MLS SuperDraft: Combining Skill and Luck

CARSON, CA - APRIL 9: Nick LaBrocca: A Third-Round SuperDraft selection in 2007 (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Yesterday Jeremiah Oshan had a solid article up over at SB Nation's Soccer page about the relative lack of value in past MLS SuperDrafts. He argued that the value tended to dry up after the 10th overall pick, and even the Generation Adidas program, that Chivas USA fans are no doubt intimately familiar with following the Zarek Valentin-Expansion Draft debacle, does not guarantee solid MLS professionals.

I think a pretty compelling case could be made that drafts in any sport do not guarantee results. In the NFL, there was Ryan Leaf selected 2nd overall by the San Diego Chargers in 1998, and he was a washout. In the NBA, Michael Olowokandi was selected 1st overall by the Los Angeles Clippers, also in 1998, and while he had a long career in the league, he was never a star that one would expect the top pick to become. So if the MLS SuperDraft does not produce 38 top professionals this year, that is not an aberration - it is the norm.

Of course, the relative value present in each draft differs dramatically, and this year's crop of prospective draftees is being touted as quite weak. But weak does not mean there won't be good players. It means there will be fewer great players, and fewer players who will actually play in the league. Still, value will surely be present, and looking back in a few years, there will be a slew of clubs that will shake their heads and say, "Why didn't we take him?"

For Chivas, the task will be to pick one of the best remaining players at the 5th overall slot. They will have, relatively speaking, a much better group of players to pick than most teams. They will need to find a quality player who fits their needs, but there will be an element of "don't screw this up," whereas teams later in the draft will have to just find players who could make an MLS roster and fill needs.

You probably don't need to be reminded of some of Chivas' SuperDraft picks of years past, but let's take a look at who has been selected and where they are now:

2005:

Round 1 (2nd overall): Brad Guzan (GK), Generation Adidas (absolute success with Chivas - transferred to Aston Villa in 2008)

Round 2 (14th overall): Christian Jimenez (M), GA (never played for Chivas, traded to Real Salt Lake, not playing professionally)

Round 3 (27th overall): Aaron Lopez (D), (played four league games for Chivas, waived during 2005 season)

Round 4 (38th overall): Esteban Arias (D), (played 19 matches in 2005-06, waived after 2006 season, then played for Bakersfield Brigade in USL)

2006:

Round 1 (5th overall): Sacha Kljestan (M), GA (absolute success with Chivas - transferred to Anderlecht in 2010)

Round 4 (37th overall): Jonathan Bornstein (D), (absolute success with Chivas - transferred to Tigres in 2010)

2007:

Round 1 (7th overall): John Cunliffe (F), (played 15 matches for Chivas, traded to San Jose in 2008, now plays in regional league in England)

Round 4 (46th overall): Cameron Dunn (D), (never played for Chivas, currently playing for the Los Angeles Blues in USL)

2008:

Round 4 (43rd overall): Keith Savage (M), (played 6 matches for Chivas, released in 2009, now plays for Tampa Rowdies in NASL)

2009:

Round 1 (9th overall): Michael Lahoud (M/D), (has played consistently for Chivas, currently on team)

Round 3 (35th overall): Kyle Christensen (F), (never offered contract by Chivas, now plays for Real Colorado Foxes in USL-PDL)

Round 4 (49th overall): Jamie Franks (M), (never offered contract by Chivas, last played for Rochester Rhinos in USL in 2010, now a coach at Wake Forest University)

2010:

Round 1 (10th overall): Blair Gavin (M) GA, (has played frequently for Chivas, currently on team)

Round 3 (35th overall): Kevin Tangney (D), (never played for Chivas, not currently playing professional soccer)

Round 3 (42nd overall): Isaac Kissi (F), (never offered contract by Chivas, now plays for Rochester Rhinos in USL)

Round 3 (47th overall): Ben Zemanski (M), (has played frequently for Chivas, currently on team)

Round 4 (58th overall): Chris Ross (M), (never played for Chivas, now a trainer/coach)

2011:

Round 1 (4th overall): Zarek Valentin (D) GA, (played frequently for Chivas in 2011, lost GA status for 2012, selected by Montreal Impact in 2012 Expansion Draft)

Round 1 (14th overall): Victor Estupinan (F), (played 9 matches for Chivas in 2011, option declined for 2012)

Round 3 (40th overall): Jon Okafor (D), (never played for Chivas)

So, to recap, so far in Chivas USA's history, they have selected 20 players in the SuperDraft, played 12 of those players at least one match, and had three players become senior U.S. Men's National Team players. While the success rate could be better, certainly, it's not as though Chivas have been so poor in drafting as to be an outlier compared to other MLS clubs.

To look at the flipside, think about the value that could be present later in the draft. You'll notice Bornstein, tied for most appearances in Chivas USA history, was selected in the fourth round in 2006. The same goes for Ben Zemanski, who was the fourth of five Chivas selections in 2010 and has become an important part of the squad.

Now let's take a wider look at the league and some notable players drafted lower than you might expect. Last year, Joao Plata was selected in the 3rd round (49th overall) by Toronto FC, and he became a good, if inconsistent, player. Chicago Fire starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson, a Generation Adidas player, was selected in the 4th round (51st overall) in 2010, although it must be acknowledged the fierce competition and high talent level among MLS goalkeepers probably dragged his draft position down somewhat.

New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream, who could be on his way to Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League soon, was selected in the 2nd round, 18th overall in 2010. That means 13 teams ahead of the Red Bulls in the order (including the Red Bulls themselves, as well as Chivas) could have taken a bright young central defender who has already been called up to the USMNT in a competitive tournament, and who will probably recover well from the chaos at NYRB if he moves to Bolton.

Seattle Sounders forward/midfielder Mike Fucito was taken in the 4th round (46th overall) in 2009. He's not a every game starter, but he is a good depth player and was crucial in Seattle's third consecutive U.S. Open Cup win in 2011. Meanwhile, in the same draft, recent USMNT senior team training camp call-ups A.J. DeLaGarza (a starting defender for the MLS Cup-winning LA Galaxy) and Graham Zusi (who enjoyed a breakout season in 2011 with Sporting Kansas City) were both selected in the second round. Another USMNT "Camp Cupcake" invitee, Geoff Cameron, was selected as the final pick in the 3rd round in 2008. Steven Lenhart, who won MLS Cup with the Columbus Crew in 2008 and had a good stretch with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2011 before off-field issues cut his season short, was taken in the 4th round (48th overall) in the 2008 SuperDraft. Chivas USA's own Nick LaBrocca was taken 35th overall in 2007 by the Colorado Rapids.

There are other examples over the years. The point is that the draft remains unpredictable, and teams are successful with draft picks through a combination of skill and luck.Probably helping clubs this season will be trimming the SuperDraft to two rounds, although a Supplemental Draft will also be held, so between the two, there will be more hits and misses. But although quality players may not be available to everybody, they do exist. Unquestionably, there will be a player or two that will emerge from the second round this year that will make a bunch of teams look foolish. Let's hope Chivas' selection is strong enough to not be one of those teams.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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