The MLS SuperDraft is over. Now the real fun begins.
The draft is a notorious crapshoot, a sieve through which only a small portion of prospects pass successfully. And it only gets thornier in the latter rounds. Since the draft expanded back out to four rounds in 2014, 116 players were taken in three successive drafts in the third and fourth rounds. Of those, 96 have yet to play in MLS. Of the 18 percent who’ve seen the field, they average 88 career minutes in MLS.
There are success stories. Former Division III standout Richie Marquez was taken by the Philadelphia Union with the sixth pick in the third round in 2014. He’s since racked up nearly 5,000 minutes and established himself as a starting center back. And Dominique Badji, who was taken with the fifth pick of the fourth round in 2015, has 2,383 minutes with the Colorado Rapids over two seasons.
Finding a hidden diamond isn’t impossible. It’s just wildly difficult.
With that in mind, let’s take a spin around the Sounders’ five draft picks, three of whom were locked up on Tuesday in the final two rounds. We’ll also pull out a current doppelgänger for point of comparison. That’s not to say these players are on the existing MLS player’s level, merely that when examining their skill set, the two share more similarities than not.
Brian Nana-Sinkam, Stanford (No. 22 overall)
MLS equivalent: Matt Besler, Sporting KC
The Sounders didn’t draft Brian Nana-Sinkam for his prodigious physicality. He may share an alma mater with Chad Marshall, but the two aren’t exactly like-for-like players. A relative deficiency somewhere usually leads to compensation somewhere else, and Nana-Sinkam’s height — he’s 6-foot even — certainly applies. Like Matt Besler, who Nana-Sinkam looks up to and tries to model his game after, Nana-Sinkam tends to use his positioning to stay out of trouble, and he’s almost never caught flat-footed in the box. Stanford asked center back partner Tomas Hilliard-Arce to do much of the aerial heavy lifting, allowing Nana-Sinkam to jam attackers on the floor. His athleticism helps him cover for some of that, but with Nana-Sinkam you’re drafting his soccer smarts, his lateral agility, his marking ability and his distribution. If he has Besler’s career, this was one heck of a steal.
Dominic Oduro, International (No. 44 overall)
MLS equivalent: Matias Laba, Vancouver Whitecaps
The Sounders aren’t exactly hurting for starters in the central midfield, but they do need depth and versatility. Cristian Roldan and Osvaldo Alonso are notably similar players in play style, perhaps not as much defensively but certainly in the build. When Micheal Azira left the club, he took with him the last real sideline-to-sideline athletic destroyer, and Dominic Oduro is certainly in that mold. Oduro is a bit of a mystery given his lack of exposure here, but at the combine, he, like Matias Laba, was just as comfortable crashing into a challenge as he was sweeping up possession and restarting the attack. Whether or not Oduro sticks, he certainly diversifies the central midfield pool.
Bakie Goodman, Georgetown (No. 56 overall)
MLS equivalent: Tony Tchani, Columbus Crew
The Sounders weren’t messing around with their view toward solidifying the midfield. While Oduro may be more of an out-and-out No. 6 in the Alonso vein, Bakie Goodman is on the Roldan side of things. At Georgetown he was more of the box-to-box variety, sitting deep but then charging into the final third to stoke the action himself. He’ll probably trend a bit more defensive at the next level, as Roldan did, but this is a pick for possession. Goodman loves playing square balls and driving builds in the attacking half, and whatever his role he should get a good chance to stick in the preseason.
Jake Stovall, Wright State (No. 66 overall)
MLS equivalent: Nat Borchers, Portland Timbers
Before the draft started, the Sounders targeted center back depth as a key concern. Considering they only had three central defenders on the depth chart at the start of it, you can understand why. So it made sense they aimed at the position with each of their two final picks, starting with Jake Stovall. The Wright State defender didn’t have the broadest profile by dint of his mid-major status, but that certainly didn’t dim the Sounders’ opinion of his game. Stovall is a prototypical stand-up aerial menace, and he demonstrated his ability to wreck the order in the box with his head on set pieces and corners. The Sounders wanted competition at the position in preseason, and Stovall certainly provides that.
Kyle Bjornethun, Seattle University (No. 88 overall)
MLS equivalent: Victor Cabrera, Montreal Impact
Speaking of defensive depth, the Sounders reached here for a player with whom they’re intimately familiar. Kyle Bjornethun, who was taken with the final overall pick of the draft, spent some time in the Sounders’ Academy before jumping to Seattle University in 2013. It was clearly good for his game because the center back became more refined on ball and a better set-piece defender during his time as a Redhawk. Like Nana-Sinkam, Bjornethun doesn’t have ideal size at 5-foot-11, but he has the quicks and defensive smarts to compensate on the fly. He’s not the overlapping fullback the Sounders tend to prefer in this system, but there’s also the possibility of him flexing out wide as well to feed his agility. Either way, he’ll be an interesting one to monitor in the preseason.