Talent is in the eye of draft pick holder

With the top selection in hand, MetroStars hope ZambranoÆs knack for scouting brings better fortune Octavio Zambrano is thrilled to have the first pick in FebruaryÆs MLS ôSuperdraft,ö but he knows one pick alone does not stack his hand as he begins the task of rebuilding the leagueÆs most maligned franchise. The MetroStarsÆ coach said the biggest drawback to his teamÆs draft holdings this year is that after that first pick, they wonÆt select again until the fourth round. It is unlikely that a player capable of starting this season will be available by that 37th overall pick. Furthermore, Zambrano does not believe that there is an obvious candidate for the No. 1 pick in the draft. ôHaving the No. 1 pick can be a tremendous advantage when there is one player who is clearly a cut above the rest,ö Zambrano said. ôBut this year there are several very good players available.ö That depth of talent reduces the chances that MetroStars general manager Nick Sakiewicz will be able to deal the pick away. Zambrano said the only way he would part with the top slot is if he believes he can get two starters in return. Obviously, after finishing with the worst single-season record in league history, the MetroStarsÆ needs are manifold, but Zambrano said his priorities are defenders and a goalscorer. He mentioned Project-40 signee Danny Califf of Maryland and UCLAÆs duo of Steve Shak and Carlos Bocanegra among the top backs available and said IndianaÆs Aleksey Korol was the top striker he saw in college. An A-League player is also a possibility, but Zambrano does not want to waste an opportunity to help the teamÆs future. ôOne thing this team needs is an influx of young American talent that can build up the foundation of the team,ö Zambrano said. ôIf we zero in only on older players, we may have one or two good years, but then weÆll be back where we started.ö Zambrano has a reputation for being able to spot professional potential. ôYou have to do your homework,ö Zambrano said. ôOur scouting budget is not huge, for sure, so as a coach you have to get out there and see players. The big college tournaments, you have to attend those games. You also have to see games at the youth level and check the Division II, NAIA and Division III ù where they are not as much in the forefront, but they nonetheless produce some good players.ö Zambrano found forward Marvin Quijano, the GalaxyÆs Project-40 addition last season, at Rio Hondo Community College. Seeing every quality college player is impossible, so Zambrano relies heavily on college coaches to provide information and sometimes game film. Zambrano also collects newspaper clippings about college players, but doesnÆt read them until near the end of the season to get an overview.

An eye for talent

Despite all the necessary hard work, however, Zambrano admits there is an element to scouting he cannot fully explain. ôI believe there are certain people who have an eye for talent,ö Zambrano said. ôWithout sounding arrogant, IÆm thankful that I have that ability. Not everybody has it, but IÆm not the only one that has it. I can, in a short period of time, look at a player and find subtleties that tell me he can become a bona fide player.ö Some clues that a player may make a good pro are ôwhen he can react in tight spaces and when the pressure is on him, when he has the chance to make a decision, he always chooses the right option and when you see a player who wants to make himself noticed,ö according to Zambrano. The length of time Zambrano needs to identify these characteristics varies widely. ôI donÆt think there is a set formula,ö Zambrano said. ôSometimes you look at a player one time and you just know. Other times youÆre not sure and you need to look at him a few more times. Sometimes you go to look at a particular player and end up interested in somebody else. It is different in every case.ö The MetroStars have to hope ZambranoÆs eye for talent can improve their draft success. The team drafted 20 players in the college and supplemental drafts during the leagueÆs first three seasons. Of them, seven are still active. All 20 totaled 464 MLS games played (327 starts). In contrast, the 19 players chosen in those same drafts by the L.A. Galaxy, while Zambrano was assistant coach and head coach, totaled 775 MLS games (636 starts) and 11 of them are still active. The MetroStars recently held two invitation-only tryouts for New York-area players who may have bypassed the conventional system. Zambrano saw about 60 players in a two-day span and found two he hopes will be the teamÆs ôdiscoveryö players. ôThere is another Carlos Llamosa out there, so it would be a shame if I donÆt go out and search for him,ö Zambrano said. ôEven if I donÆt find him, I cannot take the risk of not searching.ö

Octavio Zambrano served as assistant coach and head coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy before landing at the MetroStars, who will need him to improve their record in the draft.

by Soccer America associate editor Will Kuhns
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