TORONTO - With a host of defensive concerns heading into camp, TFC must improve at the back with the fourth pick during today's MLS SuperDraft in Kansas City.
Announcing last week that Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams won't return from knee injuries until well into pre-season, the Reds are expected to seek an MLS-ready prospect capable of competing for minutes at Toronto’s most concerning spot — central defence.
“We have positional needs and we’re going to take what we feel is the best player available for the positions we need,” TFC’s director of player development Paul Mariner said. “Everyone knows we need to bolster our defence.”
And that support could come in the form of Generation Adidas and University of Connecticut product Andrew Jean-Baptiste — the most highly touted defensive prospect in this year’s field.
Despite concerns surrounding Jean-Baptiste’s ability on the ball, the towering, ball-winning centre back looked comfortable at the combine and likely did enough to solidify himself as a lottery pick.
“We’re looking at all the Generation Adidas players,” Mariner said, in a phone interview from Kansas City on Wednesday. “We’ve scouted (Jean-Baptiste's) university many, many times this year and watched him in close quarters over the last few days."
Although Mariner told the Toronto Sun the Reds will almost certainly select fourth this afternoon, there are circumstances that could see TFC trade away the 12th pick — something that hinges on deals the club is currently working on abroad.
“There are ongoing discussions with players from various parts of the world and we’re hoping some fall for us,” Mariner said. “If that happens we may think about trading (the 12th pick).”
ROLLING THE DICE
The draft is an out-of-date system that holds back soccer’s growth in North America, according to pundits across the Canadian soccer landscape.
A unique system that’s endemic to MLS, the draft remains a crucial element within North America as it continues to grow the league at a sustainable pace.
“We still feel there’s a great deal of value in the draft,” Mariner said. “The NCAA pours millions into that program and there are some tremendous coaches at that level. It would be foolish to say it’s not useful.”
While purists would like to see the league’s 19 clubs develop world-class academy systems to feed reserve and first teams, the number of youth players currently developing within Canada and the U.S. is too immense for a 19-team league to carry the load.
For now, the NCAA will continue to be the principle pipeline for young players because of the emphasis put on education and the high failure rate of players attempting to reach MLS.
As it’s not ideal, the argument that NCAA competition doesn't adequately prepare players is typically made by those that have never actually experienced the structured setup first-division college ball represents.
“The players (came) down and conducted themselves extremely well,” Mariner said. “I think the level this year was a little higher.”
Over the past ten drafts, 60% of the players taken inside the first 10 picks went on to become regular MLS starters or national team contributors — some of which have since moved to Europe.
With TFC holding two slots inside the first 12 picks, there’s a good chance the club will roll the dice and land a player that’s capable of filling an important role.
The league is beginning to examine the interesting dynamic between NCAA eligibility, MLS reserve teams and academies. Although college soccer will remain the most coveted source of competition for teenagers within the U.S., look for the league to work with the NCAA to continue loosening rules that will allow MLS prospects to preserve eligibility while attempting to move up through a club’s academy system.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena confirmed yesterday that the club has signed New Zealand international and former TFC defender Andrew Boyens ... Leeds United announced late Tuesday it has signed former Columbus Crew winger Robbie Rogers pending a work permit. The BBC reports the Championship side is hopeful Rogers will have an immediate impact ... Real Salt Lake is an afterthought once again, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. A club official is reportedly peeved, calling it “an annoyance” that RSL — a club many consider to be a model franchise — won't appear on the ESPN networks in 2012 ... Former TFC target man Alan Gordon has re-signed with the San Jose Earthquakes. The Reds will see Gordon in Toronto's home opener March 24.