Plenty of surprises in SuperDraft
Houston, New England and New York lead the teams who had helpful drafts
Victor Estupinan turned heads with a strong combine and should help Chivas
Defender Jalil Anibaba will help get Chicago turned in the right direction
Never underestimate the randomness of any draft. Sure enough, Vancouver stunned the room right away Thursday with its choice to begin the process, taking project striker Omar Salgado rather than one of the two players everyone had projected to go at Nos. 1 and 2.
From there, a draft chock full of quality defenders saw just one of them taken among the first five names called. See -- the next surprise is never far away.
This should also be noted quickly about the 2011 MLS SuperDraft: no college has come close to dominating the day the way Akron did Thursday. Not only did the NCAA champion Zips see an all-time high five players selected in the first round, all were selected within the first eight picks.
Here a look at all 18 teams fared, and whether they addressed their most pressing needs:
Big applause for teams that made the grade ...
Houston Dynamo (defender Kofi Sarkodie, forward Will Bruin): Opportunities for the bold were created when Salgado and goalkeeper Zac MacMath went earlier than expected -- leaving other high projections to fall. Houston coach Dominic Kinnear jumped at the chance by adding a second selection in the opening round for nothing more than some allocation money. Right fullback was a spot that definitely needed upgrading around Robertson Stadium, with foul-prone Andrew Hainault and 34-year-old Richard Mulrooney the choices in last year's season of woe. Sarkodie was the first or second right back on most charts. He can clearly attack, with eight goals and six assists as a fullback at Akron. Can he defend? We'll see -- but it was a solid pick. When Kinnear heard word soon after that selection that Portland was willing to part with the No. 11 pick, he used it for Bruin, a big forward whom many had going much earlier in the proceedings.
New England Revolution (defender A.J. Soares, midfielder Stephen McCarthy, midfielder Ryan Kinne, defender Alan Koger): Soares is a heady center back who looks a little like a Michael Parkhurst starter kit. That is to say, he thinks his way through the game the way Parkhurst did in his days under Revs' coach and noted draft smart guy Steve Nicol. McCarthy is the name that might distinguish this draft for the Revs, as the UNC holding midfielder slipped surprisingly to No. 24 overall, in the middle of the second round. He was rated No. 2 at his position on many boards, and holding midfielders can definitely be found in the MLS draft. Kinne was an attacking midfielder in college. But since the college game is hardly a training ground for creators, he's more likely to play as a second forward in MLS.
New York Red Bulls (forward Corey Hertzog, midfielder John Rooney, defender Tyler Lassiter, midfielder Billy Cortes): Hertzog is a scrapper who lives to score goals, and who will get the chance to learn alongside Thierry Henry. With bigger names in front of him, Hertzog looks like a man who coach Hans Backe can insert late to be a mayhem-maker, much like the way New York once used John Wolyniec. Rooney is an interesting pick -- and not just because he has a famous brother at Manchester United. He held his own at the combine as a tidy, two-way midfielder. Lassiter could be a steal (No. 30 overall) as a talented young center back who can also fill in at left back in a pinch. Backe said Lassiter reminds him a bit of Tim Ream -- high praise indeed.
D.C. United (midfielder Perry Kitchen, defender Chris Korb, goalkeeper Joe Willis): United was absolutely thrilled to see Kitchen fall, as he was their top choice all along. So they landed the heart and soul of Akron's midfield without trading up. The only question is where Kitchen might play at RFK? He prefers defensive midfield, but must answer some questions about his range. There aren't questions, however, about his aptitude for the game; he looks wise beyond his 18 years. Korb can play fullback on either side, which provides options to a club that needs help all along the back line.
Chivas USA (defender Zarek Valentin, forward Victor Estupinan): Like Houston, Chivas aggressively traded to gain a second pick in the opening round. Fraser can use the cerebral Valentin at center back or, more likely, at right back. He was impressive at the combine on the outside. Estupinan was one of the intriguing young South Americans at the combine, a skillful Ecuadorian who also has the size and smarts to hold off defenders.
A polite clap for teams that held serve ...
Chicago Fire (defender Jalil Anibaba, forward Jason Herrick, forward Davis Paul): There's serious rebuilding going on at Toyota Park, and they seemed to be moving in the right direction after Thursday's first pick. Anibaba was the top player in the combine in many estimations, impressive for performance on the field and the way he carried himself off it. The UNC Tar Heel will almost surely be needed around Toyota Park this year, and he looks up for the job. Herrick had a spotty scoring record in college and didn't always look great at the combine, although there are dozens of reasons why players shrink a bit at the annual Florida event.
Portland Timbers (forward Darlington Nagbe, defender Chris Taylor): How much did the forward situation in Portland change in one day? They started with two holdovers from the USL roster and ended with the man most draft watchers expected to go No. 1 overall, Akron's Nagbe. Plus, all appearances are that Kenny Cooper will make his MLS return at PGE Park, as an announcement seems likely soon. Nagbe is blessed with sufficient all-around quality to score goals as a rookie, much like Danny Mwanga did at Philly last year. Coach John Spencer grabbed an additional first-round pick when he gave allocation money to Seattle, but then quickly shipped the pick to Houston. You do have to wonder why an expansion team wouldn't use the newly acquired pick (No. 11 overall) to grab another quality young player, especially one of the economical Generation Adidas talents that remained available at the time.
Seattle Sounders (defender-midfielder Michael Tetteh, midfielder Juan Leone Cruz, midfielder Servando Carrasco, goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, midfielder Alex Caskey): Sigi Schmid made a judgment that the Sounders weren't going to secure an impact player at No. 11 overall, so they shopped away the pick and went for quantity and depth with a bevy of second- and third-round picks. Look at it like this: They'll be great in the resurrected reserve league in 2011! "We had a select few players that we thought would go in the very, very early stages, the top five picks," GM Adrian Hanauer said. "When we realized that we weren't going to get up to five or six, we felt strategically our best move would to trade down and get some allocation money." Three of Sigi Schmid's five selections were midfielders and one other, Tetteh, could play along the midfield line, too. Tetteh might be good enough right away to challenge Leo Gonzalez at left back. Most projections had the UC-Santa Barbara man going in the first round, so this could prove a real steal. Carrassco could be valuable around Qwest Field as cover for Osvaldo Alonso.
FC Dallas (midfielder Bobby Warshaw, midfielder Charlie Campbell, defender Scott Gordon): Warshaw, can certainly play at center back, which is where he made his bones over his final two seasons at Stanford. He moved to center back for his last two years, but he appears more likely to be groomed as a holding midfielder at Pizza Hut Park, where Dax McCarty's uncompensated departure needs to be overcome. Starting at No. 17 overall, it wasn't a bad pick. Campbell was a right midfielder at Louisville.
Colorado Rapids (defender Eddie Ababio, defender Colin Givens): The champs were up against it a little due to Omar Cummings' tenuous situation. Cummings is hopeful of a loan deal to England, although things aren't looking great at the moment. Ideally, coach Gary Smith would know going in whether the club had such a gaping hole to fill. (That's not to mention that Colorado was picking at the very bottom of the first round, No. 18 overall.) Ababio was a right back in college who can also play center back. It's always dicey to pick guys who played their way into the first round at the combine, as Ababio did. After all, what could he do in three days that he didn't do in four years or college?
Los Angeles Galaxy (midfielder Paolo Cardozo, midfielder Hector Jimenez): The Galaxy's recent pickup of forward Adam Cristman and the draft-day acquisition of fellow striker Chad Barrett allowed Bruce Arena to focus on midfielders Thursday. Cardozo is a bit of a gamble, but the Galaxy's perennially hamstrung salary position made him a good fit. The former Quilmes (Argentina) man is just 21 and looked good in the Florida combine. Jimenez is a right-sided midfielder for a side that already has a pretty good one in David Beckham, so he's gets filed under "insurance and longer-term prospect." "We have the right setting at the Galaxy to move him along in the right way," Arena told MLSSoccer.com Thursday.
Real Salt Lake (forward Jarad van Shaik): Looking at a well-balanced roster, the gang from Rio Tinto wasn't much of a player Thursday, with just one third-round selection. Coach Jason Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey apparently didn't see a player they were in love with at No. 14, so they traded their top pick to Chivas USA for allocation money. Van Shaik didn't participate in the combine, so he was a bit of a mystery man. He's a left-sided player who could fill in during Will Johnson's World Cup qualifier absences.
A raised eyebrow for teams that needed to do better ..
Sporting Kansas City (forward C.J. Sapong, defender J.T. Murray, midfielder Konrad Warcycha): It was a little surprising that Sapong (10th overall) went before fellow strikers Will Bruin and Corey Hertzog. But Sapong is a great athlete and, when partnered with some combination of Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and Ryan Smith, will mean a lot of speed and power on the front line at that new stadium in the Midwest. Now, what about someone who can create a little something to get them the ball? Murray is a left back who enjoys going forward, but he'll have his work cut out to displace Roger Espinoza. K.C. grabbed Robert Warzycha's son two picks before his father, Columbus coach Robert Warzycha, could possibly grab him.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC (forward Omar Salgado, midfielder Michael Nanchoff, midfielder Jeb Brovsky, defender Bilal Duckett): You have to ask yourself if the expansion club deciders out-smarted themselves with the top overall pick? With a chance to grab talent to help matters right away and be a long-term contributor, the Whitecaps stunned the room by taking a real project player in Salgado. This pick will be talked about for years, and in fairness the true assessment must now be made after two or three seasons (or more). Still, this smells a lot like the Nik Besagno pick in 2005. He went to Real Salt Lake as a No. 1 overall choice in a similar stunner, but never did a darn thing in MLS. The Whitecaps added another first-round pick, but used it on something of a 'tweener in Michael Nanchoff, a wide midfielder who prefers to come inside. There are some questions about where he'll play as he isn't a classic, flank presence. Brovsky, the top pick of the second round, moved up with steady performance in multiple positions in the combine.
Philadelphia Union (goalkeeper Zack MacMath, midfielder Michael Farfan, forward Levi Houapeu): Following an adequate expansion season, Philly is apparently looking to make headway through the international market. As for the draft, the question here is what coach Peter Nowak wants from MacMath, easily the top goalkeeper available Thursday. Will he be an understudy or something more right away? There's no question he's a solid young 'keeper who will have something to say in years to come. On the other hand, rookie goalkeepers don't always handle themselves well when forced in too early; even the stellar Brad Guzan struggled in his first few months as a rookie starter. By the way, MacMath was the highest goalkeeper taken (No. 5 overall) since Chris Seitz went fourth in 2007. Of course, Philly just traded Seitz to Dallas after a season of struggle at PPL Park. MacMath currently has only Brad Knighton to contend with, although reports won't die that Bundesliga vet Faryd Mondragon may be on his way to the Union.
San Jose Earthquakes (midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong): Head coach Frank Yallop traded away his side's first-round pick to Columbus for banger forward Steven Lenhart, who injured people more often than he scored goals. So with their first pick (No. 33 overall) the Earthquakes needed to do better than a fellow who was undistinguished at the combine. It will be interesting to see if Ampaipitakwong, the seventh Akron player taken, was more a product of the great players around him in college.
Toronto FC (Demitrius Omphroy, midfielder Matt Gold, midfielder Junior Burgoes, midfielder Joao Plata): Toronto's newly established coaching regime was a little late to the college scouting party. And previous trades left them without a first-round selection. So perhaps it's not surprising that their draft looks a little undistinguished. Omphroy is a technical fullback who has a chance to be a good attacking back in MLS, although he still has some development ahead. He definitely fits the Dutch mold, as new coach Aaron Winter will presumably seek players comfortable on the ball all over the field. While it's great to grab players who have room to grow, perhaps they needed to be more aggressive, perhaps look to trade up the way Houston and Chivas did, to collect players ready to help in 2011. Plata is an interesting choice, at least. The crafty, young Ecuadorian attacker raised eyebrows with nice moments at the combine. Stationed along the left in the combine, hopes to play as a forward in MLS.
Columbus Crew (defender Rich Balchan, forward Justin Meram, midfielder Cole Grossman, midfielder Bernardo Anor): The Crew looks a bit lost these days, off-loading talent and leadership without deference to a more orderly transition. It's hard to see how Balchan, the fifth or sixth top-rated center back in the draft on most charts, was the best way forward with the 12th overall pick. Among the multiple positions of need in Ohio, the center back spot seems relatively stable with Chad Marshall and Andy Iro on patrol (and utility knife Danny O'Rourke in reserve). Balchan can replace the depth lost when Eric Brunner went to Portland, but this draft needed to be more than replacing depth for the wayward Crew. Coach Robert Warzycha did help matters by trading allocation money and Steven Lenhart for San Jose's choice in the first round (No. 15 overall). The Crew took Meram, the top forward on most boards by that time. With their third pick in the top 28, the Crew did a little better in Grossman, a Duke standout who had a good combine. He'll be needed to fill the gap for departed central midfielders Brian Carroll and Duncan Oughton.