Draft Day: Grading the No. 1 Picks in MLS History

Better an Edu...

The prevailing buzz on today’s SuperDraft (Noon ET, ESPN2) is that the expansion Montreal Impact will select either Akron striker Darren Mattocks, Duke standout Andrew Wenger, or UCLA forward Chandler Hoffman with the No. 1 pick.

Whomever they select, how will he stack up against previous top picks in MLS? Let’s take a look at them:

1996—Brian McBride*, Columbus Crew

MLS Career Span: Columbus 1996-2004, Chicago 2008-

Highlight(s): Scored 17 goals in his rookie year; MLS Alltime Best XI selection; 62 goals in 161 games for Columbus; 12 in 33 for Chicago so far.

Currently: Retired after 2010 season. Scored his 80th MLS goal in final game.

Comment: McBride made an international name for himself via successful loan stints in England and a five-year career at Fulham, where he became a club legend. Played for the U.S. in the 1998, 2002, and ’06 World Cups, scoring three goals, including game-winners against Portugal and Mexico in ’02.

Selection Grade: A+? … A++?

1997—Tahj Jakins, Colorado Rapids

MLS Career Span: Colorado 1997-2000; Kansas City 2000-2001

Highlight(s): Being selected No. 1 overall? Thirteen starts in 1998 season?

Currently: Retired. Last known soccer address was with the A-League’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2001.

Comment: Jakins was a first-team All America at UCLA in 1996, but didn’t quite establish himself in MLS.

Selection Grade: D+

1998—Leo Cullen, Miami Fusion

MLS Career Span: Miami 1998-2001; New England Revolution 2001-2003; Colorado 2005

Highlight(s): Reached MLS Cup 2002 with New England.

Currently: Retired. Associate head coach at Army. Cullen was also Maurice Edu’s agent at the 2007 SuperDraft.

Comment: Cullen earned three call-ups to the U.S. national team, and there was a time when it looked like he might be a Nats mainstay. That didn’t work out, but he produced a quality MLS career.

Selection Grade: B

1999—Jason Moore, DC United

MLS Career Span: D.C. 1999-2000; Colorado 2000-2001; Chicago Fire 2001-2002; New England 2002-2003

Highlight(s): With one goal, 11 assists in 92 games, they were few and far between.

Currently: Retired.

Comment: Moore was a lean, athletic-looking midfielder out of UVA with U.S. youth national team experience, but … he just didn’t pan out.

Grade: C-

2000—Steve Shak, MetroStars

MLS Career Span: New York 2000-2001; Colorado 2001-2002

Highlight(s): He scored one goal for the MetroStars in 32 appearances—but, hey, it was a game-winner, against New England, 14 games into his rookie season.

Currently: Retired. Assistant coach with the USL Pro [third tier] Charlotte Eagles.

Comment: The MetroStars’ selection of Shak, even though Carlos Bocanegra, Danny Califf, Bobby Convey and Nick Garcia—all of whom would go on to be capped by the U.S.—were still available, is not only a landmark low for the underachieving franchise, but also a Sam Bowie moment for MLS in general.

Selection Grade: D-

2001—Chris Carrieri, San Jose Earthquakes

MLS Career Span: San Jose 2001; Colorado 2001-2003; Chicago 2004

Highlight(s): Five goals and four assists in 14 games for Colorado in his rookie season; 11 goals and five assists in his second year with the team.

Currently: Retired. Last played for the Richmond Kickers in 2009, scoring one goal in five games as the team won the USL2 title.

Comment: Carrieri was an All-America in his junior year at North Carolina, leading the nation in scoring with 25 goals and 14 assists. He also had a bit of a big mouth (he promised to lead San Jose to the MLS title—before the Quakes traded him to Colorado that year). These two factors caused many to tag him an MLS bust, but he was more disappointment than bust, fading after a strong second season in the league.

Selection Grade: C+

2002—Chris Gbandi, FC Dallas

MLS Career Span: Dallas 2002-2007

Highlight(s): Named Dallas’s defender of the year in 2006; scored sick goal v Real Salt Lake in 2007, rocket from 21 yards into the upper corner.

Currently: Retired. Assistant coach at his alma mater, UConn. Played in Norway and the USL after MLS.

Comment: Gbandi was a two-time All-America at the University of Connecticut, but he blew out his knee in his rookie season in MLS, missing the entire year. He bounced back impressively for the Hoops before jumping to Norway’s FK Haugesund.

Selection Grade: B

2003—Alecko Eskandarian, D.C. United

MLS Career Span: D.C. 2003-2006; Toronto FC 2007; Real Salt Lake 2007; Chivas USA 2008-2009; Los Angeles Galaxy 2009-2010

Highlight(s): Man of the Match in MLS Cup 2004 with two goals in D.C.’s win 3-2 win over Kansas City.

Currently: Retired. Youth technical director for the Philadelphia Union.

Comment: The son of former New York Cosmos star Andranik Eskandarian had an injury-plagued career in MLS, and retired in 2010 after a long layoff with post-concussion syndrome. If not for the health problems, he’d probably have more than one cap for the U.S.

Selection Grade: B

2004—Freddy Adu D.C. United

MLS Career Span: D.C. 2004-2006; Real Salt Lake 2006-2007

Highlight(s): Became the youngest player in more than a century to appear in a U.S. professional sports league of any kind when he made his MLS debut in April 2004 at age 14. Three-time MLS Goal of the Week winner. Good showing in 2011 Gold Cup.

Currently: With the Philadelphia Union.

Comment: Adu was so advanced at age 14 that many people doubted that was his actual age. Well, it was, and now, at 22, he’s come full circle.

Selection Grade: B- (extra points for PR generated by pick)

...than a Besagno.

2005—Nik Besagno, Real Salt Lake

MLS Career Span: RSL 2005-2008

Highlights: Being mercifully released in November 2008, after only eight appearances in three seasons.

Currently: In the USL Premier Development League (4th level) with the Kitsap Pumas.

Comment: Besagno, who signed a Generation adidas contract at age 16, is a prime example of a club wildly misjudging a prospect.

Selection Grade: F

2006—Marvell Wynne, New York Red Bulls (drafted when team was MetroStars).

MLS Career Span: Red Bulls 2006-2007; Toronto FC 2007-10, Colorado 2010-

Highlights: Five assists in 2009; MLS Cup title with Colorado in 2010; five caps for the U.S. national team.

Currently: With Colorado.

Comment: Wynne is astoundingly athletic and quick, but lacks technical polish.

Selection Grade: B

2007—Maurice Edu, Toronto FC

MLS Career Span: Toronto 2007-2008

Highlights: Rookie of the Year in 2007, with 25 appearances and four goals.

Currently: With Glasgow Rangers of the Scottish Premier League.

Comment: Edu immediately thrived in MLS and became a national-team regular. He’s battled injuries throughout his career, but has 30 caps with the U.S., played in the 2010 World Cup and is a regular at Rangers.

Selection Grade: A

2008—Chance Myers, Kansas City Wizards (via San Jose)

MLS Career Span: Kansas City 2008-

Highlight(s): Breakout season in 2011, started 24 games at right back, excelled.

Currently: With KC—now called Sporting Kansas City.

Comment: Myers missed much of his rookie season after contracting mononucleosis, then broke a bone in his foot in 2009, making only six appearances, all as a sub. But he established himself as a quality wingback in 2011.

Selection Grade: B

2009—Steve Zakuani, Seattle Sounders FC

MLS Career Span: Seattle 2009-

Highlights: Tied Fredy Montero for club lead in goals with 10 in 2010. Two goals, two assists in six appearances in 2011.

Comment: Zakuani turned down a bigger offer from English club Preston North End to sign with MLS, and had two fine seasons and the beginnings of a third before Brian Mullan broke his leg with an awful tackle in April 2011. Currently rehabbing.

Selection Grade: A-

2010—Danny Mwanga, Philadelphia Union

MLS Career Span: Philadelphia 2010-

Highlights: Seven goals and four assists in 17 starts in his rookie season; finalist for Rookie of the Year award.

Comment: Suffered a bit of a sophomore slump in 2011, making just 13 starts. Had five goals and four assists. Big, physical 20-year-old’s game needs to grow in Year 3.

Selection Grade: B+

2011—Omar Salgado, Vancouver Whitecaps

MLS Career Span: Vancouver 2011-

Highlights: First professional goal in April vs Columbus. This incredible run with the Generation adidas side (see 1:55 mark).

Comment: Didn’t get a lot of playing time in 2011. Still only 18.

Selection Grade: Incomplete.

*McBride was the No. 1 pick in the MLS Inaugural Draft, but the league also held a college draft in 1996, and the No. 1 pick there was St. Louis University product Matt McKeon, who went on to a solid seven-year career in the league, earning two caps with the U.S. national team.

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