Clubs that helped themselves in a frantic first day of the MLS SuperDraft
PHILADELPHIA -- Like most drafts, the MLS version craves instant gratification -- winners and losers, stock up and stock down. The reality is that time is needed to accurately assess the decision-making capability of a side on a given day. And given that the MLS SuperDraft is dealing with players making their initial foray into the professional game, there will be inevitable ups and downs in terms of their development.
That won't stop some teams -- most, in fact -- from walking away with the feeling that they helped themselves, even if the business of the day didn't have anything directly to do with the draft. With that in mind, here's a look at what transpired at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Got some needed help
Expansion teams usually struggle to accumulate depth. That puts a premium on versatility, and LAFC scored with both of their first-round picks. LAFC selected Akron defender Joao Moutinho with the No. 1 overall pick and then traded $100,000 of general allocation money (GAM) and $100,000 of targeted allocation money (TAM) to D.C. United for the third overall pick, which LAFC used to select University of the Pacific defender Tristan Blackmon. LAFC then took Pittsburgh midfielder Pol Calvet Planellas with the first pick of the second round.
"Versatility helps, but the main thing is that you want to work with young players where you see an upside," said LAFC manager Bob Bradley. "When you challenge them, when things go faster and you have new ideas, that they pick up things quickly. If you get those kinds of players in a new environment, they can really take off."
Moutinho projects as a left-back given his slight frame, and while he played center-back for most of his brief collegiate career, Bradley expects him to bulk up.
"The Joao Moutinho that you see in two years is going to look very different," Bradley said.
Blackmon is a right-back with a penchant for getting forward, though he played some minutes at center-back during the MLS Player Combine. Blackmon's selection at No. 3 was a bit of a surprise, though he was expected to be a top-10 pick.
"Blackmon is very easy on his feet, always as fast as he needs to be," Bradley said. "He has a real easy way of doing things."
Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez seems to live for the draft, wheeling and dealing every year, and in this edition he was once again in his element. Rodriguez had been raving about Wake Forest forward Jon Bakero, and the Fire GM was able to get his man, swinging a deal for the No. 5 pick in exchange for $75,000 of GAM and $100,000 of TAM and the 15th overall pick. Rodriguez then worked another deal with Real Salt Lake to obtain the 10th overall pick in exchange for $85,000 of GAM. That move brought in Syracuse midfielder Mo Adams.
"As the draft unfolded we saw opportunities to get two players that we were very, very high on," Rodriguez said.
Chicago then was involved in the blockbuster of the day, shipping winger David Accam to the Philadelphia Union in exchange for $300,000 in GAM and $900,000 in TAM. The move of a fan favorite will come as a shock to Fire fans, but the funds received should give Chicago plenty of chances to add to its attack.
"There's an element of risk to the trade," Rodriguez said. "David is an accomplished and quality player, who is still in the prime of his career. But we set out to build a championship program. We believe in what's required to fulfill that. We feel that the next evolution of what we're trying to build required a bold move, and we feel that these assets that we've acquired give us an opportunity to accelerate our goal, but as I said, that production won't be easy to replace, but we did what we felt was necessary."
Rodriguez said three international targets have been identified, "but nothing is imminent."
Even with all of the Chicago's machinations, the biggest wheeler/dealer of the day was Minnesota United, who exited the first round with four players. After sending the fifth overall pick to Chicago, the Loons then shipped $150,000 in TAM to Montreal for the seventh pick, which it used on Indiana forward Mason Toye. Minnesota used the 15th pick it acquired from the Fire to select Dartmouth defender Wyatt Omsberg, and also received goalkeeper Matt Lampson in the deal with Chicago. GM Manny Lagos then packaged $50,000 of TAM and the 28th overall pick to Toronto for the 23rd overall selection, which Minnesota used to select Duke defender Carter Manley.
"We're pleased with the day we had, it didn't cost us too much, and we've managed to come up with four players," said Minnesota manager Adrian Heath.
For a team in search of depth in the wake of a difficult expansion season, Minnesota got exactly what it needed. And everyone knows how much Heath enjoys working with young forwards, and in Toye he has one with considerable upside.
"I'm looking forward to getting to grips with him; he's big, he's strong, he's got lovely feet, he's a super athlete," Heath said. "That will give us something to work with."
For a team that didn't enter the day with any picks, the Union still managed to upgrade its attack in a major way with its acquisition of Accam. Yes the $300,000 in GAM and $900,000 in TAM is a steep price to pay, but Accam is a proven performer in MLS, having scored 33 goals along with 15 assists in three seasons, and he can stretch defenses with his speed like few can in MLS.
"To get good players you have to be willing to sacrifice financially, and it is spread out over years so it's a situation where it's not going to hit us hard right away," said Union manager Jim Curtin.
For a team that has had painfully little to talk about since the start of the year, the Union are now firmly in the conversation for all the right reasons, especially considering that the expectation is that Accam will be around for multiple years.
The offseason has seen no letup in the #SaveTheCrew movement, and those in attendance -- not just Columbus supporters, either -- made sure to let MLS commissioner Don Garber know that the issue remains at the forefront of the minds of fans around the league. As Garber stepped up the to the podium to announce the first overall pick, those fans in attendance made their presence felt with a chant of "Save the Crew!" that did plenty to compete with Garber in terms of volume.
Michigan forward Francis Atuahene, taken by FC Dallas with the fourth overall pick, looked to be winning this title in a walk, only for fellow Right to Dream product Edward Opoku -- taken with the 32nd overall pick by the Columbus Crew -- to give him a run for his money. Opoku even got choked up as he thanked all those who helped him, including Right to Dream for "picking a kid from the dirt" from a small town in Ghana to help him reach this moment. Atuahene's heartfelt speech saw him vow to help others just as Right to Dream had helped him come to America. Call it a photo finish here.
New England's picks certainly raised eyebrows, taking Western Michigan defender Brandon Bye and Wisconsin defender Mark Segbers with the eighth and ninth picks, respectively. The choices were odd because both were attacking players in college who figure to play right-back at the professional level, and both figured to be chosen much later.
That said, it's tough to see how New England helped itself that much on this day, though to be fair, Segbers impressed more than one MLS GM at the combine. New manager Brad Friedel insisted his team knew what it was looking for, and didn't look at anything else.
"When we profile players we profile them a certain way," Friedel told ESPN FC via telephone. "If we needed cover at right-back and at right wing, both the players started off as right wingers in their careers, and moved back to right-backs. They can both play wing-backs. They're both very, very quick, and very powerful runners. And to play at the professional level you have to not only be good with the ball but also be athletic."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.