MLS SuperDraft filled with solid picks, risky moves and trade transparency
LOS ANGELES -- The first round of the 2017 Major League Soccer SuperDraft didn't lack for surprises.
Perhaps the biggest was that for the first time in the league's history, teams that conducted trades involving allocation money had to spell out the precise amounts involved. That allows for a much more accurate assessment of a deal's merits. And there were certainly a number of deals involving MLS funny money that provided fodder for discussion.
The initial picks played out about as expected. Forward Abu Danladi was taken first overall by Minnesota, followed by Syracuse defender Miles Robinson, who was taken by Atlanta. But at that point, the pre-draft predictions began to fall apart. Some highly touted players fell, while others were selected well above what was expected. With that in mind, here's a quick breakdown of what transpired over the draft's first round.
Punching Above Their Weight
Atlanta United - With two picks in the top eight of first round, Atlanta United had a chance to fill in some holes on its roster, and given its emphasis on attacking players so far in its roster building, it made sense to emphasize the defensive side of the ball. In Robinson, Atlanta acquired a center-back who at 19 years of age has tremendous upside. Team president Darren Eales said with Atlanta preparing to play with a high line, the team's center-backs will need to possess speed, and Robinson fits the bill. In Julian Gressel, United acquired a human bowling ball in midfield who can help on the attacking end while also applying some physicality on a team with its fair share of artists.
Chicago Fire - For an organization that hasn't experienced much success in recent years, the Fire scored by nabbing $250,000 in allocation money from New York City FC in exchange for the third pick. To put that in context, the Fire received $300,000 in allocation money when it signed and traded Didier Drogba to Montreal back in 2015. From Chicago's vantage point, the reasoning for the deal is simple. It needs to start winning games now to win back the faith of its fans, and to that end, Chicago needs veteran help in midfield. Those funds can help the Fire do that. Granted, the money has to be spent wisely, but the Fire did well here. The same was true in grabbing Louisville midfielder Daniel Johnson, a tricky, technical player who gives the Fire something different in the attacking half.
Houston Dynamo - The Dynamo are in rebuild mode, and in that sense, Houston walked away from the L.A. Convention Center knowing that on this day it helped itself. Houston traded the No. 4 pick to Portland and received $100,000 in general allocation money, the No. 10 selection and an international roster spot. The No. 10 was used to select Hofstra midfielder Joe Holland, one of the better performers at the combine. The funds were used in part to acquire defender A.J. DeLaGarza from the LA Galaxy, whose leadership, versatility and winning mentality will be a welcome addition to the Dynamo.
New York City FC - NYCFC was sitting on a pile of allocation money, thanks in part to last year's sale of Kwadwo Poku. Still, it was a bit of a shock to see the Blues part with $250,000 to get the third pick, which they spent on Akron midfielder Jonathan Lewis. Sporting director Claudio Reyna explained that Lewis was a performer that the team had scouted extensively, and since he's a Generation Adidas player, he won't count against the salary budget. Lewis' speed allows him to get behind defenses, which makes him different than last year's acquisition, Jack Harrison, who is a more straight up, one-on-one attacker. Reyna also explained that with NYCFC not having an academy or a USL team up and running, it needed American players to add to the team. The 2017 season will reveal whether Lewis was worth the money.
Colorado Rapids - In regard to selection, the Rapids provided the biggest shock of the first round, grabbing University of Denver midfielder Sam Hamilton. He didn't make much of an impression at the combine and wasn't expected to go in the first round. But in Colorado's defense, this is a local product it had the chance to see many times at Denver. It isn't the first time the Rapids have made a pick out of left field in the first round, either. Two years ago, Colorado selected an unheralded defender named Axel Sjoberg, who has developed into a defender of the year finalist.
The Value Picks
D.C. United did well to grab outside back Chris Odoi-Atsem, a defender out of Maryland projected to go in the top 10 but who fell to No. 12. DCU had a bit of a logjam at the position, given that Sean Franklin re-signed, but Odoi-Atsem is looked at as an athletic freak having plenty of upside.
Brandon Aubrey became a case study for the damage a bad combine can do to a player. Aubrey was thought to be a top 10 pick at the beginning of the month, but poor play and concerns about his mobility saw him fall all the way to Toronto FC at No. 21. Aubrey's size and ability to threaten on set pieces are still impressive, and now it's up to him to do a Jonathan Campbell and prove a bad combine need not result in a poor rookie season. He'll have lots of competition to get past, however.
As each selection strode to the podium, it seemed like they had all received the same media training. They invariably thanked the team "for believing in me" before moving on -- quite understandably -- to those who helped their development.
It was quite refreshing then to see Zeiko Lewis, who was chosen by the New York Red Bulls with the 17th pick, veer wildly off script. Lewis thanked his parents, and then said, "They brought me into the world and threatened many times to take me out of it."
Lewis then threw considerable shade on the 16 teams who passed him over.
"I'm just going to have to prove you guys wrong," he said.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.