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By IVES GALARCEP
The 2013 MLS Draft was one filled with wheeling and dealing, and plenty of surprises, but the actual draft picks made were, for the most part, fairly reasonable and this year’s draft lacked the true head-scratching selections of year’s past.
Most coaches and general managers I spoke to leading up to the draft agreed that there were probably at least 20, and potentially as many as 30, players capable of making rosters and potentially seeing good minutes and developing into useful MLS players.
We won’t be able to know just how well teams actually did until two or three years go by and players have the chance to develop and show their true value, but what we can do is try and measure just how well teams did with their picks based on how players were rated heading into the draft.
The big winners on draft day were pretty clear to identify, with Toronto FC, Colorado and Houston walking away with tremendous value for the picks they entered the day with.
And the losers? It is tough to find a team in the draft that didn’t come away with at least one player who filled a need. You could argue the Philadelphia Union qualify, but even they did well with the two second-round picks they had, at least in terms of landing talent.
Here is a closer look at how all 19 teams did in the 2013 MLS Draft (keep in mind grades are based on selections made, so we didn’t factor in players acquired for draft picks):
SBI 2013 MLS DRAFT TEAM GRADES
TORONTO FC (A+)
The draft could not have gone any better for TFC. They pull off three trades, pocket a significant amount of allocation money (in the $200,000 range total) and still landed two of their favorite players (both Canadian to boot). Kyle Bekker could become a star and Emery Welshman could give the team good minutes at forward as a rookie.
COLORADO RAPIDS (A)
The Rapids had been linked to Walker Zimmerman before the draft, but instead of trading up and giving up assets, they stood pat and took a player in Deshorn Brown who fits an immediate need for a replacement for Omar Cummings. Dillon Powers also helps offset the departure of Jeff Larentowicz. Throw in grabbing a standout left back prospect in Kory Kindle in the second round and the Rapids walk away with three quality players.
HOUSTON DYNAMO (A)
The Dynamo had two picks and managed to grab two players well lower than they would have been projected to go before the draft (and specifically before the MLS Combine). Both Johnson and Nealis underperformed at the Combine but both were steals where Houston took them. Johnson should thrive playing for Kinnear and alongside fellow Jamaicans like Omar Cummings, Jermaine Taylor and Je-Vaughn Watson while Nealis gives the Dynamo some needed depth at left back.
VANCOUVER WHITECAP (B+)
The Whitecaps traded up to grab young Gambian forward Kekuta Manneh, a speedy attacking player who should fit in well into Vancouver’s new attacking approach. The same goes for Erik Hurtado, who boasts speed, is good with both feet and is perfectly-suited to play as a wide forward in the 4-3-3.
Manneh is more of a wild card, but his showing at the MLS Combine helped convince plenty of teams that he was worthy of an early pick, which is why the Whitecaps traded up to secure the services of a player they saw up close during a training stint last season. As for Hurtado, he was one of my favorite player in this draft, with his speed and tenacity capable of helping him see heavy minutes as a rookie.
PORTLAND TIMBERS (B+)
The Timbers score this grade because they took a player they were planning on waiving anyway in Mike Fucito and parlayed him into centerback Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, who some teams considered a first-round-caliber player. Throw in the fact there is a very good chance they took Tucker-Gangnes just before arch-rival Seattle would have and you see why the Timbers earn high marks.
The Timbers didn’t have a first-round pick because they dealt it to Houston in a trade that landed Kris Boyd.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (B)
The Revs traded up and landed the consensus best player in the draft in Andrew Farrell. Their next three picks were second-round selections that were a bit more questionable. Donnie Smith is a fast left winger who was decent value, while Luke Spencer (Xavier) enjoyed a strong combine but you can argue there were better forwards left on the board. Louis Soffner was a standout during Indiana’s title run, and is good enough to make the squad, but you can’t help but wonder if he was really the best goalkeeper left on the board (James Belshaw was widely regarded as the best, but his international status caused him to slip out of the draft.)
SEATTLE SOUNDERS (B)
The Sounders were aggressive on draft day, trading up to grab Eriq Zavaleta and landed a player with the tools to develop into an elite centerback. He boasts good size (6-foot-1), athleticism and technical ability better suited to be a top central defender. Seattle’s second-round pick, Brown’s Dylan Remick, impressed at the Combine but you can definitely argue there were better left backs on the board, such as Jimmy Nealis and Greg Cochrane.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY (B)
The loss of Roger Espinoza to Wigan was a major blow, even with the acquisition of Benny Feilhaber, but Lopez could eventually develop into a long-term replacement for Espinoza. Lopez slipped because of questions about just where he fits into a midfield, and because he followed up a somewhat disappointing sophomore season at UNC with a so-so Combine. Players who played with and against him had a different view though, with many praising Lopez’s game.
Lopez isn’t likely to be a first-year option for Sporting KC, but has the tools to develop into a standout and he has landed at the kind of team capable of developing him, much the way they developed Espinoza as a young midfielder. And for those asking, Lopez is more of a deep-lying passer ala Reyna or Pirlo. He is not a pure defensive midfielder or a playmaker, as some have suggested.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (B-)
The Earthquakes came into the draft looking for some centerback depth after losing Ike Opara in the MLS Re-Entry Draft, and they couldn’t have asked for a better option with the No. 15 overall pick than Georgetown senior Tommy Muller, who was considered the best senior centerback in the draft. Muller could develop into a perfect complement to Victor Bernardez if called on to start. He doesn’t boast imposing size, but is quick, strong and reads the game extremely well. You can argue he’s the most polished defender in the draft.
The Earthquakes went for a skilled playmaker in Dan Delgado (San Diego) in the second round, a project who could provide some depth in central midfield, but who may struggle to make the roster.
LA GALAXY (B-)
Taking Charlie Rugg in the first round felt like a reach. He endured an injury-hit senior year that hurt his stock considerably, and even though he showed good glimpses in the Combine, you still get the feeling the Galaxy could have taken him in the second round.
The Galaxy’s second-round picks were both good additions for defensive depth. Kofi Opare could develop into a useful centerback while left back/winger Greg Cochrane was good enough to have gone much earlier in the second round.
It should be noted that the Galaxy’s Homegrown Player signing, Gyasi Zardes, would very likely have been the No. 1 player taken in the MLS Draft if he had been available in the draft. That makes the gamble on Rugg a little easier to make.
COLUMBUS CREW (B-)
The Crew probably took Notre Dame’s Ryan Finley earlier than most teams would have, but Columbus came in looking for some forward depth and grabbed arguably the best finisher in the draft. Time will tell whether the Crew would have been better off taking Jason Johnson, but Finley’s outstanding senior year showed us a player who has matured and developed his game considerably.
Columbus grabbed a Combine standout in the second round in Drew Beckie (University of Denver), who impressed several teams in Fort Lauderdale. He should provide some depth at left back and centerback on a team that needed cover at both spots.
Crew fans will have plenty of young talent to watch this season with an infusion of Homegrown players to go with their two draft picks. Will Trapp was a first-round caliber talent while Chad Barson is also a solid defender. If you throw those into the grade equation, the Crew would be registering an A on the draft/homegrown player grade front.
REAL SALT LAKE (B-)
RSL could certainly have used a centerback, especially after the departure of Jamison Olave and the recent injury to Nat Borchers, but RSL focused on another need, which is central midfield depth. The departure of Will Johnson left the team with a need and John Stertzer should help provide some cover. He was one of the most pro-ready midfielders in the draft, boasting good size, good passing touch and the versatility to play in a variety of midfield roles.
Where RSL turned some heads was with the selection of New Mexico forward Devon Sandoval. He looked awful at the MLS Combine but Real Salt Lake had Sandoval train with the team last year and came away impressed enough to grab him with the 29th overall pick. Taking him ahead of a centerback like Dylan Tucker-Gangnes could wind up proving costly (though RSL still has decent centerback depth).
D.C. UNITED (C+)
If you spend your lone pick on a player who fills a key need, and that player has local ties, then you have had a pretty good day. The real question is whether Taylor Kemp was truly the best left back in the draft as D.C. United noted. A year ago Kemp was on the fringes of the Generation adidas conversation, but an injury-hit senior season hurt his stock, as did a poor showing in the NCAA Tournament. Players like Kory Kindle and Drew Beckie were also worth consideration and it will be up to Kemp to show that he is a much better player than he showed in 2012.
NEW YORK RED BULLS (C+)
Much like D.C. United, the Red Bulls entered the draft looking to fill one key need, some central midfield depth, and landed a quality player in the second round in Ian Christianson, a skilled midfielder well-suited to provide some depth behind Dax McCarty on the Red Bulls depth chart. Christianson was a key cog in Georgetown’s high-powered attack, and his ability to connect the defense to the attack makes him a potential steal as the No. 22 pick in the draft.
When you consider the Red Bulls spent their 2013 first-round pick to acquire Kenny Cooper, who scored 18 goals in 2012, New York did very well to maximize value from their 2013 draft.
MONTREAL IMPACT (C)
A look at the Impact’s draft picks tell you one thing. Montreal did some serious work during the college season. Fernando Monge and Paolo DelPiccolo were two impressive players during the college season, and DelPiccolo could wind up being a steal after skipping the Combine to go on trial in Germany. If he winds up signing with the Impact then Montreal’s grade goes up a full mark to a B.
Montreal’s selection of Blake Smith at No. 8 felt like an early pick (he seemed more likely to fall to the 12-15 range), but even with his disappointing MLS Combine Smith remained arguably the best pure winger in the draft and he could wind up playing considerable minutes as a rookie. He will need to in order for Montreal’s draft grade to rise beyond average.
PHILADELPHIA UNION (C)
The Union came in with just two second-round picks, and succeeded in landing a good left-footed player in Don Anding, who could wind up filling a need at left back. Stephen Okai is a skilled central midfielder who the Union know well, and who could help provide some depth in place of Freddy Adu, who is on the way out of Philadelphia.
The Union’s first-round pick went to Vancouver last season in the trade to acquire Bakary Soumare. An injury-hit first season for Soumare makes the Union’s overal 2013 draft haul rather unimpressive, but Soumare will be back in 2013 to show he was worth a pick that wound up being Vancouver selection Erik Hurtado.
FC DALLAS (C)
The Hoops landed an absolute steal with Walker Zimmerman as the No. 7 overall pick despite the fact you could argue Zimmerman was talented enough to be the No. 1 pick.
So why only a C? It’s simple. FC Dallas just might have wasted a No. 20 overall pick on UCLA midfielder Ryan Hollingshead, who skipped the MLS Combine to take part in a charity mission and looks set to pass on a pro soccer career to pursue charity work. Dallas is convinced it can talk him into playing, and Schellas Hyndman claims FC Dallas rated him as one of the top players in the draft (if so, they would be in the small minority who felt that way). The pick was a high risk, low reward gamble when there was plenty of good talent still on the board.
CHICAGO FIRE (C-)
The Fire’s only pick in the draft was a project in Yazid Atouba Emane, a speedy Cameroonian winger who showed good glimpses at the draft, but is very much a wild card. It was a quiet draft day for Chicago, but remember they traded the No. 11 overall pick to land veteran midfielder Jeff Larentowicz.
CHIVAS USA (D)
The Goats got the player they wanted in Carlos Alvarez, a promising attacking midfielder who fits the team’s mandate for Mexican-American talent (and he’s also the son of a former Chivas Guadalara player as well).
So why the D? Aside from the fact the Goats desperately needed defensive help, Alvarez was widely-regarded as a player who was destined to fall in the 10-15 range in the draft if Chivas USA didn’t take him, and the Goats squandered a chance to trade down and accrue some valuable allocation money. Toronto FC capitalized on the Goats’ failure by pulling off their own deals to trade down.