The Full 90

January 17, 2014

A closer look at Sporting KC's draft trends under Peter Vermes

Sporting Kansas City's head coach and technical director is earning a reputation for shrewd talent evaluation in the MLS SuperDraft. Is that reputation earned? Are there particular players he looks for? Let's look at the numbers.

The Full 90

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By now, you've probably read up on Adnan Gabeljic, Sporting KC's only pick thus far in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. (The third and fourth rounds are coming next week on Jan. 21.) You've probably watched the YouTube video

of Gabeljic's collegiate highlights. If you're like me, you've taken a few attempts to learn to spell his name right. (Ok, maybe that's just me.)

Here's what we know.

He's a big (6'3") forward comfortable playing from the outside in, according to him.

During the MLS Combine , he was one of just five players to rank in the top 10 in at least two physical tests: He ran the second-best 30-meter sprint (3.92 seconds) and had the 10th best vertical jump (18.6").* Peter Vermes, the guy who drafted him, said Gabeljic's speed and build gives the team "a different look"

than any of the current batch of forwards.

*Those numbers just scream "VERMES GUY," don't they?

Until we get a chance to see him play, that's about all we have to go on for now. Which is why I decided to spend my writing time/energy on something bigger than a single draft pick: Draft trends.

This is Vermes' 7th SuperDraft with Sporting Kansas City. The first three were as technical director, the last four have been as head coach. Here are three trends/topics I uncovered after taking a look at the players Vermes drafted in the first 40 picks* since the 2007 SuperDraft.

*Why just the Top 40? Since 2000, only two players drafted by Kansas City after the 40th pick have had any impact on the team. Of course, those were two quite good players, Davy Arnaud (#50 in 2002) and Jack Jewsbury (#43 in 2003). Eric Kronberg was the 40th pick in the 2006 draft. In the Vermes era, there have been three players drafted after #40 to make the roster, but didn't make a big impact: Kurt Morsink (#42, 2007), Raushawn McKenzie (#53, 2008) and Konrad Warzycha (#46, 2011). Basically: Anything after the Top 40 has been a bit of a crapshoot. Which is true of most drafts in most leagues.

1. Vermes is one of the best evaluators of college talent in the league

It's pretty hard to argue with the man's resume when it comes to the draft. He's been pretty good at drafting, which is kind of like saying Texas is a pretty big state.

As the man in charge of the draft, Vermes has made 19 selections inside of the Top 40 since 2007. Of those players, 14 have made the opening day roster with 11 of them accounting for 727 career MLS starts. Of those 11, eight have made at least 10 MLS starts.

Five of the players he drafted -- Chance Myers (2008, first overall pick), Matt Besler (2009, first round), Graham Zusi (2009, second round), C.J. Sapong (2011, first round) and Dom Dwyer (2012, first round) -- were starters in the MLS Cup final.* Another two were on the bench/roster: Teal Bunbury (2010, first round) and Mikey Lopez (2013, first round).

*In case you are a SuperDraft hater, a total of 12 players on KC's 30-man roster entered the league via the SuperDraft. The others not drafted by Vermes: Josh Gardner (Los Angeles, 2004), Eric Kronberg (KC, 2006), Ike Opara (San Jose, 2010), Jacob Peterson (Colorado, 2006) and Seth Sinovic (New England, 2010). Kei Kamara, who played for a few months with KC this summer before transfer to Middlesbrough in England, was the 9th pick (Columbus) of the 2006 SuperDraft.

What's more, four of Vermes' draft picks are currently training with the U.S. men's national team in a World Cup year: Harrington, Myers, Besler and Zusi.

That just might be the biggest feather in his cap — Besler especially, as he went from a third-string defender in his sophomore year to one of the league's best defenders and one of the likely starting central defenders in Brazil. The coach, a former MLS Defender of the Year and U.S. national team player himself, gets a little bit of credit for that development.

Another SuperDraft home run? Roger Espinoza, the 11th pick in the 2008 draft. He's currently playing with Wigan in the English Championship.

Just so you don't think this is just me, a Kansas City writer, speculating about this. There are a few numbers other writers have dug up to prove the point.

According to

The 24th Minute

, Kansas City got a league-best 250 more appearances from its draft picks than should've been expected since 2007.

The guys at

crunched the numbers since 2005 and found that Vermes has gotten the most MLS minutes (68,490) out of his 46 overall draft picks than any other manager in that period.

Here's the big HOWEVER. He's had a lot of of success when picking inside of the Top 20. After that? No so much. Only two players drafted by Vermes from pick #20 to #40 have made a reasonable impact on the league: Jonathan Leathers (46 career starts) and Zusi (obviously having a pretty good career for himself).

But, when you get right down to it, his batting average for drafting serviceable professional soccer players (.421) is pretty darn good.

2. Does Vermes have a positional bias in the draft?

While Gabeljic is a forward and it seems like KC has drafted A LOT of forwards under Vermes, it's really just been a mere fraction of the total picks. Only five of the 19 picks since '07 has been a forward — which includes Gabeljic.

The majority of selections have been spent on defense. There have been five fullbacks: Harrington, Myers, Leathers, Korede Aiyegbusi and J.T. Murray were all outside backs. And four central defenders: Yomby William, Besler, Nick Cardenas and Cyprian Hedrick.

The reason why the forwards stick out so much, probably, is because they've been the most recent picks (four in the last five drafts) and have tended to stick around. Bunbury, Sapong and Dwyer are all currently with the team.* On the other hand, Myers and Besler are the only defenders of the nine drafted who are still around.

*Only Doug DeMartin, a second round pick in 2009, failed to make the team.

The most common trend regardless of position? Vermes likes to draft speed. Obviously, to even be a prospect for KC's aggressive fullback position, you've got to have speed. But Vermes has also tended to snap up pacey forwards like Bunbury, Dwyer and now Gabeljic when he has the chance too.

3. Kansas City has a track record of taking its time developing players

Because the college game isn't the sole entry point for talent into Major League Soccer, the college-entry draft isn't always overflowing with MLS-ready talent. It often takes a few years for players to develop and grow into regulars.

That has certainly been the case in a few high-profile picks for Vermes.

Myers, the first overall pick in 2008, made a grand total of 13 starts during his first three seasons on account of injuries and bad luck. It was in Year Four, however, when he made 24 starts and established himself as one of the best attacking fullbacks in the league.

Espinoza, also a first rounder in 2008, took three seasons and and two position switches before he settled in completely. The same is true of Zusi, who went from 9 career starts in his first two seasons to 25 in Year 3 and then made a position switch in Year Four.

Besler isn't really analogous to those above. He started off his career with a bang (26 starts), mostly at left back, before fizzling in his second year and falling down the pecking order. But, like Zusi/Espinoza, he set his initial career high in starts in his third year (32) and became a mainstay after that.

*It's pretty curious that all of four listed above underwent a positional shift at some point. There was a time before the 2011 season where it looked like Myers was going to move to forward -- and played there with the reserves.

Bunbury was headed for that same trajectory (13 starts in Year 1 and 20 in Year 2) before suffering a knee injury during the middle of his third year. He made just one start in 2013 while recovering from ACL surgery.

The one outlier here is C.J. Sapong, who surprised everyone by starting from Day 1 in 2011 and went on to earn the MLS Rookie of the Year honors. Perhaps because of his early success (or, more likely, his positional switch* to wide forward in 2013), his starts fell off to 16 in 2013.

*Wow, that's officially now a trend that's happening in the subtext of this article!

Kansas City's last two draft picks (Dwyer and Lopez) are both candidates for this sort of slow development. Dwyer, who made 0 starts in his first season and seven — including the MLS Cup final — during his second year, seems already on that trajectory.

When looking at the three trends above and the last seven years, it's pretty clear that Vermes is a pretty shrewd evaluator of college talent (especially forwards and defenders) and has shown that he's patient enough to let the player develop.

Will Gabeljic be the next in line? It's too early to say. But, the option of sending him to either Orlando City or Energy FC (and coach Jimmy Nielsen) in the USL Pro might help in the process.

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