January 18, 2010
Other ways to build TFCDraft small part of shaping team
By GARETH WHEELER, QMI AGENCY
Draft, schmaft -- famous words uttered in this city.
And for Toronto FC director of soccer Mo Johnston at the Major League Soccer SuperDraft last Thursday, those words couldn't have been more true. The draft was a lot about nothing for TFC and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Criticism over Johnston's inability to move up in the draft or make any deals has been grossly exaggerated. To be honest, in the overall scheme of things, the SuperDraft is highly overrated.
Don't get me wrong. The SuperDraft is a much-needed and valuable outlet for NCAA players to get a shot at playing professional soccer. And offering Generation Adidas status to a select group of players helping them achieve their education goals makes a whole lot of sense.
But the impact these players have to the fortunes of the teams that draft them is negligible.
Soccer is a completely different animal than hockey or basketball. There are more important ways to build your roster than the draft. The three T's -- trades, transfers, and trialists -- are essential. Proper management in these areas renders far greater returns than the draft. You're not going to find a LeBron James or a Sidney Crosby type player in the SuperDraft.
The closest MLS came to having a superstar come through the draft was Freddy Adu in 2004. That pick was more about hype than anything else. DC United's success that year was not because of Adu. And since that time, Adu's career has stalled in the nether-regions of Europe, and the "prodigy" tag is distant memory.
The entire concept of draft is foreign in soccer. By the age of 22 or 23, a player should be established professionally. And when a teenage player with special talent is taken in the draft, he ends up moving out of MLS to so-called greener pastures more times than not.
The restrictive salary structure of MLS encourages players to follow the money and continue pursuing their careers overseas. For example, when TFC drafts a Maurice Edu, a player with immediate impact, there is very little reward for Toronto from a competitive point of view. He is sold off before the team reaps any real reward.
That is why Johnston, widely acknowledged as a genius when it comes to the draft, has had little or no success in building a winner. His transfer and trade record has been less than sterling. Drafting well only gets you so far.
So whether you're Johnston, looking to fill multiple holes on his roster through trade, or the Philadelphia Union, stockpiling young talent, the draft is about asset management. The fruits of each team's labour will or will not show in due time.
Johnston did acknowledge he had his eye on one particular player. Once it became evident the player was out of his reach and the bounty would be too much, Johnston moved on, and rightfully so.
Instead, settling for 17-year old Zachary Herold, a Generation Adidas player whose salary doesn't count against the cap, was a stellar consolation prize.
What is more intriguing for TFC is how Johnston appeases his new head coach, Preki, who is less than enamoured with the roster he has inherited. The two have determined multiple players Preki would like to see in his side, and Johnston believes he can land at least two of the targets.
Just as important as who is coming in is who will be leaving. Rumours circulated last week that goalkeeper Stefan Frei was made available for trade. Frei's play last season showed he can be a starting goalkeeper in MLS for years to come. And his Generation Adidas status makes him an even more attractive asset. With a capable Brian Edwards also under contract, a Frei departure may be a case of having to give up something to get something of greater importance in return.