Five thoughts on the 2013 MLS SuperDraft
INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2013 MLS SuperDraft is in the books, with Louisville defender Andrew Farrell becoming the latest top overall selection and looking to help turn the New England Revolution back into a perennial postseason contender. There were plenty of other items to take away from the festivities at the Indiana Convention Center, though, and here are five thoughts from Thursday's proceedings in Indianapolis:
Last year's draft was, by all accounts, a bland affair. Not a single pick was traded in the two-round event, and only one player deal went down on what has traditionally been a wild day of player movement and front office exchanges. This year's event made up for it, and then some.
On Draft Day eve, Toronto dealt the No. 1 overall pick to the New England Revolution in exchange for the No. 4 overall pick and allocation money. The Chicago Fire dealt its No. 11 overall pick, allocation money and an international roster slot to the Colorado Rapids for veteran defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz and the 30th overall pick. The Portland Timbers traded back into the draft after originally having no picks, dealing forward Michael Fucito to the San Jose Earthquakes for one of their second-round picks. Meanwhile, Toronto kept dealing (more on the Reds below), moving the pick it acquired from the Revolution two more times.
Part of the draft's allure is the unpredictability, the excitement of player movement around the league and the possibilities the moves bring. Needless to say, after the past couple of days in Indiana, there are plenty of talking points to sift through as preseason camps begin to kick off around the league.
With the New England Revolution sitting in position to pick fourth, the club could have stood pat and landed a talented defender. U.S. Under-20 center back Walker Zimmerman and Indiana's Eriq Zavaleta were both highly rated players who are pegged to be impact defenders in MLS, and at least one of them would have been available (and as it turns out both of them were) had the Revolution kept its fourth overall pick.
Even so, the Revs saw it fit to trade up to the top overall spot to land Farrell, the top-rated player on most teams' draft boards. Revolution coach Jay Heaps contended that there was a sizable gap between Farrell and the rest of the draft class, and for a club in need of defensive reinforcements, Heaps believes he has just the asset in which to improve his back line. Heaps will be hoping that Farrell can have the same impact as another Louisville product, Austin Berry, who won MLS Rookie of the Year honors with his play last year for the Chicago Fire.
Not every club front office is on board with Farrell's greatness, with his aerial skills being rated much higher than his ability under pressure and with the ball at his feet, and it remains to be seen which position he will play. Farrell can play at defensive midfield, center back and right back, and he says he will play anywhere that Heaps asks of him. With the expectations lofted upon a first-overall pick, the spotlight will be shining to bright on Farrell to improve the Revolution's defensive acumen and prove the Revs right for aggressively making the move to trade up for his services.
For a team that just went through the embarrassing saga of hiring a coach who has A) Never coached anywhere before and B) Is still a player for Queens Park Rangers, the Reds had a commendable day at the office.
After accumulating allocation money and the fourth overall pick from the Revs and trading down from the No. 1 spot, TFC turned its second first-rounder into the 10th overall pick and more allocation money in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The club then turned around and dealt that pick to Seattle for the 16th overall pick and even more allocation money. Given the perceived dearth of talent in the draft class, Toronto used its favorable draft position to its advantage in a different way, gaining the financial flexibility that can help the club overcome some awful, hefty contracts and make more signings that can help the club out of its constant doldrums.
On top of that, the Reds used the third overall pick on Boston College and Canadian youth international midfielder Kyle Bekker, a player whom team president Kevin Payne said was the club's top-rated player all along. Toronto then added another area native in Oregon State forward Emery Welshman, who was one of the top-rated forwards in this year's class.
Landing two talented Canadians who can resonate with the team's fans and acquiring a load of cash in a league where financial flexibility is everything? Not a bad piece of business at all, TFC.
One player who had a confounding day was University of North Carolina midfielder Mikey Lopez. Much like a talented Tar Heel from last year's draft class, Enzo Martinez, Lopez was a Generation adidas signing who plummeted in the first round despite projections and expectations that he would go much higher. To make matters even worse, MLS commissioner Don Garber called him "Mickey" as he announced his name, before eventually correcting himself.
Despite falling to No. 14, Lopez, a prime candidate to represent the U.S. Under-20 national team as it attempts to qualify for this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup, landed in a pretty ideal spot. Sporting Kansas City lost central midfielders Roger Espinoza and Julio Cesar this offseason and could use reinforcements in the form of a deep-lying distributor like Lopez. The club will also be competing in the CONCACAF Champions League, meaning that the opportunity for playing time should present itself to the skillful Lopez. Falling deep in a draft can oftentimes be a blow to a player's ego, but it's important to remember that in most sports, MLS especially, the best situation for a player to enter is not necessarily with the teams picking earliest. It is all about finding the right situation, one that can cultivate a player's talent while yielding playing time as well, and Lopez appears to have found just that in Sporting Kansas City, a club that has proven to be a haven for young American players.
A series of Homegrown Player signings this offseason diluted the draft pool considerably. When taking into account top collegiate players like Akron's Scott Caldwell, Wil Trapp, Chad Barson and DeAndre Yedlin, Maryland's London Woodberry and Cal-State Bakersfield's Gyasi Zardes, who all signed with MLS teams out of their academies, the 2013 rookie class can be seen in a whole new light.
As it stands, this SuperDraft class was not touted as one of the most talented in recent history, and as teams continue to look to their academies for homegrown talent, this may be the norm going forward. Some of the top college players will have their MLS futures predetermined because of the Homegrown Player rule, and teams turning to the draft to augment their rosters will have to continue to adjust to that. That is not to say that there cannot be diamonds in the rough who make their way under the radar and surprise teams and talent evaluators on a yearly basis -- because that tends to happen more often than not -- but it is a trend to keep an eye on in future years as teams put more stock in young players in their own backyards.