By Jeff Kassouf
It is that time again. The time when coaches and general managers across Major League Soccer will be desperately preparing to add quality and depth to their rosters at Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft.
Teams with early draft choices will be looking to find a superstar who can step in immediately to fill a void. Teams such as FC Dallas, Los Angeles, and Toronto FC, in particular, will hope to find a fresh face to bring about winning ways after struggling in 2008.
Seattle holds the first pick, and unless it is traded away in an attempt to add more quantity than quality, the Sounders will have a tough decision to make. Number one overall picks have not always been sure-fire successes.
Sure, the great Brian McBride became Major League Soccer’s first player in 1996 when the Columbus Crew drafted him. Maurice Edu, the future of the United States National Team midfield, was taken number No.1 overall by Toronto FC in 2007, joining the likes of McBride, Freddy Adu, and Alecko Eskandarian as top selections.
However, just as in any sport, there have been several high draft picks that have turned out to be complete flops, including former No. 1 overall picks. In 1997, the Colorado Rapids selected Tahj Jakins with the first overall pick. Jakins lasted three seasons before being waived and was picked up by Kansas City in 2000 where he made minimal appearances. By 2001, he was out of the league.
There is also the case of the 2000 MLS SuperDraft, when the MetroStars drafted Steve Shak with the top pick, passing on talent such as Nick Garcia, Carlos Bocanegra and Bobby Convey. Shak lasted just three seasons in Major League Soccer before moving down to play in the USL. He currently plays with the Charlotte Eagles of USL-2.
All of which leads to the ‘What if?’ question that haunts so many teams that waste high draft picks. What would have happened to various franchises if something went differently and they found themselves drafting a different player?
Would the MetroStars (now Red Bulls) be sitting here today with championships in hand if they had drafted Bocanegra or Convey, both national team players? Or what if FC Dallas didn’t take Chris Gbandi first in the 2002 draft, allowing New England to take Taylor Twellman at No. 2 and Shalrie Joseph at No. 14?
Certainly, a few teams will be left wondering something similar after this year’s draft, and others will be quite happy with their late-round bargains. The poster child of late round draft picks always seems to be Red Bulls defender Jeff Parke, who wears number 60 to signify New York picking him 60th in the 2004 draft, which happened to be the last draft selection.
There have been even more notable draft selections that many teams passed on and have turned out to be solid Major League Soccer players. Perhaps, Parke was not even the best “bargain” draftee in 2004. The New England Revolution selected Andy Dorman, who is now playing Scotland after four solid years in MLS, with the 58th overall selection.
The Kansas City Wizards were no strangers to bargains in the early part of the decade having scooped up Davy Arnaud 50th overall in 2002 and then Jack Jewsbury, the talented outside back who is now getting looks from Bob Bradley, with the 43rd selection in 2003.
More recently, Chivas USA added Jonathan Bornstein with the 37th pick in the 2006 draft, the same year that the team drafted Sacha Kljestan. Adam Cristman burst onto the scene for New England after being drafted 48th in 2007, and Brandon McDonald had a promising rookie campaign with Los Angeles last year as the 46th draft pick in 2008.
The 2009 MLS SuperDraft should prove to be no different. There is a lot of talk surrounding the well-known names such as Maryland’s big defender Omar Gonzalez, teammate Rodney Wallace, Indiana’s Kevin Alston and Akron’s Steve Zakuani, but don’t expect just these names to make impacts in the coming years, or even months.
Expect some of these late-round guys from smaller schools to burst onto the scene, surely creating feel-good stories and making their teams look smart for drafting them.
Steward Ceus is an All-American goalkeeper out of the University of Albany, the same school that produced Rapids’ goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul. Graciano Brito scored 18 goals for Quinnipiac University last year, but can he make it happen at the professional level? Or maybe even a guy who comes from a solid program like Wes Knight out of the College of Charleston or Creighton’s Andrei Gotsmanov could make an impact in Major League Soccer.
Could this years draft produce a true Cinderella story, like Ross Schunk – the only Division III player at the MLS Combine – making an MLS roster? Only time will tell, but it is certain someone unexpected will be making a splash.
The SuperDraft is Thursday Jan 15 at 2pm on ESPN2 live from St. Louis.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org