The Full 90

How many quality defenders can be found in the first round of the SuperDraft?

Last week, during the MLS SuperDraft, everyone with a modem and a modicum of soccer knowledge thought Sporting Kansas City would draft a defender (preferably a central one) with the 10th pick in the draft.

They didn’t. The three top prospects (A.J. Soares, Perry Kitchen and Jalil Anibaba) were drafted by the time #10 rolled around and KC opted to go with forward C.J. Sapong. Drafting Sapong was met with immediate consternation by many fans who hoped KC would fix the back before adding more attackers. As you’ll find out at the end, Kansas City might end up better off having not drafted a defender.

This led to a discussion between a colleague and I about how successful past SuperDrafts have been at yielding quality defenders to the league (and beyond). With the question being: Can you find a solid defender in the MLS SuperDraft?

The answer wasn’t quite what I expected.

Player (position drafted, drafting team/current team if applicable)

2000

Success:*


Busts:

Steve Shak (#1, New York Metro Stars/retired), Alan Woods (#10, Colorado Rapids/retired)

Success Rate:

60%

Notes:

There’s a “Shak” in the “Woods” joke there, but I’m not sure how to make it and not get fired or receive a letter bomb from Montana.

*Success was judged on length of career (for pre-2004 draftees there was a 100-appearance minimum; for 2005-2007 draftees the minimum was 75; the cap was removed for 2008-2010 draftees for obvious reasons ) and quality of play (Best XI awards, MLS silverware, being central figures on good teams, moves to Europe, USMNT caps, etc).

2001

Success:

Bust:

Craig Demmin (#6, Tampa Bay Mutiny/retired), Ryan Suarez (#7, Dallas Burn/out of league)

Success Rate:

33%

Notes:

Burciaga is on the edge of “success,” but he does have more than 100 appearances and he was All-MLS in 2006.

2002

Success:

Bust:

Carl Bussey (#9, Dallas Burn/out of league), Billy Sleeth (#10, Chicago Fire/out of league), Daouda Kante (#11, DC United/out of league), Lee Morrison (#12, Dallas Burn/out of league)

Success Rate:

20%

Notes:

Thank Lamar Hunt that Gbandi panned out for Dallas, or else they would’ve had all three (THREE!) first-round defenders go bust. THREE! In one round!

2003

Success:

Bust:

David Stokes (#5, D.C. United/out of league)

Success Rate:

66%

2004

Success:

Bust:

None

Success Rate:

100%

Notes:

Best class so far by far. (I’ve heard from reliable sources that Cochrane was the player KC wanted in the re-entry draft, but he was nabbed by New England.)

2005

Success:

Bust:

Jury is Still Out::

Tim Ward (#12, New York Metro Stars/San Jose Earthquakes)

Success Rate:

64%

Notes:

Ward is the oddball here. It took him four years before he found his legs in MLS when he got 19 starts with Chicago in 2009 and moving to San Jose. He means we create a new category: Players that aren’t quite busts, but aren’t exactly a success either.

2006

Success:

Bust:

Jury is Still Out:

Patrick Ianni (#8, Houston Dynamo/Seattle Sounders), Nathan Sturgis (#12, Los Angeles Galaxy/Toronto FC)

Success Rate:

33%

2007

Success:

Bust:

Jury is Still Out:

Anthony Wallace (#9, FC Dallas/Colorado Rapids), Andrew Boyens, (#10, Toronto FC/New York Red Bulls)

Success Rate:

40%

2008

Success:

Bust:

Jury is Still Out:

Chance Myers (#1, Kansas City Wizards/Sporting Kansas City), Julius James (#9, Toronto FC/DC United), Roger Espinoza (#11, Kansas City Wizards/Sporting Kansas City), Rob Valentino (#13, New England Revolution/Colorado Rapids), David Horst (#14, Real Salt Lake/Portland Timbers)

Success Rate:

37%

Notes:

One of the deepest defensive hauls in MLS history has yielded three successes so far: Beltran, Franklin (2008 rookie of the year) and Iro. But it’s also yielded three players on the cusp of bust status: Myers, Valentino and Horst. Another year like 2010, Espinoza moves to “Success.”

2009

Success:

Bust:

Jury is Still Out:

Matt Besler (#8, Kansas City Wizards/Sporting Kansas City)

Success Rate:

80%

Notes:

Every guy from this draft is a regular starter, except Besler. (He’s lucky I wasn’t more harsh: He nailed me with an ice ball during #specialKCsnowmageddon and I should’ve labeled him a bust as retaliation.)

2010

Thoughts:

The only defender drafted in the first round in 2010 was Ike Opara (#3, San Jose) and, while it’s waaay to early to judge yet, he seems like the real deal. Let’s see if that changes.


The conclusion

Yes, Virginia, you can find a solid defender in the MLS SuperDraft. And not just solid journey guys, but actual stars.

Consider: There are twice as many successes (24) as there were busts (12) among the 47 defenders drafted in the first round of the MLS draft. And, if just half (call it 6) of the 11 players the jury is still out on come out on top, that would mean 64 percent of first-round defenders drafted since 2000 have panned out.

It’s safe to say, I assumed that this

wouldn’t

be the case. But I’m pleasantly surprised.

Two other things worth noting.

1) 2004 was a turning point. After the only 100 percent successful of the last 10 years, there were only 3 more busts (so far) in the successive drafts. I don’t know if that’s really a telling stat or just an anomaly. But it’s pretty interesting. Best guess as to why: The college game has improved and/or MLS scouting got better. Really, even one of the busts (Arguez) had enough talent/potential to go Europe for a bit.

Time could also change this quite drastically if all 11 on the fence guys don’t pan out.

Another thing that becomes apparent: Since 2007, a young defender can go from draft pick to immediate starter for a quality team (Marshall, Gonzalez and Franklin, Opara, John) much more quickly. Up until ‘07, it had taken many players (Moor, Ihelmu, Wynne, Thomas, Dunivant, Califf) a few teams until they realized their potential.

This is either a compelling argument that the game in America is getting better or more diluted. Just depends on which side you’re viewing it from I guess.

But it does bode well for the seven defenders drafted in the first round this year. Sorting through the averages, there’s a good chance at least 4 of them will be successful.

And, finally:

2) Sporting Kansas City was awful on defense at times last year. And they have drafted FOUR defenders since 2007 (Harrington, Myers, Espinoza, Besler) and have yet another who was drafted in the first round (Thomas).

Maybe the last thing Sporting Kansas City needed was another first-round defender.

  Comments