By Michael Lewis
Years ago, it deserved its name, the MLS SuperDraft.
Today? It is hardly super and for some teams, it is hardly a draft.
It’s a different world out there in 2021, with teams stocking their rosters with homegrown players and with many of the best young players coming out of high school and college deciding to take the great leap across the Atlantic Ocean and sign professionally.
Translated: the viable American player pool for the draft has been cut by a sizable amount. There are few players who can immediately make an impact, unlike NFL and NBA rookies can.
Except for a few clubs, the draft not such a big deal anymore.
Take, for example, what transpired during the 2020 draft. It wasn’t very pretty for most players who were chosen, including ones in the first round.
In fact, only four first-round selections managed to log more than 1,000 minutes (out of a possible 2,070 over 23 regular season matches; yes, teams needed to rotate their teams because of fixture congestion, costing many playing time).
That quartet included the New England Revolution defender Henry Kessler (1,823 minutes), Nashville SC midfielder Alistair Johnston (1,366), Orlando City SC forward Daryl Dike (1,224) and Inter Miami CF defender-midfielder Dylan Nealis (1,104). It should be noted that Dike enjoyed a standout season, registering eight goals and four assists over 15 starts and 17 matches. He is in U.S. Under-23 men’s national team training camp.
Of those 26 players chosen in the opening round, 13 were sent to the club’s USL Championship affiliate, were not offered a contract or released or signed with another USL side. Some players are not with their MLS clubs prior to this season. It seems some teams use the draft to stock their affiliates. Some of those players might surface in MLS someday, but for many others it could be permanent relegation to the lower leagues.
You have to wonder how valuable any of these draft choices are. The Red Bulls, for example, sent defender Patrick Seagrist, the 10th selection of last year’s draft to Inter Miami CF’s third-round choice this season and will receive an additional $50,000 in General Allocation Money if certain performance metrics are hit during the campaign. We’re not certain whether Seagrist will sign with Miami, but that looks like a considerable de-valuation of that first-round choice.
Still not convinced?
OK, let’s take a team-by-team look in last year’s opening round:
1. Robbie Robinson, Inter Miami CF, forward – 12 games, 4 starts, 426 minutes, 1 assist
2. Jack Maher, Nashville FC, defender – 3 games, 2 starts, 127 minutes
3. Daylan Nealis, Inter Miami CF, defender-midfielder – 19 games, 10 starts, 1,104 minutes
4. Ryan Raposo, Vancouver Whitecaps, midfielder – 15 games, 2 starts, 375 minutes, 1 assist
5. Daryl Dike, Orlando City SC, forward – 17 games, 15 starts, 1,224, eight goals, 4 assists
6. Henry Kessler, New England Revolution, defender — 22 games, 19 starts, 1,823 minutes, 1 goal
7. Miguel Berry, Columbus Crew SC, forward – No games; loaned to San Diego Loyal
8. Garrett McLaughlin, Houston Dynamo, forward – Sent to Rio Grande Valley FC, 11 games; after the season, Rio Grande declined his option
9. Jeremy Kelly, Montreal Impact, midfielder – After he was drafted, Kelly was immediately traded to the Colorado Rapids; played 8 games, started 2 and recorded an assist
10. Patrick Seagrist, Red Bulls, defender – Three games, three starts, 246 minutes. Club declined to pick up his option and dealt him to Inter Miami CF for a third-round choice in the 2021 draft
11. Alistair Johnston, Nashville SC, midfielder – 188 games, 15 starts, 1,366 minutes, 1 assist
12. Tanner Beason, San Jose Earthquakes, defender – 9 games, 9 starts, 810 minutes
13. Elliot Panicco, Nashville SC, goalkeeper – No games
14. Nkosi Burgess, FC Dallas, defender – No games
15. Cherif Dieye, Red Bulls, forward – Signed with Red Bulls II July 1; 15 games, 1 goal
16. Aaron Molloy, Portland Timbers, midfielder – Played with Portland Timbers 2, 15 games, 1 goal
17. Cal Jennings, FC Dallas, forward – Released by the team in February, signed with Indy Eleven, scoring 9 goals in 14 games
18. Noah Billingsley, Minnesota United, defender – 1 games with Minnesota; loaned to Las Vegas Lights, playing 9 games
19. Nyal Higgins, Toronto FC II, defender – Toronto FC – 15 games, one goal on loan to Nykoping (Sweden); back with Toronto FC for 2021
20. Dayton Harris, Real Salt Lake, midfielder – Signed with Real Monarchs, 14 games; option declined; signed with Tampa Bay Rowdies for 2021
21. Simon Lefebvre, D.C. United, goalkeeper – Signed with Loudoun United, United’ USL Championship affiliate; Signed with Louisville City FC Jan. 5, 2021
22. Jesus Perez, New York City FC, midfielder – Wasn’t retained by the club after the preseason; played with Tacoma Defiance, performing in 14 games, scoring 3 goals
23. Patrick Nielsen, Atlanta United, defender – Played with Atlanta United 2, competing in 10 matches
24. Paulo Pita, Los Angeles FC, goalkeeper – Not offered a contract; signed with North Carolina FC, playing 1 game
25. Ifunanyach Achara, Toronto FC, forward – Scored the lone goal in his MLS debut, a 1-0 win over NYCFC, but did not play any more games after tearing his ACL in training
26. Jonathan Jimenez, Chicago Fire, defender – Did not sign with the team, but joined Rio Grande Valley, scoring once in 9 appearances; RGV declined Jimenez’s contract after the season