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No surprise at No. 1, but Roldan's fall steals spotlight at MLS SuperDraft

PHILADELPHIA — Orlando City’s first pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft caught nobody by surprise, even the player himself. Forward Cyle Larin, in Jamaica with the Canadian under-20 national team, thanked his new team by name in a pre-recorded message shown directly after his selection.

The consensus among executives, coaches and media leading up to the draft was that Larin would go first. But the real surprise set in when most people’s No. 2 overall pick, Generation adidas and U.S. youth international attacking midfielder Cristian Roldan, fell to No. 16.

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The Seattle Sounders traded up to select him after the first few picks passed him by.

The team’s new general manager, Garth Lagerwey, moved from table to table, looking for the right deal before finding it with his old team, Real Salt Lake.

Seattle got Roldan, and RSL received Seattle’s No. 27 overall pick and allocation money.

Roldan seemed to be a perfect fit for New York City FC with the second selection, the type of central midfielder around which Jason Kreis based his team philosophy at Real Salt Lake. However, Roldan didn’t play to his full potential at the MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida last week.

“Obviously, we’re a little bit surprised,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said after selecting Roldan. “I don’t think he had the best combine — he’ll probably be the first one to say that — but we’re very happy. He’s a skillful player. He’s a good passer of the ball. He’s a very humble kid.”

Instead, NYCFC took Khiry Shelton, the next in a long line of Oregon State forwards to make the league, which includes a player Kreis led to the 2010 United States World Cup squad in Robbie Findley.

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Injuries stunted Shelton’s college career, as he only played six games his freshman year and 10 his junior year. He finished with a strong senior season, though, starting each of the Beavers’ 21 matches and scoring 10 goals in his most productive year to date.

“I’m healthy now, and I’m very excited,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”

One of the most familiar names in the first round to American fans was the Portland Timbers’ No. 5 overall pick, Nick Besler. His brother, Matt, plays center back for Sporting Kansas City and made the U.S. team for the 2014 World Cup.

“It’s going to be a little different now that I’m playing against him,” Nick Besler said. “I’m really excited to go up against him, and I won’t be easy on him.”

A heady defensive midfielder, Nick Besler has an opportunity under Caleb Porter to create his own legacy in MLS. His soccer IQ matches Porter’s philosophy, and his distribution ability from a deep-lying position complements the Timbers’ primary attacking duo of Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe.

“I talked to Caleb prior to the draft, and he said he liked how I play,” Besler said. “He said he’s been following me.”

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Every SuperDraft has its surprises, and this one was no exception after the No. 1 pick. Still, a clear trend emerged in the selection of players with the size and speed that can cope immediately with the physicality of MLS. That selection philosophy seemed to rule the first round, as 13 of the 21 picks stand over six feet tall, including seven of the first 10. 

As at combines in other sports, MLS puts players through physical testing during its weeklong examination period before the draft. For example, Shelton won the 30-meter dash with a time of 3.81 seconds last week.

“At the end of the day, it’s what you can do with the ball or without the ball, making runs,” Roldan said. “I guess it takes away, but at the end, you hope to get drafted.”