[MLS SUPERDRAFT] League officials have contracted the MLS SuperDraft yet again, and each year they tweak and revamp their player-acquisition mechanisms to provide teams alternatives to the annual beauty pageant, but for the next two and a half days it will take center stage. As the eighth expansion team added by MLS in the past eight years, Montreal and its head coach, Jesse Marsch, are in the spotlight with the No. 1 pick. Whether the pick is used, as Marsch has insisted will be the case, or traded away it draws an obscene amount of attention as compared to its importance. But in America, land of player drafts, all the league can do is go with the flow and promote its Player Combine as well as the SuperDraft as an essential element in its operations.
With discoveries and allocations and other mechanisms available to stock rosters, rating a team on one pick – or even one draft – can be ludicrous. Yet for expansion teams a good draft can set a newbie on the right path and give its fans some sense of confidence in its competence. Or not.
It’s easy to dump on a team a year after the fact, but either the Vancouver Whitecaps were terribly overconfident heading into their expansion season of 2011, or a few players turned out to be much worse than expected. But that’s how it works in MLS, and thus taking Omar Salgado – at the time just 17 years old and completely unproven at the pro level— isn’t all that asinine. In two or three years, that pick can be properly evaluated.
Still, by winning just five of 34 games with a teenager in tow, Vancouver in some ways emulated one of its expansion predecessors: Real Salt Lake, which took Nik Besagno (age 16) with the No. 1 pick in 2005. He played just eight MLS games in three seasons; in its expansion year, RSL also won just five games.
The other 2005 expansion team, Chivas USA, won just four games that season. But it set itself up for subsequent success by using its first pick, the No. 2 overall selection, on goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Contrast the Besagno selection with these recent No. 1 picks: Maurice Edu (Toronto FC, 2007); Steve Zakuani (Seattle, 2009) and Danny Mwanga (Philadelphia, 2010).
The SuperDraft has been cut down to two rounds for 2012, and so most teams will have a meager number of picks. It’s conceivable a team could come away without making a selection and Vancouver, which has the second pick behind Montreal, is facing a more crucial decision of whether to use it or trade it.
Had the 2011 SuperDraft been a weak one and/or expansion neighbor Portland struggled as well, the ‘Caps could have deflected some of the criticism. But no: a half-dozen first-rounders jumped right into starting lineups and the Timbers held tough in the playoff race until the final few weeks.
Developing a young player for the future is all well and good, but then and now, wouldn’t the ‘Caps look better with a C.J. Sapong or Darlington Nagbe (Portland’s pick at No. 2 overall) as one of their forwards, or Perry Kitchen – just 19 months older than Salgado and also a Generation adidas player – or Rich Balchan shoring up another area of the field?
On paper, the Impact has already assembled a pretty good team, so what it does in the SuperDraft probably isn’t critical to how it will fare once the regular-season commences in March. Veterans Davy Arnaud, Bobby Burling, Brian Ching, Justin Mapp, Donovan Ricketts, Nelson Rivas and Tyson Wahl lend a solid foundation of experience, and there’s enough talent in this draft that it will be nearly impossible for Montreal and other teams with early picks not to accumulate considerable talent.
Vancouver fans, mindful that their team is already on its third head coach (Martin Rennie) are probably more anxious about the SuperDraft than are their counterparts in Montreal. That painful first season still stings their memories and they won’t have long to wait for a direct comparison of where their team might be headed.
About two months after the SuperDraft, Vancouver opens its second season – against the Impact, which includes on its roster Jeb Brovsky, exposed by the ‘Caps in the Expansion Draft last November. A year ago, Vancouver used its second-round pick to get Brovsky, and though he played 24 games compared to just 14 for Salgado, he wasn’t automatically protected from the Expansion Draft as a Generation adidas player. The first MLS meeting of Canadian and former USL rivals could be a stage for Brovsky to make a personal statement as well.
Following Vancouver’s selection of Salgado last year, Portland used the No. 2 pick on Nagbe, who scored only two goals as a rookie yet is regarded as among the league’s most exciting young players. Four years ago, FC Dallas used the No. 2 pick on Brek Shea. The year before Chivas USA selected Guzan, Columbus took Chad Marshall.
The ‘Caps can’t atone for 2011 via one pick, or one draft. But what they do Thursday can steer them toward where they will go in 2012.