Sports

MLS SuperDraft offers talent but remains a crap shoot for teams picking

LOS ANGELES — Barring trades, the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC will pay for last season's playoff success by waiting their turn at Friday's MLS SuperDraft. The Vancouver Whitecaps, selecting seventh, will be pressed into action much sooner.

How useful their picks turn out to be is anyone's guess. But Canadian talent may well figure Friday, given new league initiatives making young players from north of the border more accessible to U.S. teams.

Like most leagues, the MLS draft is a crap shoot. And with teams looking to bring their homegrown players in the fold, some talent never even makes it to the draft.

An influx of European players using soccer as their ticket to a college education has bolstered the MLS draft pool somewhat but usually anything that comes after the top 10 is a gamble, long-term project or USL team material.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, however. Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko, who scored with ninth-overall pick Tsubasa Endoh in 2016, believes last year's draft was one of the best in the last five or six years.

"I'm not sure this draft is as good as last year but I think there's some quality in it for sure," Bezbatchenko said.

Picking 21st, he may only see it from a distance.

Minnesota United FC holds the first pick with fellow expansion side Atlanta United FC selecting second. Chicago is third, followed by Houston, Columbus and San Jose before Vancouver gets into the action. Montreal goes 19th.

The first two rounds go Friday with the third and fourth taking place Tuesday via conference call.

The Generation Adidas class — top underclassmen whose salaries won't count against team salary caps — is a useful guide to the marquee talent on hand.

This year's group features forwards Abu Danladi (UCLA) and Jonathan Lewis (Akron), midfielder Jackson Yueill (UCLA), defender Miles Robinson (Syracuse) and Canadian midfielder Shamit Shome (FC Edmonton) and 17-year-old midfielder-forward Adonijah Reid (ANB Futbol Academy).

Highly touted forward Jeremy Ebobisse (Duke, Charleston Battery) has signed a contract with MLS, as has Canadian forward Brian Wright (Vermont). Midfielder Kwame Awuah (Connecticut) and forward Chris Nanco (Syracuse) joined the other Canadians at the pre-draft MLS Combine.

New league rules mean Awuah and Nanco, both products of the renowned Sigma FC club, and Wright will not be considered internationals by U.S. teams.

University of Louisville midfielder Daniel Johnson, who spent time at West Ham's academy, has turned heads at the Combine, as has Spanish forward Guillermo Delgado (Delaware). Plenty of good defenders are available.

The Whitecaps are looking to revamp their roster outside the draft as well. Designated players Pedro Morales and striker Octavio Rivero have moved on, meaning there are some big-ticket openings.

"I made some big decisions at the end of the year based upon what I think's right for the club not just in the next year but the next two, three, four years ... We needed to freshen things up in certain areas," said head coach Carl Robinson. 

"We'll get the opportunity to try and bring one or two players in. We won't be spending like other teams who are spending lots and lots of money," he added, mentioning MLS Cup champion Seattle and runner-up Toronto by name.

With centre back David Edgar sidelined by a knee injury, Robinson has to ponder his depth behind Kendall Waston and Tim Parker. Robinson talks warmly of youngsters Christian Dean and Cole Seiler and has added veteran fullback Sheanon Williams but also acknowledges there is some good defensive talent available in this draft.

Montreal retained most of its big pieces other than aging forward Didier Drogba and will be looking for depth across the board. The Impact say they are bringing in Swiss international midfielder Blerim Dzemaili over in June.

Toronto is also looking for depth in several areas, having lost midfielder Will Johnson and reserve defenders Josh Williams and Mark Bloom. But given its draft position, it can't afford to be that choosy.

"We will be going (for) best player available," said Bezbatchenko.

He says Toronto would not be averse to moving up in the draft, depending on the deal. With two picks in each of the second, third and fourth rounds, Toronto has some bargaining pieces.

TFC signed Canadian youth international midfielder Sergio Camargo as a homegrown player Wednesday, essentially making the move to ensure they don't lose 22-year-old in the draft. Camargo split his college career between Coastal Carolina University and Syracuse University.

Getting picked in the draft is one thing. Making it in MLS is another.

Of the 75 players picked in last year's draft, 35 made an MLS roster although just 23 can still say that, according to the league website. Only 11 played in 10 or more games while seven appeared in 20 or more.

Toronto's Endoh was one of the success stories. Although the Japanese midfielder-forward was missing in action later in the season, he still appeared in 21 games with 15 starts.

Seiler, chosen 16th overall, appeared in two games with the Whitecaps and 14 with their USL team. Forward Michael Salazar, Montreal's top pick at No. 24, appeared in 17 games (eight starts) for the Impact.

 

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