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Major League Soccer

Draft Recap: Does Anybody Really Know Anything?

Thirty-eight Major League Soccer hopefuls heard their names called in Philadelphia yesterday, but will any of them make an impact in the league? Brooke Tunstall gives his take.
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
January 17, 2014
11:42 AM
SO ANOTHER MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER SuperDraft has come and gone and this is where scribes who follow the league are supposed to talk about winners and losers and who got a steal and who went too high and all that other stuff pundits say to try and sound extra pundit-y.

The reality is we don’t know squadoosh about who did well and who didn’t in the first two rounds of Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft. Sure, we have ideas about who may have done better, educated guesses about who went too high and who didn’t, but the ultimate arbiter is time.

Consider that two years ago folks raved about Real Salt Lake’s draft after Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey swallowed their Dukie pride and drafted Enzo Martinez, a skilled-but-diminutive playmaker from their alma mater’s arch rival, the University of North Carolina. The chorus chimed in unison: “A perfect fit for RSL’s possession-style game”; and “The rich get richer”; and “They must be thrilled he fell to them this late in the first round.”

Fast forward two years and you will note that Martinez was recently released by RSL without playing a single minute in MLS. He just signed with the second division Carolina Railhawks. So much for RSL being a draft “winner” with that pick.

(Full disclosure: Like Martinez, I used to live just outside Charlotte and have followed his career since he was in the ninth grade. Based on what I saw of him at UNC I thought that, while his size would be an issue, his skill really would allow him to do well in MLS, particularly at a team like Salt Lake. So keep in mind that I basically have no idea what I’m talking about—which makes me a perfect pundit.)

Which brings us to this year. The early conjecture among American soccer’s chattering class is that Philadelphia did very well by moving up to grab Connecticut’s Jamaican goalkeeper, Andre Blake, with the top pick. Some folks are even speculating that fairly soon Blake will beat out Union incumbent Zac MacMath for the starting spot.

Clearly John Hackworth didn’t move up to the top spot to draft someone they plan on spending a lot of time on the bench. But it seems premature, at best, to suggest he’ll be better than MacMath, who is actually younger than Blake by almost 10 months, and has the benefit of three years of pro experience. MacMath started his career in MLS before Blake matriculated to the University of Connecticut. That experience should not be ignored.

Nor should it be ignored that Blake is one of the oldest players available in the draft this year. When you’re two-to-three years older than the rest of the college competition, it’s a lot easier to appear more pro-ready. This isn’t to suggest Blake won’t be a good professional goalkeeper. He has all the tools that suggest he will be just that, but let’s allow him to earn it before we anoint him the next great MLS goalkeeper. Or even a starter.

As for the draft as a whole, one point that was made glaringly clear is that it’s a lot easier for defensive players to make the jump from the college ranks than attackers. Of the 19 first round picks, 15 were defenders, goalkeepers, or defensive midfielders.

“In talking with a lot of MLS coaches, I think more and more there are questions about whether goal-scoring at the collegiate level will translate to the MLS level,” Saint Louis University head coach and former D.C. United goalkeeper Mike McGinty told American Soccer Now the day before the draft.

How prescient he was, as national scoring champion and two-time Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins of Maryland slid all the way to the 11th pick before the Revolution rolled the dice.

The lack of attackers in the draft is reflective of last year’s MLS scoring production: of the 25 players who scored nine or more regular season goals in 2013, only six played college soccer. And only two such players—take a bow, Ryan Johnson and Chris Wondolowski—played four seasons of college soccer. Clearly, MLS teams aren’t looking to the draft for scoring like they once did when the likes of Jeff Cunningham, Clint Mathis ,and Brian Ching came out of college after four seasons.

Wondolowski played his college soccer at Division II Chico State, and it was another Division II player that caused the biggest collective raising of eyebrows Thursday when new Dallas coach Oscar Pareja used the sixth overall pick on Tesho Akindele from mighty Colorado School of Mines. (For a brief time Thursday afternoon both Akindele and his school were trending on Twitter.)

Akindele put up video game-like numbers at CSM—76 goals and 35 assists in 79 games while majoring in electrical engineering—and as ESPN’s Alexi Lalas sagely pointed out during the draft, he was playing right under Pareja’s nose the past two seasons when he was running the Rapids. Clearly this is someone with whom Pareja is familiar and not just a Combine crush.

Still, selecting a D-II player so high, particularly when Pareja just took the reins in Dallas, puts the coach out on a limb. And if Akindele turns out to be less like Wondolowski and more like the last D-II player to go in the top 10 (Fort Lewis’s John Cunliffe—remember him?) Pareja will have squandered some of his new-coach grace period.

The draft will continue with its third and fourth rounds on January 21, and players hoping to get called should take solace in the careers of late picks like Davy Arnaud (50th overall in 2002), Jack Jewsbury (43rd in ‘03), Alan Gordon and Jeff Parke (53rd and 60th in ’04), and Dan Kennedy. Wondolowski, Dan Gargan, and Jeff Larentowicz all heard their names called significantly later in the 2005 draft—between picks 86 and 95.

There are still diamonds in the rough to be had in the latter rounds and finding them will have as much to do with who will ultimately be judged as this drafts winners and losers as anything that happened in the first two rounds Thursday.

Brooke Tunstall is a veteran journalist who has covered Major League Soccer since its first player dispersal draft. Follow him on Twitter.

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