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I spent half of last week in Philadelphia: 6,000 Adidas tracksuits and 12,000 .Adidas Sambas descended on the city of brotherly love for the United Soccer Coaches Convention and MLS SuperDraft 2018.
In all my time on this planet, never have I seen so many people who needed to look down at their jacket to remember their name; or at least their initials. A number needed to ask a passer by what was emblazoned across their back to remind them exactly what their vocation in life was.
“Yes, mate, it still says COACH.”
My assumption being that many of these coaches were former players and had just headed too many balls in their careers. (I didn’t have any lettering on my clothing and I was still trying to figure out my name…so I guess the too many headers in my career joke was on me).
Forget the jokes and the walking advertising boards, the sheer magnitude of the production was the most impressive detail. And, let’s be honest, most of us were there for the spectacle that was MLS SuperDraft 2018 and not the multi-colored tracksuit swap shop.
I’d been told a great deal about the MLS SuperDraft by my colleagues at Sporting KC and Sirius XMFC, but nothing could prepare me for this. Of course I’d watched the NFL Draft and NBA Draft, but never in person. I assume it’s like comparing watching ‘Green Street’ with actually watching Millwall from the away end at The Den: nothing quite compares.
The pomp and ceremony was there in all its splendor and I mean that in a good way. If I was one of the college kids who had flown from the MLS Combine down in Orlando straight into Philadelphia, I would have marvelled at the experience. The trepidation, the nerves and the highs and lows and of course the odd embarrassing moment, or two. I won’t add to his embarrassment, but the poor kid who got drafted by NE Revolution only to say, “I’d finally like to say a big thank you to Phila…..I mean New England for drafting me.”
Tough to want the ground to swallow you up so early in your professional football career. At least wait until you’ve sliced one into your own net on your debut in front of your own fans.
Still, back to the Draft in a more generic fashion. Many coaches have said (and Jesse Marsch the Red Bulls head coach reiterated this when my colleague and I interviewed him for our Sirius XMFC show straight after the first two rounds of the draft) that MLS Draft days have increased in grandeur in direct correlation with the diminishing of talent available.
This isn’t denigrating the college boys available, it is merely underlying the changing pattern in youth football across the US today. MLS teams are growing their scouting networks and improving their academy system exponentially. Youth players in turn are being handed the opportunity to by-pass the college system all together and turn professional at a much earlier age.
For instance, just look at Sporting KC, who signed Gianluca Busio and Jaylin Lindsey at the tender ages of 15 and 17 years old respectively, last season. Those two kids are already in the midst of their first pre-season as pros and not a passing thought has gone towards College Cup 2018. Well, I assume it hasn’t.
Saying that, the college system is a blessing in disguise for hundreds of kids across the country: the kids who may not make the grade as a pro, but thrive on the free education they get, and, more importantly to the football world, the late bloomers, who find their feet approaching their twenties and kick on after college and hit MLS running.
Let’s not forget, there are still gems to be found in the college system and not just in the top 10 picks.Take the 2017 MLS SuperDraft for instance: three players really stood out last season in MLS that had been selected.
Granted Abu Danladi was taken at No. 1 and so should have been good for his production rate, but to hit eight goals and three assists from a meagre 15 starts for a relatively poor Minnesota United side and you have a really positive college story.
Add to Danladi, the machine that was Julian Gressel, selected at a relatively low No. 8, and you see the true impact college kids can have in their rookie seasons. Gressel was also playing in the pressurized cauldron that encompasses Atlanta United and at times outshone the superstars of Almiron, Martinez et al. He made 32 appearances, 24 starts and scored five goals and notched nine assists. Pin the moniker of 2017 Rookie Of The Year to his lapel and you have a real MLS star in the making.
But, for me, the real find of MLS SuperDraft was found in the 4th round down in the lowly 77th overall pick. A relatively high percentage of teams pass on a pick that low down because they can’t come up with anyone, but boy did Philadelphia Union do their homework.
Who knows, maybe more by luck than judgement, but Jack Elliott has to be the success story of MLS 2017, not just the Draft alone. Elliott, a four-year starter, at the relatively unfashionable West Virginia University, sure made an impression: 30 GP and 29 starts from a possible 34 tells its own story. Anyone who watched the game would have seen a calm and assured center-half who thrived the more the season progressed and has probably made many teams sit up and take notice of the latter stages of the Draft. I certainly would.
We also shouldn’t forget that Gressel and Elliott completed their four years at college and showed that a twenty something can begin their respective professional careers at a relatively old age for a sportsman.
Onto the 2018 SuperDraft and, boy, are there some players who could make an impact. Of course, the road to being a success as a professional soccer player is a long an arduous one, but every player must have that belief, or don’t bother setting out on the journey. There is talent in the pool and you certainly expect more than one player to repeat the success of Gressel and co.
Initially, I find it hard to look further than the No. 1 pick: Joao Moutinho, the Freshmen from Akron University, sure has some pedigree. If he has a tenth of the success that his namesake and countryman at AS Monaco has had then LAFC are onto a winner.
Moutinho was schooled back in his native Portugal at the Sporting Lisbon Academy and his grace and poise on the ball certainly highlights that. Maybe too small in stature to play in the center of defense right now, but playing there in a three shouldn’t be ruled out. The possibility of a full-back role, or holding midfield role could also be at the forefront of Bob Bradley’s thinking. Only time will tell, of course.
Francis Atuahene (No. 4 pick) from Michigan University must be high on the list of impact players for the 2018 season. FC Dallas saw enough to trade up and hand over $200K in General Allocation Money to Montreal Impact for the privilege.
Whatever FC Dallas saw on the field must surely be matched by his mature and self-assured nature off the pitch. Atuahene’s post selection speech about his journey from Ghana to Dallas via Michigan was heartfelt, thankful and a credit to his family, his foster family in the US and, more importantly, the man himself.
That’s just a couple of kids to look out for, but there are plenty of other wonderfully talented players scattered through the MLS 2018 SuperDraft.
Did your team make the right selection?
Millions in the transfer market to the winner and a worn Adidas tracksuit to the losers.
Let battle commence.