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In search of a gem: MLS clubs gear up for this year's SuperDraft

Major League Soccer coaches and management will be hoping this year’s SuperDraft will improve their teams or allow them to find that special gem of a player that can make a significant difference in his first year as a professional.

The 2012 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas will take place at the Kansas City Convention Center this Thursday morning at 9 a.m. PT and will be broadcast live on TSN2, RDS2, and ESPN2. Whitecaps FC will have the second overall picks in both rounds.

The MLS SuperDraft is an annual event that takes place every January. Each MLS club selects players from college or who have been signed by the league. The first ‘SuperDraft’ took place in 2000 and was a combination of the MLS College Draft (players graduated from college) and the MLS Supplemental Draft (all other chosen players).

The order of the SuperDraft is determined by a combination of the team’s playoff and regular season positions, with the last team (or expansion club) getting the first overall pick. The process for the SuperDraft has some similarities to the NFL Draft, but also has some unique features to it as well.

Generation adidas is a joint venture between MLS and the United States Soccer Federation aimed at raising the level of young soccer talent in America. Sponsored by adidas, the program encourages early entry (without college graduation) of American players into the league. Generation adidas players do not count against an MLS club’s salary cap budget and usually earn a much higher salary than the league minimum. Entering into the program automatically classifies a player as a professional, and therefore, disqualifies them from playing college soccer. Generation adidas players are guaranteed scholarships to continue their education, should their professional soccer careers go unfulfilled.

Like any draft in North America, it creates a lot of talking points before and after. Before the talk of who is going to go in what order and when the picks are made, there is debate over who has made the right decisions for their team. As in most drafts, there are no guarantees on the players you pick, and every club is looking to find a hidden gem. Last year’s draft produced a number of players that were very productive for their clubs.

In 2011, Whitecaps FC took Omar Salgado with the first overall pick. The 17-year-old played in 14 games with the ‘Caps last season, scoring one goal. Being so young, he is considered a longer term project, but this year could be a lot different for Salgado after his off-season performances earned him another call-up to the USA U-20 national team this month.

Portland Timbers had the second pick in 2011 and took Darlington Nagbe. The University of Akron star played in 28 games for the Timbers last season and scored the MLS Goal of the Year during a 2-1 defeat to Sporting Kansas City.

Perry Kitchen went number three overall to D.C. United and made 31 appearances for the club, while Zarek Valentin was picked fourth overall by Chivas USA and appeared in 25 games last season. These players put in productive minutes for their clubs and would be considered good picks.

With the 10th overall selection last year, Kansas City landed a gem of a player when they picked CJ Sapong. After scoring two minutes into his debut in a 3-2 victory over Chivas USA, Sapong went on to play in all 34 matches for Sporting KC, scoring five goals, and was rewarded with the MLS Rookie of the Year award for the 2011 season. Sapong edged out Michael Farfan, who was picked in the second round and 23rd overall by Philadelphia Union.

The SuperDraft is a chance for MLS teams to draft an exciting prospect that can push them closer to their goals for the 2012 season and beyond.