobos’ extensive connections south of the border could send Chicago in that direction as well.
Three of its four picks are clumped in the third round so there’s not a lot of trade leverage either in those picks or on what remains of the roster. A powerful striker who can combine with playmakers Baggio Husidic and Marco Pappa and complement the speed of Patrick Nyarko and Calen Carr would strengthen the attack.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 9, 45, 49, 51.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY. True, veterans and former U.S. internationals Josh Wolff and Jimmy Conrad have moved on, but both are well over 30 and the process to develop their replacements began last year. One of those, Aaron Hohlbein, took the Re-Entry Draft option and is also off the KC board heading into the SuperDraft.
With Mexican Designated Player Omar Bravo arriving, if the 4-3-3 formation is retained there are options with Kei Kamara, Ryan Smith and Davy Arnaud still on board. In the back, defender Matt Besler hit the wall and hasn’t progressed as expected, so a backliner might be SKC’s choice in the draft. Manager Peter Vermes would be happy with Jalil Anibaba, A.J. Soares or Zarek Valentin if they drop this far.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 10, 32, 46.
COLUMBUS. The MLS version of Extreme Makeover is barely underway, though Chilean right back Sebastian Miranda is the heir-apparent to Frankie Hedjuk. Re-Entry claims Aaron Hohlbein and Jeff Cunningham have yet to sign and there’s a huge hole in the middle where Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Brian Carroll once held sway. One of the South American draft candidates could restore some flair and establish connections with incumbent forward Emilio Renteria, who will carry more of the scoring load in the wake of Jason Garey’s move to Houston.
Coach Robert Warzycha will hear Bob Bradley-esque, anti-nepotism criticism if he picks his son, Konrad, yet the young Warzycha is a pretty good player. He knocked in a rebound on the first day of Combine play Saturday and hit the crossbar with a header from a corner kick on day two. (Question: Since his parents raised him near Columbus, shouldn’t he count as a Homegrown Player?).
SuperDraft picks: 12, 28, 48.
NEW YORK. English attacker Luke Rodgers has come aboard and negotiations regarding Norwegian midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli continue. They will mitigate somewhat the gaps left by the departures of Angel, Macoumba Kandji, Jeremy Hall, Luke Sassano and Seth Stammler, and allow New York to use its four picks – all but three in the first two rounds – to good effect.
The core of the team is solid enough with defenders Tim Ream and Chris Albright, and midfielders Rafael Marquez, Tony Tchani and Joel Lindpere, but the inexperience of young star Juan Agudelo will need seasoning, and Thierry Henry’s health is a concern. Any one of a half-dozen players could shore up these areas, no matter if other foreign additions are on the way. Despite the loss of Angel, with all the changes in Columbus the Red Bulls are the class of the East.
SuperDraft picks: 13, 25, 30, 38.
TORONTO FC. Coach Aron Winter has just come aboard, the fate of Dwayne De Rosario has yet to be resolved, and there’s no pick until the middle of the second round because TFC sent its first-round pick, No. 8 overall, to Vancouver in exchange for midfielder Nathan Sturgis. This team has more needs than it has picks. The MLS acumen of Paul Mariner can prove to be invaluable, but in this draft there’s not much for him to work with unless a higher pick is secured.
TFC is painfully short on tradable commodities, other than allocation money, should it choose to deal. Alabama-Birmingham defender Curtis Ushedo, a native of Ontario, is an obvious candidate, but a studly striker like C.J. Sapong makes sense, too. Scottish forward Ashley McInnes is one of those sleepers who might find the right fit north of the border.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 26, 43, 44.