MLS SuperDraft: Chaos emerges from uncertainty

January 17th, 2014

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PHILADELPHIA — It was quiet the night before the MLS SuperDraft. Just a little too quiet. Uncertainty about this draft class hung over the crowd.

The deadlock broke right around midday on Thursday. A timeout before the first pick set the stage for a frenetic draft with five trades in the first 11 picks as teams jostled for position to purloin their players of choice.

“I should have realized it last night because, in my time doing this, it was the quietest night before the draft of any night I can remember,” New England general manager Michael Burns said. “Half the teams weren’t trying to do anything. You couldn’t find them. But then today, when we went in the back and did the trade with Colorado, all of the league officials were like, ‘you’re kidding me, another trade?’”

D.C. United sparked the fracas by finally choosing a winner in what had been a  languid sweepstakes for the first pick. A handful of teams — including eventual winners Philadelphia — chased the top overall pick over the past few days, but none of packages prompted United to pull the trigger prior to the proceedings.

Union manager John Hackworth eventually enticed United to move down one spot in exchange for an undisclosed amount of allocation money. Both teams got their men — University of Connecticut goalkeeper Andre Blake to the Union, California defender Steven Birnbaum to United — without  disrupting their plans for the rest of the day. Hackworth explained he decided to flip the picks to secure Blake and ward off any potential interlopers.

“We knew for a fact that he wouldn’t be there,” Hackworth said. “There were a couple of deals on the table. We had to make that decision at the last minute. It worked out.”

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Philadelphia even managed to recoup its allocation outlay and secure a little extra money for two further trades, but other sides focused on sliding into position first and foremost. Montreal jumped five spots to claim Creighton fullback Eric Miller. FCD reaped the benefits of the Impact’s decision by stockpiling allocation money and an international slot in addition to the 10th overall pick and then used them to climb back to six to take Colorado School of Mines forward Tesho Akindele. Toronto FC then swiped number 10 away from the Union for allocation money and the 15th pick to take Xavier defender Nick Hagglund. New England and Colorado swapped spots at 11 and 12 — and the Rapids scooped the 19th pick for their troubles — to send MAC Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins to New England and stop the carousel.

Recounting the craziness may undersell its lingering impact. Clubs acted decisively to secure their preferred options, particularly with a spate of Homegrown Player signings depleting the pool across the board. The uptick in movement inspired Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey to wonder whether those quiet nights will disappear over the next few years.

“It was a little busy,” Lagerwey said. “It’s interesting — and I’m speculating now — but I wonder if we’re in for more of this going forward in first round stuff. There is a smaller number of good players. A lot of times, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We saw a lot of one-spot moves, which you had never seen. I have to attribute that to teams wanting very, very specific players, having only that one guy left and being willing to pay for them. That’s exciting and new.”

Images by USA Today Sports Images

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