KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After a whirlwind day in which Montreal made Duke standout Andrew Wenger the No. 1 overall pick and a veteran MLS forward changed addresses, here are five thoughts from Thursday's MLS SuperDraft:
1. Consensus top two go off the board first. As expected, Duke's Andrew Wenger and Akron's Darren Mattocks were the first two players off the board at the Kansas City Convention Center. The only minor surprise was the order in which they went.
Striker-needy Montreal did not address that position with either of its two picks, instead opting to use its No. 1 pick on Wenger, the top overall talent in this year's draft pool. The reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner as college soccer's top player, the Duke product projects to be a center back or defensive midfielder on the professional level despite scoring 17 goals and winning ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors this past season. His on-ball skills, distribution, overall intelligence and attacking qualities make him as well-rounded a candidate as there was for the taking, and coach Jesse Marsch will find a place to get the most out of those skills, wherever that may be on the field.
Mattocks, meanwhile, would likely have been a better fit for Montreal considering its need for forwards. Instead, he'll have to compete for time in Vancouver with Designated Player Eric Hassli, 12-goal scorer Camilo Sanvezzo, and last year's No. 1 overall pick, Omar Salgado. At No. 2, Vancouver was not going to pass on a talent like Mattocks, who scored 39 goals in two years at Akron, but considering the club's lack of defensive midfield and center back depth, it was certainly hoping Wenger would be available to help fill those voids.
Both Montreal and Vancouver picked players who are MLS-ready, but one can't help but wonder if each player would have been better fits for the Canadian teams that did not end up taking them.
2. Only one deal made, but it was major. Draft day is typically known for teams wheeling and dealing their picks, stockpiling for the future or acquiring other assets in the process. While Thursday's draft did not have a single deal involving a pick being traded for the first time ever, there was one move made, and it was a blockbuster.
The New York Red Bulls shipped a 2013 first-round pick and allocation money to Portland in exchange for veteran forward Kenny Cooper, a curious move considering New York's forward stable (Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, Juan Agudelo) and the hefty price it had to pay to acquire him.
Red Bulls sporting director Erik Soler defended the move, saying that Agudelo will be busy with U.S. Olympic duty throughout the year and that the club needed to add to its options at the position. He also added that Rodgers' work visa has yet to be renewed, and while Soler is expecting that to happen in the coming weeks, nothing is a given.
One has to wonder if there are bigger implications in play, though. Agudelo has been a rumored target for European teams since emerging at the end of the 2010 MLS season, and German club Stuttgart, where he trained earlier this winter, is the latest club to be linked with a transfer for his services. The 19-year-old Agudelo has struggled to find consistent playing time under manager Hans Backe, and New York paying that big a price for Cooper might mean the writing is on the wall for an imminent transfer of the talented youngster.
With no first-round pick this year (it was dealt as part of a package for the two-month rental of Dwayne De Rosario last spring), the Red Bulls at least managed to make some major headlines on draft day.
3. Playoff teams have talent fall into their lap. The draft's first round could not have unfolded any better for 2011 playoff teams FC Dallas, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake.
With George John headed to West Ham on loan, and perhaps for good, FC Dallas was in desperate need of upgrading its center back corps. Sitting at No. 11, FCD was going to have some options to choose from, but North Carolina senior Matt Hedges didn't figure to be one of them. After Portland took UConn's Generation adidas signing Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Chicago reached a little for Louisville's Austin Berry with the eighth and ninth picks, respectively, the probability of Hedges, the widely top-rated senior center back in the draft, being available grew. And after Columbus grabbed Creighton attacker Ethan Finlay, FC Dallas was able to snap up Hedges. Hedges was probably the most MLS-ready center back available after Wenger, and he should be able to help Schellas Hyndman immensely in his rookie year.
Draft host Sporting Kansas City experienced some home-convention-center luck, having explosive South Florida and Generation adidas striker Dom Dwyer fall to 16th. In addition to the financial boon the club gets by Dwyer's GA status, the club landed ample cover for the departed Omar Bravo and Teal Bunbury, who should be busy this year with Olympic obligations. Even though forward was already a position of strength for Sporting K.C., which picked eventual Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong in the first round last year, Dwyer can help the club and fit in to its 4-3-3, attack-minded formation.
The best value pick in the first round likely belonged to Real Salt Lake, though. North Carolina midfielder Enzo Martinez was one of the more highly-rated playmakers on the board, but he inexplicably fell to 17th, where Jason Kreis and Co. scooped him up with glee. RSL prides itself on being one of the most technical teams in the league, and Martinez certainly falls into that category. As someone who can learn behind the likes of Javier Morales and Will Johnson and be mentored by captain Kyle Beckerman, there might not be a better fit in the draft for club and player. RSL's midfield depth took a hit this offseason with the loss of Andy Williams to retirement and Collen Warner to the expansion draft, but the club has wasted no time in rebuilding by adding the savvy Martinez to the fold.
4.. Heavy priority on attacking players. The strength in this year's draft class was in the attacking players available, and that much was made clear with how teams spent their first-round picks.
Twelve of the 19 first-round picks were used on offensively-minded players (and considering Wenger's offensive exploits that could number could certainly be 13), including a run of six straight after Wenger went off the board. Players such as UCSB playmaker Luis Silva and Maryland striker Casey Townsend really boosted their stock at the combine, and they flew off the board at No. 4 (Toronto) and No. 5 (Chivas USA) respectively.
Teams tend to spend their money in the international market on the goal-scoring threats and creators, and collegiate attacking midfielders tend to have a tougher transition to the professional level, but this year's crop of draftees provided too deep a pool to take lightly.
5. Lack of fullback depth evident. This year's draft class lacked true quality at fullback, and that could not have been more evident with the way things unfolded in the first round. Not a single fullback was selected, and the highest-rated one, Creighton's Tyler Polak, was the second left back selected, going to New England at 22nd overall, a pick after Vancouver took Indiana's Chris Estridge, a reach considering that Polak, a Generation adidas signing, was still on the board.
The real strength among defenders available was in the center back crop, and seven were taken in the first round. Plenty of teams need help with their flank defending, but unfortunately for them, this year's draft class was not the place to look for a quick-fix solution.