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Drafting Expectations

The days leading to a draft are always fun as teams make trades, players' stock rises and falls, and everyone on the funky Internet machine takes a crack at projecting the selections. The 2009 MLS draft will be held next Thursday afternoon in St. Louis as part of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention, and while we should expect a flurry of activity following this weekend's scouting combine in Fort Lauderdale, we should also keep things in perspective.

MLS is not the NFL, where many rookies make immediate impacts and are capable of turning around a franchise, like what happened in Atlanta (Matt Ryan) and Baltimore (Joe Flacco) this gridiron season. While the draft and free agency are NFL teams' primary sources of fresh talent, MLS clubs look to foreign signings and trades to dramatically alter their lineup. The MLS draft is for the long term, like in baseball and hockey. That said, we should not discount the influence provided by players who were acquired through the MLS draft over the years -- there are dozens of examples of why it is important.

Keep reading below.....

But consider:

*In MLS's 13 seasons, no MVP winner has come to MLS directly from college or high school through the draft. (Taylor Twellman was drafted by New England but only after playing in Germany first, and Jason Kreis toiled in the USL before being selected by Dallas in the inaugural draft.)

*From the 2008 Best XI, only defenders Chad Marshall and Bakary Soumare and midfielder Sacha Kljestan were first-round draft picks.

*Of the 14 first-round picks last winter, Rob Valentino and Josh Lambo did not appear in any league matches, Dominic Cervi never signed with MLS, Ciaran O'Brien and David Horst made only one league appearance and Brek Shea played in two games. The group did combine to make 84 starts, but rookie of the year Sean Franklin had 26 of them, and none in the group scored more than one goal.

Just reasons to temper expectations when you hear the names called next week in St. Louis. I'll have much more on the player pool as the event approaches.

By Steve Goff  |  January 5, 2009; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  College Soccer , MLS  
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Next: Tuesday Kickaround


yea rookie making changes in the NFL is really rare now in days. Take a look at Vernon Davis, 5th overall pick to be a star studded run much hype for nothing.

Posted by: TheWashDipsSince88 | January 5, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

and in MLS, thats non-existant to my opinion but I could be wrong.

Posted by: TheWashDipsSince88 | January 5, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I guess the combine is this weekend?

Posted by: Reignking | January 5, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

The thing that bothers me about the MLS Draft is how some fans blame coaches/GMs when the players they select from the Draft don't turn out. Yet, they tolike heap praise on coaches/GMs that get lucky on a 4th round pick.

If the coaches/GMs new the talent they were selecting would turn out, they'd have selected the players in the 1st round.

It's a crap shoot. You win some and you lose some.

Posted by: TCompton | January 5, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

There's definitely still something to be said though for drafting quality talent and retaining it. I wrote a whole blog post about this previously, but just look at the two most consistently successful MLS clubs over the past couple years. 45% of the players on Houston's roster were drafted by them, and 44% of the players on New England's roster were drafted by them. Compare that with just 24% on DC United. Of course there are other factors influencing that too, but it's more than just a coincidence.

Posted by: DCUMD | January 5, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I don't see the connection. In its entire history, New England has won a single US Open Cup championship. In the last 3 years, DC United has that and a couple of Supporters Shields with it's 24% draftee roster.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | January 5, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I forgot the SuperLiga. But I still don't buy the argument.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | January 5, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

hey, why can't I get a DCU avatar to go along with the Skins, Caps and Nats? anyway.

I see the MLS draft as much more like the baseball draft than NFL or NBA drafts. you are looking for indications of performance in two to three years, knowing that it will take at least a season for almost every player to adjust to the league. it's really why I would love to see more loans of drafted players, which is what basically happens to every MLB draftee, no matter how talented. almost no one is on a major league roster on opening day. so knowing that only 2-3 players in the average draft will contribute at all the first season, why go through the charade? keep the draft, I have no problems with that. bring your guys in for a workout, and, save the GenAd guys, if you see potential, sign them for the $20K or whatever and ship them out to a USL team, maybe even a USL-2 team. that team gets a free, young player, you get time for him to develop. if he looks better after a season, you reevaluate. you can loan a player out for a total of two seasons, three if he is under 22.

so give every team 3 $20k slots, rising to $22k and $24k to sign players as developmental loaners. the team retains the player's rights, unless they choose not to re-sign them for the second year, or after the two years. obviously this is intended for younger players.

so what does USL get? exposure, as fans of, say, DCU, watch the development of player X; free players who should, theoretically, be able to play a reasonable role on your average USL team; and the potential of signing players after their stint is done, if MLS doesn't like them.

Players get a run out, when especially with the death of the reserve system they won't get, with MLS paying attention to them still.

MLS teams get a few more developing players, to compensate for the smaller rosters. they wouldn't HAVE to use the slots, but they might find it useful. players would have to be drafted or under the age of 20 to be eligible (you could, use your academy players as well)

all this for $700k for the league. that's a steal.

Posted by: joshuaostevens | January 5, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

The practice of offering Generation Adidas contracts to a bunch of very young, long-term developmental prospects making them exempt from MLS' miserly salary cap also skews the MLS Draft.

Teams are so conscious of the league salary cap that they will often use their first round pick for a player like Nick Besagno or Bryan Arguez instead of an older player who would be much more likely to contribute in his first year but would count against the cap.

I've often thought it would be better to have a separate Gen Adidas draft but I doubt the teams or the league would go for it. At least it's easier to compare the merits of players in the draft if you exempt the GenAds from the conversation.

Posted by: Joel_M_Lane | January 5, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

@joshuaosteven. You can upload your own avatar. Of course, you'll have to download the DC United logo and use it without their permission. Or you could just use a picture of a Post staffer - Joe Doc uses George Will's.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | January 5, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I should clarify that I meant younger Gen Ad players are the ones whose utility is most difficult to forecast. Players under 18 or so rather than players coming out of NCAA soccer one year early.

Posted by: Joel_M_Lane | January 5, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

"MLS is not the NFL, where many rookies make immediate impacts and are capable of turning around a franchise, like what happened in Atlanta (Matt Ryan) and Baltimore (Joe Flacco) this gridiron season."

I would argue that, generally, soccer isn't a sport that allows for one player to turn around a franchise in a season. No one soccer player has possession of the ball as often as a quarterback, therefore the opportunities aren't there to have THAT dramatic of an impact.

Is Schletto (sp?) an exception? I guess, which is why I say generally. An impact player can make a good team great in soccer. But I don't think one player can take a cellar-dweller and turn it into a contender in one season. Soccer is more demanding than that.

I will now wait for Soccer Insider loyalists with more knowledge of the international game to blow my argument out of the water...

Posted by: joedoc1 | January 5, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

joedoc: I think you're basically right. even at the top levels, you look for that one player to put you over the top, not to propel you from the cellar. would putting Cristiano Ronaldo on an MLS team make them a favorite immediately? depends on the team. Beckham couldn't save the Galaxy when surrounded by poor players. put Becks on a team with a good defense, and he might put them over the top (say, Houston, New England, Chicago) but he wouldn't turn around the Rapids all by himself (or DCU for that matter)

Posted by: joshuaostevens | January 5, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Freddie Ljungberg can take a team that was non-existent and turn it into a champion - according to some of the stuff I've read on the interspace.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | January 5, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

270: sure, but why doesn't the Post have one automatically? they do for the other DC franchises...oh, that's right.

Posted by: joshuaostevens | January 5, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

There really should be no comparison of the 08' MLS Draft and this upcoming draft.

The 09' class is so much superior in talent and depth it's not even funny. One could go as far to say that the 08' draft is the single worst draft in league history.

With the advent of increased foreign signing ability, the impact of the MLS draft will become less and less as the league continues to grow. However, this class in particular (09') can be a very special one in terms of impact players.

The 08' draft is a bit of an anamoly in terms of impact players. Also to consider is that you really can't judge a draft class on just one year of play. Having said that though, I just don't see any really meaningful players that will make a major impact in MLS. Maybe Nyarko and Cameron so far, but we're reaching beyond that.

Posted by: ARickey | January 5, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

More than one-quarter of the Best XI were former first-round picks? I don't have numbers, but that sounds like a pretty high success rate, even compared with other sports. Especially given that the MLS draft only applies to US talent, while the league literally has a world of talent to draw upon for signings outside the draft system. Contrast that with American football, where the only talent is American, and there are plenty of first-round flops. Or, alternatively, compare it with baseball, where first-round picks lack a great track record of success. Even hockey and basketball, where the top young foreign players are included in the draft -- there's pretty high failure rate for top draftees.

Posted by: fischy | January 5, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse


I like your idea, but considering MLS didn't/couldn't raise the cap (despite obviously needing to), it's not going to happen. That's a shame, because MLS would be well-served to have young players learning what it's like to be expected to do well as a starter rather than merely hoping to make the bench. The quality's a bit lower, but that psychological development breeds consistency and the kind of fortitude required to become a first-choice player.

Joe Doc:

I don't know if your argument can be "blown out of the water". It's hard to see any single player fixing LA (especially the players an MLS team can realistically get), even with Beckham and Donovan in place. An MLS cellar-dweller is going to be dysfunctional on too many levels and in too many positions to be saved by even a transcendent talent.


I bet those guys also put a lot of money into


My draft expectations for DCU are simple: Get 2 regular contributors. They don't have to be starters; they just have to be guys that could get playing time even with the roster mostly healthy. They don't have to be rookie of the year candidates. A couple guys on the level of Corey Ashe or Luke Sassano would be great.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | January 5, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

A couple guys on the level of Corey Ashe or Luke Sassano would be great.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | January 5, 2009 6:12 PM

I'm still hoping for a Josh Gros clone if the original is not returning.

Posted by: OWNTF | January 5, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Happy New Year! I find my self agreeing with fischy in regard to Marshall, Soumare, and Emo's success. Not bad for first rounders indeed.
Too bad the US couldn't pull some strings help Bakary speed up his US citizenship... I would have loved to see the guy wear the stars and stripes. I know, I know we have plenty of defenders, blah, blah, but the dude loves America and wanted to play for the US. Subotic didn't.

Those early profits from bought a boatload of RAVE colored glasses(I'm searching Ebay for a pair of my own). When Freddy misses training camp and the spectre of pine riding injured DPs starts creeping around King st I reckon some of those shades are going to get smashed in pioneer square.
Who knows though, maybe Letoux will win the Golden Boot in 09...:-)

Posted by: DadRyan | January 5, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse


I think we'd all like to see that, though the acquisition of Guerrero made that a less apparent need than before. Still, I can't shake the suspicion that some Euro club will just gather our draft picks in a secret St. Louis location moments after the draft ends and offer them all contracts.


If LeToux wins the Golden Boot, it will mean that Sigi Schmid is in league with the devil himself.

Kidding aside, I think they're going to run a very similar system to what Columbus did, with Jaqua leading the line, playing physically, drawing lots of fouls, and grabbing 8-10 goals. Ljungberg will be in the Schelotto role, though his version will be much different.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | January 5, 2009 9:07 PM | Report abuse

76 days until United's first match!

Posted by: Curious99 | January 5, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

chest: that's the other reason to pick GenAd guys, they've already come to terms with the league, so they aren't a complete waste of a pick right there.

Posted by: joshuaostevens | January 5, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately Guerrero may miss a considerable amount of time with Honduran national team duty though, no? Good for him but not so hot for United. On the bright side, I'm sure he'll be in great shape when the season starts.

Who was jonein' on Emilio's lack of fitness being due to eating chicken and cookies last season? I still laugh out loud about that one.

Posted by: DadRyan | January 5, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

The former almost DC United superstar Stephen Appiah signed with Tottenham for the rest of the 2008-09 season.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | January 5, 2009 11:26 PM | Report abuse

I read somewhere recently - sorry don't remember where - that in fact only a very tiny percentage of players drafted are still with their original teams after 3-4 years. That seems to indicate the draft is not actually a particularly good way to invest long term.

Posted by: Wendell_Gee | January 6, 2009 12:53 AM | Report abuse

not to bog this down with pointyball discussion, but i would argue that neither Ryan nor Flacco (especially Flacco) are all that largely responsible for their teams good fortunes this year. Ryan benefitted from a good offensive line and the addition of a top RB in Turner. Flacco's numbers are mediocre (just look at Sunday's win over the Dolphins), but the team has a great defense and good RBs and WRs to take the burden off.

point being, in any game where there are 11 people on the field, the ability of 1 player (even if s/he touched the ball on every play/possession) to completely affect the outcome is going to be severely limited. i'm not sure that it's any easier in the NFL than in MLS. the NFL is littered with draft busts and guys who took several years to pan out.

in fact, i think soccer overall has a longer history of very young players having an impact at the highest levels. just to take the current EPL as an example, you have guys like Rooney, Torres, Van Persie and many others who make a big impact at a young age. of course, they don't have to worry about a draft, they just get to throw money at them. MLS has fewer impact youngsters because their pool of applicants is limited, and because the league manages each team's ability to sign these players.

Posted by: dimesmakedollars | January 6, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

. . . funky Internet machine. . .
I like it. Sounds like a James Brown song.

Posted by: sounder4life | January 6, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

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