Major League Soccer held its annual SuperDraft on January 13, giving each club a chance to select several collegiate and young international players. The headlines ahead of the draft surrounded rumours suggesting consensus top pick Darlington Nagbe (pictured) did not wish to play in Canada. This mattered only because the club with the top selection was Vancouver Whitecaps. As it turned out, Vancouver did not want Nagbe either, instead choosing Omar Salgado, the controversial 17-year old Mexican-American. Salgado’s selection at the top of the draft gave fellow expansion side Portland Timbers the opportunity to snare Nagbe. Coincidentally the Timbers were also able to sign Kenny Cooper from 1860 Munich, giving Portland a solid attacking duo. Third pick went to the league’s worst team in 2010, DC United, who took Perry Kitchen, a polished 18-year old midfielder.
One of the interesting story lines throughout the draft was the number of players from the University of Akron, the newly-crowned collegiate national champions. Nagbe (2nd), Kitchen (3rd), Zarek Valentin (4th), Kofi Sarkodie (7th) and Michael Nanchoff (8th) were all members of Akron and drafted among the top eight selections, a new MLS record. The league also featured international players in the draft, not for the first time, but certainly in a more prominent way than ever before. Of course Salgado was the top pick while Víctor Estupiñán (14th) and Paolo Cardozo (16th) came directly from Ecuador and Uruguay, respectively. The most notable draft pick in world-wide name value was John Rooney, younger brother of Wayne Rooney, who was drafted by Red Bull New York with the 25th overall pick, the 7th of the second round.
The draft consisted of three rounds with each club theoretically holding a pick in each round. Trades, both in the years preceding 2011, and even during the draft itself, gave several clubs more than three and quite a few less than that. The SuperDraft is just one of several player acquisition methods available to MLS clubs, so while there is certainly the impetus to scout and find quality players, it is not as singularly important as drafts are in other North American sports. MLS clubs will begin training camps ahead of the 2011 season before February, so the drafted players will join current players very shortly. Draft picks are not required to be signed by their drafting clubs, so even top picks can falter in training camp and fail to make the first team or even the reserves. That said, most of the first round selections will be expected not only to make their respective teams but in some cases feature in the starting XI when the season begins in mid-March.
Notably, Salgado cannot play for the Vancouver first team until September, the month of his 18th birthday. MLS is in a strange position being a two-country league (Vancouver and Toronto are currently Canadian clubs in MLS with Montreal joining the league in 2012). FIFA rules stipulate that players under 18 may not transfer to clubs in another country. With Salgado’s parents moving to the United States, and his status in the USA U-20 side, he is classified as an American and therefore cannot play with Vancouver until his birthday September 10, 2011. The Whitecaps are likely to send him on loan in Mexico or plug him into their extensive residency program until he is formally available, though the club is expected to petition FIFA for an exemption.
Here are the full results from the SuperDraft’s opening round with players’ heights, positions and ages:
1. Vancouver Whitecaps – Omar Salgado – 6’4″ Forward – 17
2. Portland Timbers – Darlington Nagbe – 5’9″ Forward – 20
3. DC United – Perry Kitchen – 6’0″ Midfielder – 18
4. Chivas USA – Zarek Valentin – 5’11” Defender – 19
5. Philadelphia Union – Zac MacMath – 6’0″ Goalkeeper – 19
6. New England Revolution – AJ Soares – 6’0″ Defender – 22
7. Houston Dynamo – Kofi Sarkodie – 5’9″ Defender – 19
8. Vancouver Whitecaps – Michael Nanchoff – 5’8″ Midfielder – 22
9. Chicago Fire – Jalil Anibaba – 6’0″ Defender – 22
10. Sporting KC – CJ Sapong – 6’1″ Forward – 22
11. Houston Dynamo – Will Bruin – 6’2″ Forward – 21
12. Columbus Crew – Rich Balchan – 6’0″ Defender – 21
13. Red Bull New York – Corey Hertzog – 6’0″ Forward – 20
14. Chivas USA – Víctor Estupiñán – 5’10” Forward – 22
15. Columbus Crew – Justin Meram – 6’1″ Forward – 22
16. Los Angeles Galaxy – Paolo Cardozo – 5’4″ Midfielder – 21
17. FC Dallas – Bobby Warshaw – 6’0″ Defender – 22
18. Colorado Rapids – Eddie Ababio – 5’11” Defender – 23