Toronto FC will be searching for a diamond in the rough Thursday as the 2011 Major League Soccer SuperDraft goes down in Baltimore.
The task of sifting through the best of the NCAA and other draft eligible players is that much more difficult for Toronto FC this year.
For all intents and purposes, this will be Toronto FC’s new front office’s first kick at the can. But characterizing this as Director of Player Development Paul Mariner and Head Coach and Technical Director Aron Winter’s first SuperDraft will have to be done so with the understanding that this group has only been in place for less than a week.
And although Toronto FC’s brain trust attended this week’s MLS SuperDraft Combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, it’s hardly a thorough means of evaluating talent available for selection. Advanced scouting over a prolonged period of time is the only way MLS front offices can be sure what they’re getting in this rather underwhelming process.
Further complicating matters, Toronto FC doesn’t have a first-round pick. TFC doesn’t select until the second round, 26th overall, making the challenge of finding quality that much more difficult.
Toronto FC’s interim regime traded away their 2011 first round pick (8th overall) to the Vancouver Whitecaps for midfielder Nathan Sturgis. The 23-year-old defender/midfielder played last season for the Seattle Sounders before being selected by Vancouver in last month’s expansion draft.
Deciding to trade their first round pick for Sturgis is another indication TFC will be traders Thursday. The new front office would be astute to bypass the Collegiate crap-shoot, preferring to acquire other assets that will make filling a roster with suitable players while having more financial flexibility that much easier.
Toronto owns two other selections in the three-round draft, back-to-back picks, 43rd and 44th overall.
TFC didn’t have a first round selection last year either. Toronto traded their 2010 first round selection (5th overall) and allocation money the previous year to FC Dallas for Canadian defender Adrian Serioux, whose contract was not renewed for the 2011 season.
Toronto FC’s second round selection (24th overall) from a year ago was Zachary Herald — a 17-year old prospect who was forced to retire in May due to a heart condition.
For all the credit former TFC director of soccer, Mo Johnston garnered for having a keen eye for talent, only one player currently on Toronto FC’s roster came to the team via the SuperDraft. Starting goalkeeper Stefan Frei was selected in the first round, 13th overall in 2009.
Toronto FC had two other first round picks in 2009. Sam Cronin (2nd overall) was traded away for allocation money last season; an exceptionally low return for a player of such quality. And O’Brian White (4th overall) was left unprotected and selected in last month’s expansion draft.
TFC’s roster has far too many holes for the team to consider drafting based on need. In addition to lacking depth, Toronto is desperately weak up front, on the wings, and at the fullback positions. Trading away their picks makes a lot of sense to bring back established players, allocation money, or future draft picks.
The Vancouver Whitecaps own Thursday’s first overall pick. Rumours have circled that the Whitecaps are open to trading away the first overall selection to acquire another first round pick, as well as other assets to help build the team, long-term.
But if Vancouver is to select a player, he will surely come out of the University of Akron. The two top-rated players (and by a considerable margin), midfielder Perry Kitchen and forward Darlington Nagbe, are both products of Akron’s esteemed soccer program.
Kitchen is the most sure shot player in the draft, possessing the attributes and leadership qualities to become an MLS linchpin for years to come. Nagbe is no slouch either, possessing the best attacking qualities and athleticism upfront, by far.
Despite the Whitecaps developmental roster and academy being chockfull of young midfielders with considerable potential, Kitchen is man to take first overall. The club has committed itself to the mantra of building from the back. And Kitchen provides the long-term midfield stability required for any team with eyes for the future. The Whitecaps can alternatively address attacking positions through trade or International signings.
The first round of the SuperDraft can be seen on GOL TV Canada. The rest of the draft will be streamed on MLSSoccer.com