MLS clubs will look to stock their rosters with young talent from the college ranks during the league’s January 17th SuperDraft. The draft will be held during the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention in Indianapolis. The new women’s soccer league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), will hold their inaugural draft the following day, also at the convention.
This year’s SuperDraft comes at a hectic time for the league, with several clubs making coaching changes in the run up to this talent dispersal, including Toronto FC. TFC just hired former DC United defender, and current Queens Park Ranger Ryan Nelsen, to take over the popular, but underachieving franchise.
Further complicating matters for Toronto, General manager Kevin Payne doesn’t know when Nelsen will be available to take charge; until he is top assistant Fran O’Leary will guide the team. TFC own the first and third selections in the draft, and Payne, the long time GM at DC United, and O’Leary, an experienced coach at several U.S. colleges, will handle the draft.
The SuperDraft is a bit more complicated than drafts held by the other professional leagues in the United States, with some elements unique to MLS. First off, the leagues single entity structure allows MLS to sign players early and to still include them in the draft. Highly touted underclassmen can be offered Generation adidas contracts, which don’t count against the salary cap. These deals are offered to encourage top prospects to play in MLS, rather than trying their luck overseas. This year’s class is smaller than it has been in recent years, at seven.
Andrew Farrell, the Louisville center back, and consensus number one SuperDraft selection, heads this year’s group. Farrell is joined by Mikey Lopez, a central midfielder from North Carolina, Walker Zimmerman, a central defender from Furman, Jason Johnson, Virginia Commonwealth forward, DeShorn Brown, a forward from Central Florida, Eriq Zavaleta, who starred as a striker for this year’s NCAA champion Indiana, but is seen by many as center back on the professional level. Kekuta Manneh is the lone Generation adidas signing in this year’s group that hasn’t played in college. The Gambian striker has turned heads with his speed and nose for goal while playing for PDL side Austin Aztex.
The league can also sign seniors before the draft, and so far this year, five players have signed on the dotted line. Ryan Finley, the Notre Dame goal machine and MAC Hermann Trophy finalist, presented to the nation’s top college player, leads this group. His Fighting Irish teammate, midfielder Dillon Powers, and three more midfielders have also put pen to paper. Carlos Alvarez from UConn, University of Maryland’s John Stertzer and Boston College’s Canadian international Kyle Bekker. Fans may get a look at Bekker when the Maple Leafs take on the Yanks in a friendly in Houston at the end of the month.
The third mechanism to get players into the league is the Homegrown Player Rule. Clubs can use this rule to sign players without subjecting them to the draft, if the player has spent at least a year training with their youth program, or academy. The specifics can be a bit muddy at times, and the league can rule against a clubs effort to sign a player to a homegrown contract if all the parameters aren’t met. Still, with no limit on the number of Homegrown players per team, clubs are using this process more and more often. MLS Champion Los Angeles Galaxy made the biggest splash in this area, signing CSU Bakersfield forward Gyasi Zardes, a player who most analysts believe would have been the first player selected, had he entered the draft.
With those two picks at the top of the first round, Toronto will have a big say in how the draft shapes up. Farrell, Zimmerman and Zavaleta, as a defender, are ranked by many as the top three talents in the draft, but it is unlikely that TFC would use two high picks on players at the same position. Toronto may trade one of the picks, unless they use the third pick on another position of need. TFC have never made the playoffs, so they have plenty of needs.
At number two Chivas USA are a bit of a special case. With their ties to Chivas de Guadalajara and stated intent to sign Hispanic players, the Goats limit their options. North Carolina’s Lopez, Hermann nominee Jose Gomez, Creighton’s skillful midfielder, or Zavaleta, whose father Carlos played for El Salvador, could end up with the Galaxy’s less successful neighbor.
Interestingly Portland, with their new manager Caleb Porter fresh from the college ranks with Akron, have no picks in the SuperDraft. Barring trades, which are always a possibility, here is the order for next Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft.
2. Chivas USA
3. Toronto – from Portland in the Ryan Johnson/ Milos Kocic trade. December 12, 2012
4. New England
5. Vancouver – from Philadelphia in the deal to sign Bakary Soumare. January 26, 2012
12. Real Salt Lake
13. Houston – from Portland for signing rights to Kris Boyd.
14. Kansas City
15. San Jose
18. Montreal – from Houston in Brian Ching trade. February 16, 2012
19. Los Angeles
20. Dallas – from TFC for Jeremy Hall
21. New England – from Chivas USA in Sharlie Joesph/Blair Gavin trade. August 1, 2012
22. New York – from Portland in Kosuke Kimura trade. December 3, 2012
23. New England
24. Los Angeles – from Philadelphia in trade that swapped international spot and Kyle Nakazawa. February 1, 2012
26. Philadelphia Union
29. Philadelphia – from Vancouver in deal to sign Bakary Soumare. January 26, 2012
31. Real Salt Lake
33. San Jose – from Sporting KC in Ike Opara trade. December 12, 2012
34. San Jose
36. New England
38. Los Angeles