BALTIMORE — Former Manchester United youth player Jack Harrison was the top pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, but nobody quite knew where he was going for a little while. The Chicago Fire held onto their No. 1 spot long enough to pick the Wake Forest midfielder before promptly trading him to New York City FC.
Harrison filled the "player to be named later" void in the trade announced by MLS commissioner Don Garber after a waiting period that kicked off a hectic, busy first round at the Baltimore Convention Center.
The Philadelphia Union were at the center of that chaos, trading up to No. 2 to snag Joshua Yaro. Speculation persists over the Georgetown center back’s ability to play up to the MLS level at his preferred spot as opposed to on the outside; however, his undeniable talent meant he would always be a top-three selection, positional questions notwithstanding. Philadelphia and a few of the league's other non-playoff teams in 2015 picked up steam after that.
Here are three thoughts on the latest edition of MLS’s draft:
Chaos reigns, beginning with move for No. 1 overall
From the start of the draft, it was clear that Thursday would be as much about the moves being made as the players being selected. Harrison was whisked away quickly after his selection and didn’t reappear until the trade for him was finalized, with an NYCFC scarf around his neck. The Wake Forest star had a Homegrown Player claim from NYCFC on him declined by the league, but he wound up going to Yankee Stadium, where he'll play for Patrick Vieira anyway.
Six trades took place in the first round of the draft, with general and targeted allocation money changing hands as well as allocation rankings and players “to be named later.” Clearly, teams were after more than the college seniors and seven Generation adidas players who were available for selection.
Still, the top picks went largely as expected, with Harrison, Yaro and Stanford and U.S. men's national team call-up Brandon Vincent occupying three of the top four spots.
The Philadelphia Union added Georgetown's Keegan Rosenberry into the mix for some added intrigue, and Creighton's Fabian Herbers slipped to the Union at No. 6, but the real intrigue was in the trades more than the selections this year.
Philadelphia stocks up on 2016 draft class
After Harrison’s selection and subsequent trade, the Union selected two Georgetown defenders back-to-back, as the highly touted Yaro and Rosenberry go together from the collegiate level to the pros. Finally, rounding out the top six, the Union took German midfielder Herbers, a Hermann Award finalist who scored 15 goals and had 17 assists for the Bluejays this season.
At first blush, Philadelphia is the most obvious winner in this draft after those selections. The Union got two players in Yaro and Herbers who were widely regarded as some of the top available talent, as well as Rosenberry, who played for the Union academy, although the franchise had its homegrown claim rejected earlier this offseason.
It couldn’t have gone much better for sporting director Earnie Stewart’s first draft in charge.
He’s always seemed like a shrewd and savvy soccer businessman, and that impression will only grow after Thursday. The Union rounded out their picks by taking another defender with the third pick in the second round, Taylor Washington.
Draft-day trades could have implications down the line
Beyond the craziness of hearing MLS-centric acronyms and terms such as TAM, GAM and allocation order thrown around, Thursday was a reminder that the draft is still very relevant as a bargaining chip in MLS. While some of these players might not see the league soon, the trickle-down effect of their acquisitions could be more immediate.
The Rapids now hold the top spot in the allocation order after trading with the Fire, and word around the draft was that they have their eye on American international Alejandro Bedoya.
The U.S. midfielder has been rumored as eyeing a move back to MLS recently, and now Colorado is in prime position to either acquire him or another asset in exchange for their spot.
Bedoya cryptically tweeted Thursday: “One thing made evident to me recently is can't ever trust the ‘smiling nice guy handshake deal.’” Whether that was in regards to an MLS move (he was close to joining Philadelphia last summer) or not, if we’ve learned anything about MLS, this story is likely just getting started.
As for the deals involving TAM, we won't know how impactful they'll be until the teams put the assets in motion, but clubs who acquired TAM on the day–LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, D.C. United (although D.C. traded some as well)–are positioned to make bigger moves as a result.