By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jan 10, 2022) US Soccer Players – The annual MLS SuperDraft that takes place on Tuesday will mark the unofficial start to the 2022 season. Once again, an expansion side will get the top spot with Charlotte FC making the #1 pick. For Charlotte, it’s a chance to add a key player to their roster as the new franchise looks to compete in their debut season.
Charlotte FC chose three players in last month’s Expansion Draft, also coming away with $900,000 in allocation money after selling two additional picks. It puts the team on healthy footing heading into the SuperDraft, where they have three picks. Charlotte FC has already signed 18 of up to 30 active players. It’s a roster with a big international flavor, indicating that the draft may not be so vital to the team’s building strategy. On the eve of the draft, Charlotte signed Georgetown University midfielder Chris Hegardt, a Seattle Sounders FC Homegrown Player.
The SuperDraft is an interesting scenario for all 28 league teams. The draft could be losing its impact in an era of Homegrown Players and MLS fully embracing the international transfer market. That’s far from a new critique. The standard thinking is that college soccer is steadily losing its power as a talent pipeline. The reality is otherwise. The New England Revolution won the Supporters’ Shield this past season with a defense that was put together through the SuperDraft.
Who Charlotte will select at the SuperDraft remains the stuff of speculation. Will they do what past expansion teams have done and try to grab a defender, specifically a center back? Is there more success in picking an attack-minded player? Over the years, the expansion teams have had mixed results from the draft. As Matthew Doyle pointed out on MLSsoccer.com: “The 2022 Generation adidas class contains Kipp Keller, a big, left-footed domestic CB who played both in the midfield and in defense for St. Louis University. And everyone I’ve spoken with around the league thinks he’ll go in the top two – he’s highly rated. I wouldn’t overcomplicate this if I was Charlotte.”
In 2000, the annual confab turned into the SuperDraft. Prior to that, the league held what was called the MLS College Draft. Regardless of the name, the top picks cary with them considerable risk. In 1998, for example, expansion sides Miami and Chicago had the first and second pick, respectively. The Fusion chose defender Leo Cullen from the University of Maryland. The Fire also picked a defender, Ritchie Kotschau from George Mason. Both players developed into quality pros, and both got looks with the USMNT.
The problem for assessing draft picks is time. The eventual stars from that first round were the #6 pick when the Los Angeles Galaxy chose Clint Mathis, and the Crew selecting Jeff Cunningham 9th. The Fusion got Pablo Mastroeni to start the second round. Chicago, meanwhile, traded their second-round spot to DC United in a deal that got them Jesse Marsch, originally the 21st pick in the 1996 College Draft.
Since there’s no one narrative when it comes to the SuperDraft, looking for a specific style of player can turn into an issue. Select the top available midfielder like Real Salt Lake did in 2005, and Chivas USA uses the next pick on Brad Guzan. In 2007, Toronto FC picked Maurice Edu first overall, getting a player who made 25 appearances in their expansion season. In 2011, the Vancouver Whitecaps passed on Darlington Nagbe with the first pick. Portland didn’t let him slip past 2nd.
As MLS grew in size and pushed the academy model for player development, the relevancy of the SuperDraft became an annual question. Players like Jordan Morris, Julian Gressel, and Miles Robinson provided obvious counterpoints to any criticism.
The last four years all saw expansion teams enter the league with the top pick. Joao Moutinho (LAFC in 2018), Frankie Amaya (FC Cincinnati in 2019), Robbie Robinson (Inter Miami in 2020), and Daniel Pereira (Austin FC last year) are all too recent to fairly assess. Orlando taking Daryl Dike with the 5th pick in 2020 isn’t. After emerging as a USMNT player, he completed a transfer to West Bromwich Albion.
While the SuperDraft is no longer the splashy television event it once was, it still represents a chance at getting a contributor. For Charlotte, the stakes may not be nearly as high when college was the obvious route to the pros, but making the right choice still counts.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.
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