The MLS SuperDraft is tomorrow, and it needs a name like “SuperDraft” because Major League Soccer finds it necessary to have five different drafts and this one needs some kind of distinguishing quality. This draft is traditionally known as the college draft, though this season, for the first time, international players are being allowed into the player pool. There’s always a lot of debate leading into the amateur drafts in all American sports whether teams should base their selections based on needs or based on the most talented player available to them when they pick.
It seems like every single decent MLS blog or blogger on the internet has their own mock draft. Even if bloggers have similar valuations of the skill sets of top players, and it seems like most of them do, there is a wide variance in these mock drafts because of the issue of picking for need vs. picking the best player available. Every year, in every sport, we witness fans who are not on the BPA bandwagon going nuts over their team’s draft picks, asking why their team selected a player who plays a position that the team has solidified. Similarly, fans often get angry when their teams address a position of need, but they do so by reaching for a player who isn’t that talented.
Personally, I’m a BPA guy about 99% of the time. In some situations, reaching for need is justified, but it’s rare. Let’s start with an instance where I would be okay with it.
The Los Angeles Galaxy are, for the most part, a team ready to compete for an MLS Cup title. There is one place where their team is seriously lacking, though, and that is forward. Edson Buddle and Tristan Bowen have departed (though some argue Bowen’s future is as a winger) while negotiations with Juan Pablo Angel have stalled. Outside of forward, L.A. has some outstanding pieces, though. If they add an MLS-ready forward, it could make a big difference. It’s not outrageous to say that the Galaxy are a title contender without a new forward and in trouble without one, which is a rare case. If Bruce Arena has the ability to trade up to a place to take one of Will Bruin or Corey Hertzog, it wouldn’t be a terrible move. A lot of the defenders in the draft seem like they have higher ceilings than Hertzog and Bruin, for my money, but it wouldn’t be a terrible move for the Galaxy to move up and reach for Bruin or Hertzog. It could be the difference between MLS Cup contention and mid-table mediocrity, though they should squeak into the playoffs regardless.
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The aforementioned Bruin is part of one of the flip scenarios, though. A lot of D.C. United supporters are adamant that they are in need of a true No. 9 up top to round out their solid attack and midfield corps of Chris Pontius, Santino Quaranta, Andy Najar, Clyde Simms, and Dax McCarty. Last year, Adam Cristman (who interestingly enough, is now a Galaxy player) looked slow as molasses most of the time, while Danny Allsopp was an incredible disappointment. The Black and Red have the third pick in the draft, and they should know who will be available to them. It would be stunning if the first two picks were anyone but Akron players Darlington Nagbe and Perry Kitchen. The raw but immensely talented Omar Salgado and the more polished Will Bruin would both be popular picks with most of the fanbase who is craving a new striker. In my opinion, neither of these players is the best player available.
While he does not fill an immediate need for D.C. United and he can not be easily placed into a position, Akron’s Kofi Sarkodie is, to me, the third best player in this draft at the absolute worst. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s difficult to tell if he’s a better fit as an MLS right back or right midfielder, he’s got talent coming out of his ears and could adapt to either position, assuming his future team is going to be playing mostly variations on 4-4-2 and 4-5-1. His best position might be as the right wing back in a 3-5-2/5-3-2 hybrid setup, but I’ve got a feeling that one won’t be prevalent in MLS anytime soon. It doesn’t matter, though. He’s good enough to start at right back or right midfield tomorrow for most MLS clubs. He might have some early hiccups, but I’m really confident that he’s going to develop into a star player. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t fill an immediate need for D.C. United, I’m not sure how they can pass on a player of his talent.
This isn’t a slam on Will Bruin. He’s a fine player. I think that he could possibly be as good as Brian Ching, but I also think that’s his absolute ceiling. I feel like Jason Garey or a pre-random explosion Chris Wondolowski is a better comparison of what kind of player Will Bruin will be in MLS. These are good players who deserve spots on MLS rosters and who can contribute to good teams, but Sarkodie doesn’t seem to be confined by the same ceiling. He’s got superstar potential without that low of a floor. I don’t feel the same way about Bruin, and I find it hard to believe that D.C. United does.
The ultimate point is that it’s okay for Los Angeles to draft someone like Bruin over a more talented player. It could be the difference between winning MLS Cup and not winning MLS Cup. D.C. United is a different story, though. It would be absolutely stunning to see them win MLS Cup this season, much more so than it was to see Colorado Rapids win this season. They were atrocious last season and they’ve only added a couple of decent players. They should be very happy if they sneak into the playoffs in 10th place. They’re in a place where they should have more of a long-term vision than Los Angeles, and Sarkodie is probably the better long-term player.
Of course, there is a compromise for D.C., and that is Omar Salgado. He’s the sexy forward pick, but he won’t contribute right away. His floor is lower than Bruin’s and Sarkodie’s but his ceiling is unknown. He’s kind of the Joker in the deck that is the MLS SuperDraft player pool, and he could go anywhere between third overall and the very bottom of the first round. He is the odd player that doesn’t fit into the BPA or need category easily.
So, should your team draft for BPA or need? In rare cases, need is fine, but in most cases, I’m going with the former. No one has ever complained about having too many talented players on their team, to my knowledge. I’m an MLS neutral, but if I supported Chivas USA, Philadelphia Union, or New England Revolution, I would be hoping that the teams above me in the draft order didn’t feel like they needed Kofi Sarkodie.