Doubts about the viability of the MLS SuperDraft grow each year, and with the recent sharp rise in MLS academy programs, along with the change to the Designated Player rule to attract younger international players, the draft, which had four rounds in 2010 and three last year, has been reduced to two rounds this year.
Many observers believe it will soon go the way of the dodo (a phrase, by the way, that has itself gone the way of the dodo), but the 2012 edition kicks off tomorrow in Kansas City (Noon ET, ESPN2 and ESPN3) and there are some talented prospects available.
The college game will be further marginalized in years to come, but, in the tradition of Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey, and Kasey Keller (among many others), it still manages to produce some quality future pros. Look no further than last year’s SuperDraft class:
1. Omar Salgado, F (US U-20s), Vancouver Whitecaps—Not a college player, but he entered MLS as the surprise top pick of the SuperDraft. After sorting out his eligibility issue, Salgado struggled to find playing time behind Eric Hassli (11 goals) and Brazilian Camilo (12 goals). But he showed well on the recent Generation adidas (GA) tour of the Netherlands, and he’s still only 18 years old.
2. Darlington Nagbe, MF (Akron), Portland Timbers—The Liberian battled injuries at the start of his rookie season, but gradually worked his way into the lineup and, in July, scored a sensational volley that was voted 2011 MLS Goal of the Year.
3. Perry Kitchen MF/D (Akron), DC United—The US U-20 international signed a GA contract with MLS after one season at Akron and quickly slotted into DC’s first XI, making 30 starts and 31 appearances. He had a good season and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
4. Zarek Valentin, D (Akron), Chivas USA—Another Akron Zip, another promising young pro: Valentin made 25 appearances (24 starts) in his first season with the Goats and next year figures to be a key cog in defense for Montreal, which selected him in the Expansion Draft.
5. Zac MacMath, GK (Maryland), Philadelphia Union—Rode the bench behind veteran Faryd Mondragon for most of the season, but filled in capably when the Colombian international went down with an injury in September. The rookie started seven games in that stretch and went 3-0-4.
6. AJ Soares, D (UC-Berkeley), New England Revolution—Stepped right into the Revs’ backline, starting 28 games. Was in the Rookie-of-the-Year conversation early on, drawing comparisons to 2010 breakout rookie Tim Ream before fading (along with his team) late.
7. Kofi Sarkodie, D (Akron), Houston Dynamo—The former US U-17 and U-20 international got some early PT but was benched after a couple of gaffes. Never regained his starting place, but he’s only 20 and the jury is still out.
8. Michael Nanchoff, M (Akron), Vancouver Whitecaps (from Toronto)—The fifth Akron player selected in the Top 8 of the SuperDraft, Nanchoff suffered an early-season groin injury, then failed to crack the first team.
9. Jalil Anibaba, D (N Carolina), Chicago Fire—Set the Fire’s franchise record for regular-season appearances by a rookie (29) and scored on a preposterous 40-yard screamer to the top corner in a US Open Cup match against Colorado. (See it here: third selection, and club Goal of the Year.)
10. CJ Sapong, F (James Madison), Sporting Kansas City—The steal of the SuperDraft, Sapong had five goals, five assists and won the Rookie of the Year award. Currently in camp with Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. national team.
Not bad: Seven of last year’s Top 10 made significant contributions to their teams in their first year as pros.
The next 10 weren’t duds either, with Will Bruin (five goals, one assist for Houston, fifth in RoY voting), and Rich Balchan (18 starts for Columbus, showed versatility) leading the way, followed by Justin Meram (17 appearances for the Crew) and Bobby Warshaw (17 appearances for Dallas, game-winning goal vs Kansas City).
(We’re not counting 16th pick Paolo Cardozo, the Uruguayan who had some pro experience in Argentina before entering the 2011 SuperDraft. He contributed to LA’s MLS championship run.)
This year’s class looks equally talented, featuring players like Jamaican speedster Darren Mattocks (39 goals in 47 games for Akron), UCLA goal-poacher Chandler Hoffman (18 goals for the Bruins last year, two goals in his first two games at the Combine), and Creighton’s Ethan Finlay (hat-trick in his first Combine match).
The SuperDraft may be on the way out, but it’s not dead yet. Tune in tomorrow at noon.