Even though coaches from every MLS club have gathered this week to scout the future talent of the league at the MLS Player Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, only one team has the comfort of knowing that they can select any prospect they desire.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC are sitting in the driver’s seat with the first overall selection heading into Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft. It's a key opportunity for the team to address some of their fundamental needs. as they continue to lay the foundation for a successful future.
The most glaring need for the expansion ‘Caps is clearly up front. Former FC Dallas scoring threat Atiba Harris is currently the only striker on the roster, and the 'Caps will likely look to address their issues up top with the first pick.
For the solution, they need not look further than Darlington Nagbe. The Akron striker led his team to the 2010 NCAA College Cup Championship while winning the MAC Hermann Trophy as the best player in the nation. He is the consensus top attacking player in the draft pool and will no doubt be one of the first names announced on Thursday.
“With Nagbe, you’ve got someone with gifted speed and an ability to beat players on the dribble, and he holds the ball really well,” Whitecaps FC director of soccer operations Tom Soehn told The Province on Saturday. “He’s a guy that can score, but what makes him so unique is he can also set people up and he combines really well.”
Another attacking player of interest to the ‘Caps is 17-year-old Omar Salgado. The talented 6-foot-3 striker trained with Vancouver last season and has no doubt remained on the club’s radar. The Generation adidas stud has been suiting up for the United States U-20 team and has been heralded by many as a star in the making.
The standard for offensive-minded draft picks was set very high last season after 2010 first overall selection Danny Mwanga exploded for seven goals and four assists in his rookie season for the Philadelphia Union. However, if Vancouver do indeed select a young striker, head coach Teitur Thordarson does not expect him to be the immediate savior.
“We need help up front, there’s no doubt,” Thordarson told The Province. “But we cannot rely on a youngster to carry that load.”
Among the other needs for Thordarson’s squad is depth on the backline. Leading the pack in that regard are a pair of Nagbe’s college teammates, Perry Kitchen and Kofi Sarkodie.
The 18-year-old Kitchen has shown the versatility to play as either a central defender or as a defensive midfielder and demonstrated great character playing as a freshman for a talented Akron squad last season. Sarkodie, meanwhile, anchored the Zips backline for three years and is poised to make an immediate impact in MLS.
Ernie Aranyosi/U. of Akron
While Whitecaps FC’s technical staff will be busy deciding what direction to take with the first pick, they’ll also be weighing their options for their eighth overall selection, acquired via trade with Toronto FC. Though they’ll be less certain of what may happen at that stage of the draft, Soehn is confident that there will be a wealth of players to choose from.
“There’s a lot of good Generation adidas singings,” Soehn said. “It’s a quality draft, so we’re excited. I think the last two years, and now this year, you can see that the quality is really picking up.”