Drafting amateur talent and turning it into professional players that contribute to a team is difficult in any sport. Within Major League Soccer it is even more difficult than other US leagues due to the global nature of soccer, unique NCAA soccer rules and limited scouting budgets. When Seattle Sounders FC’s technical team gathers in Philadelphia on January 16th for the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, they will have four rounds to pick four players at spots 13, 21, 55 and 77. What they do in the SuperDraft is likely to surprise pundits and fans, at least if history is any indication.
Entering the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, the club was a touch hollow in the wide midfield. Sebastien Le Toux was lost in the Expansion Draft leaving Sounders FC with relatively untested Sanna Nyassi as the third winger. The fullback depth also lacked a clear stand-out. A club that drafted on need would have looked to fill those spots.
Instead, the club went with David Estrada as its first round selection. This pick was considered a reach at the time by many pundits. In the Seattle front office it was a player with which they had much familiarity and, now, Estrada is entering his fifth professional season. That is inline with the picks behind him and ahead of the players picked prior to his name being called. Seattle went with Michael Seamon in the second round. The forward/midfielder in college transitioned to a mainly central midfield game in MLS where he spent three years in Rave Green. After three seasons with Sounders FC, he spent 2013 with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the USL PRO.
Those picks did not fit positional needs and indicated that Seattle’s draft strategy would be a bit different than other MLS sides. Being a strong side over the past five seasons, Sounders FC has not had a top half of the first-round pick since their expansion year. A willingness to go big in international waters and via trade also means that positional needs are filled elsewhere.
That leads to moves like what happened in 2011 when Seattle flipped its first round pick down into the second round to get allocation money and Michael Tetteh. Tetteh left college early via the Generation adidas program and spent two seasons with Sounders FC. With its next pick in the second round, Seattle drafted Leone Cruz and then Alex Caskey. Neither would sign with the club. Cruz was traded in 2012 for the rights to Andy Rose, and Caskey signed with Sounders FC in 2012 after a year with the Charleston Battery. No need was filled, instead cap flexibility and tradable assets were acquired.
The risk of using low draft picks on unique talents is low. The reward can mean a player like Caskey who is currently looking at 2014 with a chance to compete for starting time. In 2012 that risk/reward analysis again shows up when Adrian Hanauer, Chris Henderson and Sigi Schmid went with Andrew Duran in the first round.
Judged by most experts as a second or third round talent Sounders FC saw a player who was hampered by injuries, but still led one of the best defenses in college. Injuries would plague Duran’s pro career, but when he played with both Seattle and the Atlanta Silverbacks he was a comfortable centerback/right back in possession who read passes quite well. Seattle’s other 2012 pick was Babayele Sodade. After a year in college that triumphed behind his physique and lighting up the combine, the club again took a man that raised eyebrows. While serving with the Canadian Olympic Team Sodade suffered a knee injury. He did not make a competitive appearance for Seattle.
Eriq Zavaleta was young, quick and without a position when Seattle Sounders FC picked him in 2013. He could be a forward (Seattle had Johnson, Neagle, Estrada and others) or a centerback (Hurtado, Ianni, Scott), and he was young, part of Generation adidas (no cap hit) and teachable. Last season he spent some time with San Antonio Scorpions of the NASL refining his craft and at the end of the year he was included in the 18-man gameday roster with regularity. The club traded up, not because it “needed” a youngster who could become something, but because it had time to wait for him to develop.
The athleticism of Dylan Remick did not surprise this club. Seattle was familiar with the Brown star already. Another “reach” in the eyes of pundits Remick is now the second left back on a two-deep depth chart just one year after leaving the Ivy League.
Seattle’s willingness to go off of the public boards earned them quality players that others either overlooked or thought they could get late. It came because Seattle holds a combine near Las Vegas every year to get another look at talents that their scouting team already saw in live action.
In the Supplemental Draft (now eliminated as the SuperDraft goes four rounds deep) Seattle picks are even more difficult to see as need based. Josh Ford is still with the team after his 2011 selection. In 2012, Supplemental picks included a brother of an MLS player, an international draft eligible player and a player who went back to college to get a second senior year with the UW Huskies. Last year, Will Bates fell due to injury. Seattle signed him and he currently is on the roster looking at a 2014 where he can show just what he learned in reserve games.
With the draft just over a week away, do not think about what the Sounders need, think instead about what they want.