MLS SuperDraft Preview: Can The Rapids Bag A Gem At #3?
Within three days of the winner’s name being etched onto the FIFA World Cup trophy - the pinnacle of the game for any player - young hopefuls will seek to begin their soccer journey when the MLS SuperDraft takes place.
As with the previous edition, MLS will host the draft via conference call. It all gets underway on Wednesday, December 21, and at the time of writing the Colorado Rapids has four picks, including third overall.
Names to arrive in Colorado via the draft down the years include Omar Cummings, Ross Paule, Tyrone Marshall, Dan Gargan, Jacob Peterson, Kosuke Kimura, Nick LaBrocca, Jordan Harvey, Dillon Powers, Deshorn Brown, Axel Sjöberg, Dominique Badji, Andre Shinyashiki, and Anthony Markanich.
Powers (2013) and Shinyashiki (2019) would be named MLS Rookie of the Year. Brown was runner-up the season in which Powers was triumphant.
Unearthing that gem from the Superdraft has become increasingly more difficult, but then there has been a notable shift within soccer in the United States, with less reliance on the college system and a far greater focus on youth development.
The ability to identify top prospects has been made that much easier with MLS clubs boasting teams as young as U12. That was not always the case.
When I first arrived, if memory serves me right, the MLS Development Academies had U16 and U18 teams. Getting players into the system at a much younger age is paramount and has brought the United States more in line with the rest of the world.
I would often hear US media and fans ask: “When do you think the US will produce our version of a Messi or Ronaldo?”
My answer to them early on was always the same: “When you begin developing players at eight rather than waiting for them to come out of college.”
Of course, the college draft is something most American sports fans can appreciate. It is a big thing in American football and basketball, for instance. That it would also be something soccer embraced was understandable but operating in a truly international sport it was only a matter of time before MLS realized it needed to level the playing field.
The previous model, with an emphasis on the college draft, was handing the rest of the world a five-to-six-year head start. Outside of these shores, clubs thought nothing of fielding a 16 or 17-year-old. The system simply wasn’t in place to produce players at that age when they were only landing in academies at 15 or 16. That, now, is not the case.
MLS has developed some incredible talent, with a good number not even in their prime and yet already playing at big European clubs. Teenagers on MLS teams were rare. Now, there are US and Canadian teens who are fully-fledged internationals! The progress has been swift and impressive.
It wasn’t that long ago that pathways to the pros were limited, and the draft was certainly one of the better routes to take. Nowadays it is one of numerous options, and certainly not the well-trodden path in days gone by.
The Rapids are no different to any of the other MLS clubs. The expectation will be for them to pick up a promising prospect who may surprise. The Rapids had two picks in the first round of the 2022 MLS Superdraft, taking Mohamed Omar at 23 and Anthony Markanich at 26. Omar is now at Halifax Wanderers in the Canadian Premier League, while Markanich was used sparingly in his rookie season.
Colorado collected the third pick as part of the trade which took Canadian international Mark-Anthony Kaye to Toronto and brought Ralph Priso to the Centennial State. The Rapids also has the 12th picks in rounds one, two, and three.
With the third pick of the first round, the Rapids will go as high as they did in 2021 when selecting Philip Mayaka out of Clemson. On that occasion they failed to strike gold. Without featuring for the first team and having spent much of his time on loan at Colorado Springs Switchbacks, the midfielder’s option was not picked up at the end of 2022.
The hit ‘n’ miss nature of the Superdraft.