VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC have been one of the busier clubs this offseason.
Already, the ‘Caps have secured the services of six new players, including strikers Kei Kamara and Anthony Blondell. And on Friday in Philadelphia, they’ll be looking to add a few more at the 2018 MLS SuperDraft (live stream on MLSsoccer.com at 8 a.m. PT).
Barring a trade, Whitecaps FC will pick 17th overall, which would be their lowest first-round selection since joining Major League Soccer. They also own the 26th overall selection, which was recently acquired from DC United in exchange for David Ousted’s MLS rights.
“I know they’ll say the combine isn’t as strong as last year and the year before," said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson, "but there are always players that come out.”
There certainly are.
Last year, for example, the ‘Caps selected Jake Nerwinski and he was a revelation at right back, recording five assists in 19 MLS starts. And in 2015, Robinson snatched up Tim Parker, who has established himself as one of the best young centre backs in MLS. Centre back Cole Seiler, Vancouver’s first-rounder in 2016, didn’t quite break through like the others, but there is clearly a trend here.
Robinson said he values “defensive players” in the draft because they tend to have a different type of mentality than attackers. He also said the ‘Caps are still searching for a right back to compete with Nerwinski, as well as a third-string keeper, so those may be positions they look at on Friday.
“There are finds to be had,” Robinson said. “You just have to do your homework.”
And that’s partly what the last few days have been about.
Robinson and his staff are currently in Orlando for the MLS adidas Player Combine, where they have an opportunity to watch all the draft eligible players take part in a series of matches. They also have an opportunity to sit down with the players – something Robinson values greatly.
“First of all I look at whether a player looks me in the eye,” Robinson said. “If someone doesn’t and they talk about themselves and things like that, it’s a flaw in their character. You want them to answer your questions, not swerve the questions like I do with you guys a lot.”
Some of the top prospects in this year’s draft include Stanford centre back Tomas Hilliard-Arce, Ghanaian winger Francis Atuahene, and Wisconsin forward Christopher Mueller. And in his pre-combine mock draft, MLSsoccer.com analyst Matthew Doyle had Vancouver taking Brazilian midfielder Rafael Andrade Santos, who he says could be a better fit as a left fullback or wingback in the long run.
Interestingly, six of this year’s seven Generation adidas signings (players who have already earned MLS contracts and do not count against a team’s salary budget), are international players, which may or may not hurt their draft stock. Either way, it will be interesting to see how things play out. It always is.
“I might trade my pick, and we might go higher, who knows,” Robinson said.