The power of four: Notes from the floor of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft
LOS ANGELES – The only consensus among the MLS front offices is four players ranked above the rest.
In what order those players should – and would – be picked, however, depended on what team you asked. Was Abu Danladi the best forward available, or did Jeremy Ebobisse deserve that billing? Was Miles Robinson the most pro-ready option? Could Jonathan Lewis really be a Darlington Nagbe-like player?
Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter, who saw his team trade from pick 10 to four in the first round, put it best: “In getting into the [top] four, we felt like we could not go wrong with any of the picks. We liked the options in the top four, and after that, we weren’t sure.”
The order surprised some. Minnesota United opted for Danladi with the first pick. The move made sense for anyone who has seen Adrian Heath coach forwards. Danladi has an enticing skillset and all of the physical skill to succeed in the pro ranks. He was largely considered the most talented player at the combine. Injury issues caused some concern, but Minnesota felt the college schedule had a lot to do with those problems.
Atlanta wasted no time taking center back Miles Robinson, who many believed is ready to contribute right away for most MLS teams. He likely won’t be asked to start immediately for Atlanta, but he provides young depth on a back line that will be anchored by veteran starters like Michael Parkhurst.
NYCFC traded a significant amount of allocation money -- $250,000, just $50,000 less than what the Chicago Fire received for the rights to Didier Drogba – to trade up and get Akron’s Jonathan Lewis. The playmaking midfielder was impressive for Akron and at the MLS combine and could end up being the best pro to come out of the draft. It’s intriguing to put another younger, quicker player in the New York midfielder.
Porter and the Timbers ended up with a steal considering what they traded to move up, especially because few people expected Ebobisse to drop to No. 4. He fits the mold of forwards Porter likes to play up top, and he’ll have time to learn and develop behind Fanendo Adi.
Here is a look at some of the other picks at the MLS draft:
** Atlanta felt like it picked up a solid young midfielder in Providence’s Julian Gressel, who showed good passing ability and vision. Atlanta is already stocked in the final third, so it had no concern about finding a player that needs to be a day-in, day-out starter, but Gressel has the potential to be a facilitator for the talent Atlanta has already compiled.
** Chris Odoi-Atsem dropped to his hometown team, D.C. United, and Dave Kasper was happy to snag a right back that is very solid defensively and only needs some refinement going forward. Odoi-Atsem has only played two years at fullback, but United really liked his potential, and the club can develop him behind Sean Franklin.
“First of all he’s a great kid,” Kasper said. “Big-time competitor, great work ethic, very athletic, he can get up and down the line. Good defender, but he’s got some good attacking quality. As we build this thing out for the future, he’s a guy with a view towards the future.”
It was a bit of a shock that the Fire passed on Odoi-Atsem one spot ahead of United. Chicago has an immediate need at right back, and Odoi-Atsem is capable of contributing right away.
** Chicago traded out of the No. 3 spot and collected a good chunk of change to do so, but the club still got a player that impressed at the combine, Louisville midfielder Daniel Johnson, as well as a third goalkeeper, Stefan Cleveland, and Delaware forward Guillermo Delgado. Cleveland was an interesting pick there, as some thought he wasn’t the best goalkeeper available on the board, but Delgado is good value in the second round, while Johnson may be able to contribute on the right wing immediately.
** Portland may have had another steal in the second round when it picked UCLA center back Michael Amick. The left-footed center back was a top prospect a couple years ago and slipped over the last few seasons, but he has high potential, and some thought he may still prove to be one of the best defenders in this year’s draft.
** One of the best pure soccer players in the draft fell to a team that is stocked with talented young players: FC Dallas. Wake Forest’s Jacori Hayes may be a bit of a tweener, but his playing ability shouldn’t be questioned, and if Dallas can carve out the right spot on the field for him – maybe as an inverted winger, or even in a No. 10 role – Hayes has the chance to be a solid pro.
** Some draft-day surprises: With the 10th pick, Houston was able to pick up Joe Holland, who will require an international spot but joins a club tat has already had a strong international flavor to its offseason; and Brian Wright to New England, would have thought they looked for help along the back line.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. He works as a freelance reporter on Fire home TV broadcasts. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulTenorio.