MLS draft: First-round analysis
There are rumors that Darlington Nagbe didn't want to play in Vancouver
No. 1 pick Omar Salgado has a high upside but might not contribute immediately
Sporting Kansas City and Columbus both reached with their first-round choices
BALTIMORE -- Major League Soccer SuperDrafts have a history of being unpredictable, but the first round of the 2011 edition took things to another level. The expansion Vancouver Whitecaps surprised most with their first overall selection; four trades were made; teams reached for players who weren't rated that highly; Generation adidas stars plummeted; and NCAA national champion Akron set a record with five players selected (in the first eight picks, no less).
Here's a breakdown of the first round:
1. Vancouver Whitecaps -- Omar Salgado, F, U.S. Under-20 (Generation adidas)
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi threw a curveball right at the start, telling reporters in Vancouver that the club would not be taking Perry Kitchen or Darlington Nagbe, the consensus top two picks for weeks. One of the rumored reasons that Nagbe didn't end up in Vancouver is because he preferred not to live in Canada as it would sidetrack his securing U.S. citizenship. Oddly enough, Salgado, who trained with the Whitecaps' USSF Division 2 team over the summer, is prohibited from receiving an International Transfer Certificate per FIFA rules and playing in Canada until he is 18 (which will be in September). This was a pick for the future.
2. Portland Timbers -- Darlington Nagbe, F, Akron (Generation adidas)
With Nagbe falling to Portland, the Timbers instantly upgraded their attack. Nagbe, along with soon-to-be-Timber Kenny Cooper, gives John Spencer a nice front line to feed in the team's expansion season. The Hermann Trophy winner as college soccer's top player, Nagbe is extremely strong on the ball and is a polished and accomplished finisher. He can either play up top or as a withdrawn striker in more of an attacking midfield role.
3. D.C. United -- Perry Kitchen, M/D, Akron (Generation adidas)
Who says there's no such thing as home-field advantage at the draft? Based just 40 miles south on I-95, D.C. landed perhaps the most highly touted prospect in the draft after Vancouver made it possible by taking Salgado. While United has a logjam at central midfield, and that's where Kitchen projects to play, it'll gladly make room for the U.S. U-20 star. Like coach Ben Olsen was in his playing days, Kitchen is a hardworking player with top-notch skills on both sides of the ball and boasts tremendous leadership qualities.
4. Chivas USA -- Zarek Valentin, D, Akron (Generation adidas)
Not surprisingly, first-year coach Robin Fraser, a connoisseur of defense, went with Valentin, a highly rated, versatile defender who projects to play right back in MLS. Valentin, also a member of the U.S. U-20s, is more of a man-marking defender than his college teammate Kofi Sarkodie.
5. Philadelphia Union -- Zac MacMath, GK, Maryland (Generation adidas)
With FC Cologne and former Colombia starting keeper Faryd Mondragon on the way to Philadelphia, this pick projects to fill a long-term need. MacMath, the top goalkeeper available and the fourth U.S. U-20 player to be selected, figures to be the Union's keeper of the future. Considering the issues that the Union had last season with Chris Seitz, another former Maryland keeper who was also a starter in the U.S. youth system, Peter Nowak showed no fear by putting his faith in MacMath.
6. New England Revolution -- A.J. Soares, D, California
The Revolution's need for a center back is not a secret, and in Soares the team gets a player ready to step in and contribute right away. With a potential back line of (from left to right) new signing Didier Domi, Soares, Darrius Barnes and Kevin Alston, coach Steve Nicol has a mostly young but potential-filled unit to lean on for years to come.
7. Houston Dynamo -- Kofi Sarkodie, D, Akron (Generation adidas)
The Dynamo took the best available talent in Sarkodie, who is the top attacking fullback in the draft. Some may see him eventually evolving into a right-sided midfielder, and with the team signing right back Hunter Freeman from Norway's IK Start, Dom Kinnear will have some decisions regarding that side of the field. It's an enviable position to be in, though: Sarkodie brings an intriguing element to a Dynamo team that lacked inventiveness in 2010.
8. Vancouver Whitecaps (via Toronto FC) -- Michael Nanchoff, M, Akron (Generation adidas)
A smart player who was a catalyst for Akron's attack, Nanchoff brings a steady presence to the left side of the midfield in Vancouver. Although the team is still short on strikers who can contribute immediately, it's evident that the Whitecaps just didn't rate Indiana's Will Bruin or Penn State's Corey Hertzog that highly. As an added bonus to his excellent soccer IQ, Nanchoff also won't count against the salary cap next season.
9. Chicago Fire -- Jalil Anibaba, D, North Carolina
Named MVP at the MLS combine, Anibaba fills a hole for the Fire. With Wilman Conde now in Mexico and C.J. Brown retired, the team had to restock at center back. Anibaba is a top-notch center back prospect who can hold his marks, distribute with precision and add a calming force in the heart of the defense.
10. Sporting Kansas City -- C.J. Sapong, F, James Madison
This pick seemed like a reach on a number of levels. First, with higher-regarded Generation adidas strikers like Bruin and Hertzog still on the board, Sapong wasn't the best player at his position left. Second, adding a forward was not the biggest priority for SKC, which already has Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and Omar Bravo. That said, Sapong brings pace to the wing and could be a decent player on the outside of a 4-3-3.
11. Houston Dynamo (via Portland Timbers, via Seattle Sounders FC) -- Will Bruin, F, Indiana (Generation adidas)
Portland dealt its first second-round pick (No. 20 overall) and allocation money to Seattle for this pick and an international roster slot and then turned around and dealt the pick to Houston for allocation money. By landing a physical, capable scorer like Bruin, Kinnear augmented his striker options and provided a complement/eventual replacement for Brian Ching. Houston, which hasn't typically used the first round of the draft to its advantage, has to be feeling good about its selections.
12. Columbus Crew -- Rich Balchan, D, Indiana
After Columbus' shocking first-round selection of Bright Dike in 2010, who didn't last the season with the team and is currently with Portland, the team followed it up by reaching for a player whom most thought wouldn't be picked until the second round at the earliest. The versatile Balchan adds depth to an area of need, but if this is the player the Crew wanted, why not try to trade down with a forward-needy team with Hertzog and Justin Meram still on the board?
13. New York Red Bulls -- Corey Hertzog, F, Penn State (Generation adidas)
Red Bulls fans in Baltimore met this pick with mixed reactions, but they should be thrilled. While finding cover at the fullback and center back positions is still necessary, Hertzog is a proven goal scorer and gives the team a security blanket should Thierry Henry's injury problems surface again. Hertzog led the NCAA with 20 goals in 2010.
14. Chivas USA (via Real Salt Lake) -- Victor Estupinan, F, Ecuador
Chivas traded allocation money for the pick and selected Estpuinan, a product of the LDU Quito system. He was the first of the international prospects invited to the MLS combine to be selected, and for good reason. Although his play dropped off in the final two days of the combine, Estupinan displayed a scoring acumen on the opening day and opened some eyes with his play.
15. Columbus Crew (via San Jose Earthquakes) -- Justin Meram, F, Michigan
The Crew atoned for its earlier selection by trading forward Steven Lenhart for the pick and allocation money and landing Meram, a fearless forward who can step in and help immediately. For an attack that lacked a killer instinct -- Lenhart's inconsistency being a big reason for that -- Meram brings just that. Shipping Lenhart out of town in the deal speaks volumes about what the Crew think of Meram.
16. Los Angeles Galaxy -- Paolo Cardozo, M, Uruguay
With the top forward prospects off the board, the Galaxy went with Cardozo, a diminutive attacker with quick feet and a flair to his game. The Galaxy also traded allocation money to Toronto FC to land Chad Barrett, making the need at forward less urgent. Cardozo previously played with Quilmes in Argentina's first division, but could struggle to adjust to the more physical MLS game.
17. FC Dallas -- Bobby Warshaw, D, Stanford
A nice find for FCD, as Warshaw can play effectively at defensive midfield or center back. With Daniel Hernandez getting up there in age and coming off knee surgery, Warshaw, a hardworking, ball-winning defender, could fit nicely into that role for Schellas Hyndman. Not a flashy pick, but one that should pay dividends sooner rather than later for the defending Western Conference champions.
18. Colorado Rapids -- Eddie Ababio, D, North Carolina
Ababio played myriad positions on the back line at North Carolina and was also a striker in his youth days. The reigning champs are looking for depth to help round out the squad, and Ababio should be able to pitch in for Gary Smith at either fullback spot.
Avi Creditor is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.