11 January 2012

Four trends to watch on Thursday

There’s been a lot of MLS news in the 52 days since MLS Cup, but the SuperDraft is still the milestone that marks the start of the 2012 season, and we’re all excited to see what happens in Kansas City on Thursday.

Now there are mock drafts and rankings out there that mean a whole lot more than my version. They come from people who saw more college games than I did, saw the combine games in person rather than over the internet, and talk to coaches and general managers more frequently than I do. But I hope I can provide some perspective picked up from past drafts, so read on for four key trends to keep in mind while watching:

1. Great Expectations – While every player is drafted for a reason, most MLS teams don’t plan for anybody other than a top-10 pick to have an impact in his first year. From last year, think Nagbe, Kitchen, Valentin, Soares, Anibaba. If somebody gets production from the bottom half of the first round (Sapong, Bruin, Balchan, Meram), that’s great. But teams generally don’t base their lineup plans around anybody except those first 10 players, so Darren Mattocks (pictured above) and co. will face some serious pressure to produce.

2. Square peg, square hole – Most MLS teams prefer to take the best player available most of the time. Sounds logical, right? But there are situations where teams are looking to add players in specific spots, either as a starter (first 10 picks only, remember) or as general depth (second round and supplemental draft). This year, you have to imagine there are a decent number of teams with specific needs or preferences in the first round, particularly New England (forward) and Portland (defender), among others.

3. Protectionism – International slots can be a precious thing, so beware the international status of Dom Dwyer (England), Enzo Martinez (Uruguay), Evan James (Canada), Luckymore Mkosana (Zimbabwe), Evans Frimpong (Ghana), Kevan George (Trinidad & Tobago), Luke Holmes (England), and all the international players from the combine. If any of those have green cards, I haven’t seen it reported. Two players who shouldn’t worry about their status are Callum Mallace (Scotland), who has U.S. citizenship, and Babayela Sodade (raised in Canada), who was born in Maryland. Meanwhile, you have to think Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal would like to take James or Sodade at some point and count them toward the Canadian-player minimum.

4. Depth Perception – It’s virtually impossible to predict what trades will happen. But keep in mind that Chicago, Columbus, Philadelphia, and San Jose all have three picks on Thursday and therefore might be willing to move one of them. LA, Seattle, and Toronto have to worry about Champions League in the spring, while LA, Houston, RSL, and Seattle all need to stockpile depth for Champions League games next fall. All five of those teams have some high salaries, so minimum-salary contributors could be helpful, but they’ll also be looking for allocation money. I’d expect those teams to be active on Thursday and in Tuesday’s supplemental draft (Houston has three picks in the first round of the supplemental draft, while RSL has two).

That's all I've got, but I'll be posting my thoughts here Thursday afternoon. Enjoy!

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