Although entry level drafts are not common practice in soccer leagues around the world, the MLS SuperDraft is still an important tool used by teams to build their rosters.
In the NFL, NHL, and NBA, each draft can turn the fortunes of a club around or help get a new franchise off the ground running. The strength of the draft was very evident in the first year of the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies. They were handicapped by the league by not having a top-five pick when they first entered the league and found it almost impossible to be competitive, struggling every year until they moved to Memphis, Tennessee.
Not so for our Vancouver Whitecaps FC, who have the number one overall pick in Thursday's SuperDraft. Though it is a major decision, a lot of work has already been done by ‘Caps director of soccer operations Tom Soehn and the coaching staff in making the right call. You only have to look back at the last two years of the SuperDraft to see who was picked and what a positive effect they made on their teams.
Steve Zakuani was selected by Seattle Sounders FC as the number one pick in the 2009 SuperDraft on a Generation adidas (GA) contract. Generation adidas player salaries do not count against a club's salary cap and are usually provided to emerging young players that leave college early to sign with a professional club - and therefore - have had to forfeit their athletic scholarships. All GA players are guaranteed scholarships to continue their college education following their professional careers.
Zakuani made his MLS debut on March 19, 2009, against New York Red Bulls, having come on as a 68th-minute substitute and scored his first professional goal against Toronto FC on April 4, 2009. He was a finalist for the MLS Rookie of the Year award that season, leading all first-year players in goals and assists with four each.
In his second professional season, Zakuani scored ten goals in the regular season to tie for the team lead with Fredy Montero. He was named MLS Player of the Week twice, and won the Goal of the Week award twice. Zakuani also scored Sounders FC's first-ever playoff goal in a 2-1 defeat to Los Angeles Galaxy. After two seasons in Seattle, Zakuani has made 58 appearances and scored a very respectable 14 goals.
Danny Mwanga was drafted first overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft by Philadelphia Union and made his professional debut on March 25, 2010. On May 15, 2010, he scored his first MLS goal at Lincoln Financial Field against FC Dallas in time added on to earn the Union a draw. Last season, Mwanga made 24 appearances and scored seven goals. He was also a finalist for the MLS Rookie of the Year award.
I can understand now why Whitecaps FC coaches are so excited by what everybody says is a very strong draft this year. As the coaching staff continue to watch the 60-plus players at the MLS Player Combine in Florida, they hope to find that one player who can make a major contribution to the team from day one in March.
Like most other major sports, the draft has become incredibly valuable to MLS clubs. This is the reason why other teams have tried to tempt Whitecaps FC into trading their number one pick. Stay tuned to what takes place with the draft on whitecapsfc.com, as three of the top 19 picks will no doubt play a role in shaping our team.