Even though more and more Major League Soccer teams are going the route of finding young, affordable foreign talent or looking within their own academy systems to address needs and fill out their rosters, the MLS SuperDraft (Jan. 12, Noon ET) is still a tremendous resource for clubs to use to their advantage.
Of course, not all drafted rookies -- either of the highly touted or under-the-radar variety -- make an immediate impact or maintain a high level of play from start to finish in their first professional seasons. It takes the vast majority a while to get acclimated to their new surroundings and daily routines, and most collegiate products can't rightfully be judged on their impact until at least a couple of years into their careers. However, that doesn't mean rookies can't step in right away and succeed.
The 2011 draft class produced a handful of first-year players who produced on the big stage. Players such as Sporting Kansas City forward C.J. Sapong, New England Revolution center back A.J. Soares, Chicago defender Jalil Anibaba, D.C. United defender/midfielder Perry Kitchen and Portland Timbers forward Darlington Nagbe were among those who showed that rookies from the college ranks continue to have a place in MLS lineups.
With another solid player pool, here are the needs that each team is looking to address in Thursday's SuperDraft:
Chicago improved under then-interim coach Frank Klopas (now fulltime) toward the latter months of the 2011 season and should ride that momentum to a much-improved 2012. With speedsters Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro roaming free, Chicago could benefit from adding a center forward to provide some hold-up play and combine with midfielderfs Marco Pappa and Sebastian Grazzini. Picking up another option at right back would allow 2011 rookie standout Jalil Anibaba to move to center back on a fulltime basis, where his strengths would be accentuated. With three selections in the two-round affair, Chicago can either sit back and take whomever falls or try and package its picks to make a big splash.
Chivas USA made the curious decision to leave versatile U.S. U-20 defender Zarek Valentin unprotected for the expansion draft and traded away striker Justin Braun to Montreal as well. As a result, the club is left with few answers across both its front and back lines. Veteran forward Juan Pablo Angel, who re-emerged after his midseason trade from Los Angeles to Chivas, has yet to officially be brought back into the fold, meaning the only forwards at Robin Fraser's disposal right now are the aging Alejandro Moreno and the unheralded Chris Cortez. Despite his strengths as a fullback, Heath Pearce appears destined for another season at center back, and he could use some help in the way of a physically imposing complement. With pick No. 5, Chivas won't be lacking options for either area of need.
The Rapids took a calculated risk by leaving speedy winger Sanna Nyassi unprotected for the expansion draft, and Montreal made them pay for it by selecting him. As a result, Colorado's options for pace and creativity on the wings are pretty depleted. The Rapids were ravaged by injuries a season ago, so a lot of their solutions will come from within. Adding a capable center back would answer the team's problem at defensive depth, which was exposed in a big way during the club's extended 2011 schedule. Colorado only has one selection in the draft, though, so taking the best option available for either position at pick No. 14 should be the preferred route.
Columbus has had success finding attacking pieces on international market to replace ousted Designated Player Andres Mendoza, but the Crew will need to use one of their three picks to find cover on the wing for the almost-certain departure of Robbie Rogers. Aside from that and finding depth at forward and left back, though, the Crew are positioned pretty well to improve on their 2011 campaign. The team's youth movement of a season ago has a full year under its belt, and players like U.S. U-23 midfielder Dilly Duka seem primed to take on more prominent roles in 2012.
For a team that was oh-so-close to breaking its postseason slump in 2011 before collapsing down the stretch, D.C. has some serious holes to fill. League MVP Dwayne De Rosario figures to play a withdrawn striker role, but the positions directly in front of him and behind him are up for discussion. Josh Wolff will occupy a starting forward role, but he'll be 35 when the season kicks off and can't do things on his own. With the team passing on the option to buy Charlie Davies' contract from Sochaux, finding a goal-scoring forward is a must. A central midfield playmaker would take some of the heat off De Rosario and give him more freedom to operate, and finding a reliable option at left back is needed to fill out the back line.
Dallas finally made an offseason splash by landing Panamanian striker Blas Perez to be the consistent presence up top that the team has been lacking. Beyond Perez, though, options at striker are almost nonexistent. George John's departure also appears more imminent by the day, so finding defensive cover at center back is a must. The club took a step toward doing that by adding Colombian U-23 international Hernan Pertuz, but plugging him into John's shoes puts extremely high expectations on the untested youngster. Getting 2010 MVP David Ferreira back from injury certainly plugs the team's hole at the creative central midfield position.
The MLS Cup runners-up are pretty set in the midfield and defense, but adding pieces to the forward puzzle is on the docket, especially after losing Brian Ching in the expansion draft. There is always a chance that Houston reacquires its former captain from Montreal, but even so, Ching is 33 and not the national-team caliber player he once was. Last year's first-round pick, forward Will Bruin, figures to improve in his second season to take on a bigger role, and Calen Carr started to make his mark down the stretch last season, but the more reliable finishing options for Dom Kinnear, the better.
What a roller coaster of a couple of months it has been for the Galaxy. After winning MLS Cup and sweating out the David Beckham decision process, it appears that the original Designated Player will return to Tinseltown; however, his central midfield partner Juninho has returned to Sao Paulo. And making matters worse, center back rock Omar Gonzalez tore his ACL on his first day on loan at FC Nurnberg, leaving a gaping hole in central defense. The Galaxy already needed to think about finding a long-term replacement for Gonzalez, considering the growing number of options for him abroad as he enters the last year of his MLS contract, but that process has been accelerated considerably. Other than that, the Galaxy will have a stacked schedule, with CONCACAF Champions League play on both ends of the season slate. Finding ready-to-play depth to fill out gameday rosters would give coach Bruce Arena more flexibility.
By all accounts, the Impact have done extraordinarily well in building their roster for their inaugural MLS season. There are still some soft spots, though, and finding forward depth is at the top of the shopping list. It wouldn't surprise to see the Impact use both of their draft picks on strikers, especially with prolific Akron forward Darren Mattocks available for the taking with the No. 1 overall pick. Elsewhere on the field, the club's defensive options could also be augmented. Coach Jesse Marsch has the makings of a strong starting unit but little in the way of depth behind a potential foursome of Valentin, Bobby Burling, former Inter Milan player Nelson Rivas and Tyson Wahl.
The never-ending quest to find reliable forwards in New England continues, as it appears that both Rajko Lekic and the club's first-ever DP, Milton Caraglio, won't be returning to Gillette Stadium. With the third overall pick, the Revolution will almost certainly address that area to kick off the Jay Heaps coaching era. New England needs plenty more help also, though, if it is to compete in an improving Eastern Conference. Aside from left winger Chris Tierney, the club's roster is pretty barren when it comes to effective wingers. Overall depth across the defense is also an issue. There are far too many holes for the Revs to fill for the draft to be the sole answer.
Even if Tim Ream doesn't bolt for England this winter, it is becoming more clear that he won't be staying in New York for the long haul, and finding an eventual successor needs to be a priority. The problem is, the Red Bulls have hardly valued the draft under the current regime, and the club doesn't have a first-round pick after parting with its 2012 selection as part of the trade that landed Dwayne De Rosario for all of two months. Goalkeeper is also a question mark for the club, which lost backups Bouna Coundoul and Greg Sutton in the offseason and haven't yet brought back DP Frank Rost, although the team has said it is in talks with the player. Don't expect New York, which holds the 31st overall pick, to benefit much from the draft.
The Union addressed their biggest needs in the international market, adding Costa Rican left back Porfirio Lopez to allow Farfan twins Michael and Gabriel to roam in their more-accustomed roles in the midfield. With young and emerging pieces up top, a stable defensive unit and Olympic hopefuls Freddy Adu and Amobi Okugo providing a central nucleus, the only need for Peter Nowak's club is to stockpile more wing options. The club's attack was at times too narrow in 2011, and with Justin Mapp lost in the expansion draft, that is an area that Nowak & Co. should elect to explore.
The Timbers are looking to make the leap in their second season after being on the cusp of the postseason picture for the final weeks of their 2011 campaign. In order to do so, they'll need to improve their options at both fullback positions, particularly on the right. Lovel Palmer proved to be a somewhat serviceable option at right back toward the end of last season, but he is naturally a midfielder. Behind him, the cupboard is quite bare (El Salvador international Steve Purdy is an option, but he couldn't beat out Palmer). For a team primed to be an explosive one offensively, the biggest issues concern the defense and cutting down on opposing wingers in order to take pressure off an otherwise solid center back corps.
The hallmark of RSL the last few years has been its incredible depth, but the club was gutted of that luxury in the offseason. The starting XI is still very much intact, but valuable pieces like defender Robbie Russell (D.C.) and midfielders Arturo Alvarez (Chivas USA), Collen Warner (Montreal) and Andy Williams (retired) have moved on. RSL has to take CONCACAF Champions League games into account yet again, meaning it will need a full complement of capable, healthy bodies to see the field. Restocking its midfield and defensive depth with its three picks should be a priority.
The Earthquakes have made some headway this offseason, acquiring pacey wingers Marvin Chavez and Shea Salinas in addition to beefing up the back line with Honduran centerback Victor Bernardez. After parting ways with veteran Bobby Convey, though, the club could use a true left-sided presence to balance out the attack, not to mention someone to inherit Convey's set piece duties. The more service San Jose can provide for forward Chris Wondolowski -- who has the most goals in MLS over the last two years -- the better.
The Sounders addressed their biggest areas of need by finding a reliable successor to goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller in Austrian Michael Gspurning and locking up Argentine playmaker Mauro Rosales to a long-term deal. The team turns its attention to the constant quest in the Emerald City, which has been trying to find a reliable second option to take pressure off Fredy Montero. Even though Michael Fucito and Sammy Ochoa are in tow, coach Sigi Schmid could use more firepower up top. Elsewhere, the club lost Wahl to Montreal and has uncertainty at left back. Former D.C. United player and re-entry draft pick Marc Burch and incumbent Leo Gonzalez are available to fill that role, but neither really inspires season-long confidence.
For a club that was a win away from making the MLS Cup final, Sporting Kansas City has been busy making moves this offseason, and as a result it finds itself in a pretty advantageous spot entering the draft. With no major pressing needs, the club can draft solely for depth across the field. Even though Sporting K.C. used a 2011 first-round pick on forward and eventual Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong, it may want to have another go at choosing a frontman. With Omar Bravo gone to Mexico and Teal Bunbury in for a busy year on the international level, Peter Vermes would benefit from having more goal-scoring options.
TFC spent about an entire calendar year shaping its roster for the 2012 campaign, and as it stands, center back is the greatest area of need for a team in search of its first playoff berth in franchise history. The Reds were brutally awful defending at times last season and had a revolving door at the position, leading to some uneven results even as the team improved down the stretch. Aron Winter's roster is also missing a midfield playmaker, someone who can step into the Dutch-style, passing-oriented attack and come up with that final ball to supply striker Danny Koevermans, who enters his first full MLS season after coming up with eight goals in 10 games upon his entry to the league. With two of the first 12 picks in the draft, Toronto is positioned to address both areas of need with top-level prospects.
Getting one-time U.S. international and attacking midfielder Lee Nguyen in a weighted lottery and signing South Korean fullback Lee Young-Pyo and Argentine center back Martin Bonjour filled three need areas for Vancouver, who can only improve after a mostly disappointing expansion year. The Whitecaps' central midfield lacks a true ball-winning distributor and that is an area to address for a club that embarks on its second season with first-year coach Martin Rennie. Versatile Duke standout and Hermann Trophy winner Andrew Wenger could slot into that role seamlessly should he be available at pick No. 2.