[MLS SPOTLIGHT]Is it time to write off the MLS SuperDraft? Indeed, more and more teams are signing academy products to homegrown academies and they continue to load up on foreign players -- eight international slots per team, plus an unlimited number of players holding green cards. But for good and bad, MLS clubs need to take the draft seriously. For a look at the dynamics of the draft and who the top 2014 picks are.
2014 SuperDraft:Updated Order
This year's crop is considered one of the weakest in recent years with one bona fide star in the making (UConn keeper Andre Blake) and a ton of center-back prospects (notably Cal defenders Steve Birnbaum and Christian Dean) and not much else.
2013 CONTRIBUTORS.But last year's SuperDraft produced four players good enough to rank in the top 10 in their positions in the annual Soccer America positional rankings: Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers, Colorado Rapids teammate Deshorn Brown, No. 1 pick Andrew Farrell (New England), No. 2 Carlos Alvarez (Chivas USA).
When you add HG players Scott Caldwell, Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes, that totals seven first-year collegians who made the top 10 positional rankings -- the same as the number of imports who made the SA rankings in their first year in the league. (The 15th first-year player in the positional rankings was Colorado keeper Clint Irwin, who played in USL PRO in 2012.)
U.S. National Team:SuperDraft by the numbers
WHAT THEY MAKE? The dirty little secret about SuperDraft players is that they cost nothing against the salary (in the case of Generation adidas players, termed "off-budget" players) or sign at low salaries (in the case of players taken in the lower rounds of the draft).
In recent years, GA signings have signed for upward of $200,000 in Year 1 -- or a shade more in the case ofDarlington Nagbe and Danny Mwanga -- but their salaries don't count against the salary cap until they "graduate" and become "salary budget players."
Kofi Ofare(LA Galaxy) and Devon Sandoval (Real Salt Lake) were the two second-round picks in the 2013 SuperDraft to start for their teams in the playoffs, but they both made only $35,125 in guaranteed compensation in 2013.
WHO'S GOT THE PICKS?D.C. United holds the No. 1 pick in the 2014 SuperDraft, but it is not clear whether it will keep the pick or trade it away as the last three non-expansion teams have done (Toronto FC in 2013, Chivas USA in 2006 and Dallas in 2004).
Philadelphia and Vancouver at 2-3 each has two of the first seven picks, and New England, drafting at No. 4, has three first-round picks, making them well placed to deal if they want to.
WHO ARE TOP PICKS? Blake, already called up to the Jamaican national team, is the best prospect in the draft, while Birnbaum is considered the player likely to contribute immediately.
This year's draft is top heavy on center backs with Birnbaum, his Golden Bear teammate, Dean, and New Mexico's Kyle Venter, all considered possible top five picks. A.J. Cochran (Wisconsin), Damion Lowe (Hartford), Kevin Cope (Michigan State) and Grant Van De Casteele (Notre Dame) are other CBs who could also go high in the first round.
Maryland striker Patrick Mullins, the two-time Hermann Trophy winner, is the big name in the draft and comes from a program that has produced many national team players in recent years.
Dean, Cochran and Lowe are among the seven players who signed 2014 GA contracts. The 2013 draft was an anomaly with only two GAs picked in the first five picks. In the previous four drafts, 15 of the first 20 picks were GAs.
2014 Mock Drafts:
Soccer by Ives:V3
WHO'S MISSING?Canadian Cyle Larin, a freshman at UConn, and German Leo Stolz, a junior at UCLA, did not sign GA contracts. Larin would have probably gone with one of the top three picks.
The 2014 class of homegrown collegians includes Harrison Shipp (Chicago), a senior at Indiana, and Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake), a freshman at Virginia, who both rank among this year's top collegians entering MLS.
Duke's Sebastien Ibeagha -- another center back -- reportedly turned down a HG contract with Houston and is pursuing opportunities in Europe. He would rank among the top three or four seniors coming out of college.