Vancouver Whitecaps FC caused a minor sensation at last week's MLS SuperDraft, bypassing all the top college prospects, and instead selecting 17-year-old United States U-20 international striker Omar Salgado as the first overall pick. Vancouver's remaining selections were more orthodox, with three 22-year-olds in midfielder Michael Nanchoff from the University of Akron (eighth overall) and midfielder/striker Jeb Brovsky (19th) and defender Bilal Duckett (37th) both from the University of Notre Dame.
While many pundits were surprised that Vancouver opted for such a young player as the top pick, it was not really out of character for a Whitecaps FC organization that has always placed an emphasis on player development. And while this may have been Vancouver's first Major League Soccer entry draft, it definitely wasn't the first time the club has opted for youth on draft day.
Back in the days of the Canadian Soccer League (CSL), head coach and general manager Bob Lenarduzzi certainly was not afraid to take a chance on younger players. In fact, the first two players signed by the club in 1987 were teenagers Domenic Mobilio and Pat Onstad, who both went on to long and distinguished professional careers. 16-year-old forward Guido Titotto also saw action in 1987, his first of eight seasons with Vancouver.
In the 1989 CSL draft, Lenarduzzi selected 16-year-old midfielder Scott Macey, who went on to enjoy six seasons here. Another 16-year-old Vancouver draft pick was Oliver Heald in 1992. He spent time with Vancouver's reserve team before taking his career to England for several years, then returned in 1996 and played eight seasons with the club. "Ollie" still ranks 11th on the team's all-time scoring list.
Another prominent teenaged draft pick was Alfredo Valente, who was Vancouver's top selection in the 1998 A-League draft at the age of 17. A highly touted local prospect, Valente turned down offers from several big European teams to play for his hometown club. He quickly became a key player, spending eleven seasons here and rising to eighth place on Vancouver's career scoring chart.
It's always a gamble drafting a player so young, as the future is tough to predict. That was certainly the case with Carmen D'Onofrio. In 1991, Vancouver selected the 16-year-old striker in the first round of the CSL draft. However, instead of turning pro, D'Onofrio ended up going to Stanford University. By the time he graduated, Vancouver was playing in a different league, and so the club drafted him again in 1996, again in the first round! He came close to signing, but instead ended up playing professional indoor soccer in Edmonton for several seasons. D'Onofrio finally signed for Vancouver in 1999, but never found his scoring form and only lasted two seasons.
Nobody can be sure what the future will hold for young Omar Salgado, but I for one am certainly looking forward to finding out.