Since its inception in 2000, the MLS SuperDraft has been top-heavy with talent. There have been diamonds in the rough taken at later stages, but the first few picks have almost always been sure-fire MLS stalwarts. The last three first overall picks were Andre Blake, Cyle Larin, and Jack Harrison: top, young MLS talents.
Holding the first pick, Minnesota United has been actively scouting the college pool for many months. The national consensus top-pick is striker Jeremy Ebobisse. Turning 20 in February, Ebobisse left Duke to sign a deal with MLS this past summer. He was loaned by the league to the USL’s Charleston Battery. In five matches with Charleston, he scored a goal and earned an assist — not bad for his first professional action against players at least four years his elder. He’s also scored 8 goals in 9 caps with the USMNT U-20s, including one against Costa Rica this past month. United coach Adrian Heath was among the fans at that match. Ebobisse also had a training stint with Minnesota United in the fall where he drew rave reviews from players and coaches.
That said, there’s a second prospect who makes an awful lot of sense for Minnesota. UCLA midfielder Jackson Yueill is expected to be a top prospect in the draft, having earned callups to the U-18 and U-20 teams. He profiles as a box-to-box midfielder, though he did get time all over the pitch for the Bruins in 2016.
Click here to read Brian Quarstad’s profile on Yueill, featuring an interview with the midfielder himself.
United’s second-round pick sits at spot 23. Barring an unprecedented draft-day fall, Yueill would be selected long before United’s name is called again. However, there’s reason to believe they could be accumulating assets to make a move up.
Last week, Minnesota United swapped spots in the MLS Allocation Order with Chicago. The Fire used the spot to bring in former Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Juninho. While the move was under the radar, United came out of it with the Fire’s second round selection (pick 25) and allocation money. This gives Minnesota three of the top 25 selections in the draft.
Yueill has trained with United several times in the past, and there’s a familiarity between club and player. While the club hasn’t answered questions regarding this directly, it would be completely understandable for the Loons to try to acquire the Minnesotan midfielder.
Okay, so let’s say United decided they want to initiate a homecoming with Yueill. They don’t even have enough players (officially) to make a starting lineup; how can they acquire a pick? This is where MLS’ many rules and roster-building perks come into play. Basically: future considerations and allocation money make this very feasible.
Examining the past four SuperDrafts, I’ll look at specific trades involving first-round picks. For the interest of brevity, I set up a few criteria for qualifying trades.
The first rule is pretty easily explained: Yueill is a top prospect in this class. Realistically, he’s among the ten best players available in the draft, with some ranking him as high as second. Rule two is to try and apply this to where we’re at. There were a number of deals struck multiple years ahead of the draft, when clubs are operating while assuming where their side will be within two years. With the draft coming up (January 13), Minnesota doesn’t have this luxury. As far as rule three, well, this article isn’t about trading down.
I’ll look at the picks in order from highest to lowest, trying to give a sense of value as we move down the board.
Okay, first caveat with all of these trades: we don’t know how much allocation money goes from team to team. Having this info would be so nice. It’s the equivalent of a transfer fee. If Miami FC paid $750,000 for an NASL Best XI midfielder (they did), we should be able to know how much New England had to pay for Kei Kamara.
Anyway, Pfeffer was Philadelphia’s first Homegrown Player. He signed with the Union during their first season, making his debut in 2011. He had a breakout year of sorts in 2015, playing 990 minutes while scoring twice and adding an assist. With the Union and Rapids both seemingly in rebuilding mode, Pfeffer was shipped with some money for the second pick.
The pick became Joshua Yaro, the highest-rated defender in the class. Yaro started 15 matches for the Union as the club returned to the postseason. Pfeffer, meanwhile, didn’t play a single minute for the Rapids, instead spending most of the year on loan with Charlotte in the USL. His option wasn’t picked up for 2017.
First, Portland’s haul: Johnson entered the league in 2006, splitting the year between RSL and Chicago. He joined San Jose in 2008, scoring 17 goals from 2008-2010. He was traded to Toronto after going scoreless in 2011. In 43 starts in 2011-2012, Johnson scored 10 goals and added 7 assists. He scored 9 and assisted on 4 more in 2013 for Portland and was transferred to Chinese Super League side Henan Jianye that winter. He played 2016 with Rayo OKC. Meanwhile, Kocić played twice in 2013 before retiring at 28.
Toronto used the pick on midfielder Kyle Bekker, who started 16 matches in his first two years. He’s bounced around FC Dallas and Montreal in his last two years, and his option was declined after 2016. Bendik started 73 games for Toronto from 2013-2015 before being replaced by Chris Konopka. Next, Bendik was signed by Orlando for 2016, ultimately becoming their starter. His 114 saves secured his spot as their incumbent for 2017.
Can we all agree that this is the most concrete trade in the history of MLS SuperDraft trades? One pick, the rights to one player. Truly a thing of beauty.
There’s no standard going-rate for early picks.
Ultimately, Columbus was able to lock down Parkhurst before the 2014 season. He immediately became a foundational piece for the Crew, serving as the club’s captain. He was the first All-Star from Columbus in four years. The next year, he helped anchor the club’s defense in their run to MLS Cup 2015, finishing second. Columbus traded Parkhurst to Atlanta United for GAM in December, where he figures to be a leader for the new club.
New England used the pick on Steve Neumann, a forward out of Georgetown. Neumann saw 538 minutes in his rookie year, failing to connect on his 15 shots. As New England’s attack fleet grew with the additions of Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo, and Kei Kamara, Neumann struggled for minutes. He announced his retirement after 2016, having just turned 25.
This is the closest thing to a blockbuster trade in last year’s draft. Maidana is an Argentine winger who came to Philadelphia in 2014. He ended up being one of the best chance creators in MLS, adding 26 assists across two seasons. Though he only bagged 3 goals of his own, he was able to set up Philadelphia’s attackers and was one of the most lethal distributors in the league. He only had 4 assists in 2016 and is currently a free agent. Wenger, meanwhile, was the first overall pick of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft by Montreal, traded for Jack McInerney in 2014. He got his first chance at regular minutes with Philadelphia, starting 41 matches in two years. As he gained time at left back, his attacking output dwindled.
Philadelphia used the pick on German striker Fabian Herbers. The Creighton man was the third pick out of the first six for Philadelphia, after Yaro and right back Keegan Rosenberry. He appeared in 32 matches (13 starts), scoring 3 goals and adding 7 assists. He became one of coach Jim Curtin’s most trusted attackers, playing off of Chris Pontius, CJ Sapong, and Tranquillo Barnetta. In turn, Philadelphia made a long-awaited return to the playoffs. The GAM and TAM helped the club bring in Alejandro Bedoya.
By my tally, the team acquiring the pick won three of the four qualifying swaps (granted, this is a limited selection). With the exception of Neumann (a talented player in the wrong situation), it proved to be better value to get another rookie. That said, it’s worth noting: there’s no standard going-rate for early picks.
Every team values youth to varying levels. Some, like FC Dallas, develop their own. Other clubs, like San Jose, prefer to employ veterans. Therefore, what one club may see as a highly-valuable commodity may be worthless to another club.
Looking at the top eight in the 2017 SuperDraft, there are a few potential trading partners that would make sense.
Atlanta’s already made a move to get a second pick in the early goings of the Draft. Chicago, meanwhile, tends to hold onto their picks. However, Houston, Columbus, and San Jose have either traded top picks in recent years or shown a tendency to build through veteran depth. If Yueill fell past the third pick, any of those teams might be calling.
One last wrinkle to this: Yueill did an interview with Colton Coreschi in October. Here’s what he had to say when asked about coming to MLS:
“I always dreamed of playing in my hometown,” Yueill said. “If something were to line up with them, I would probably think about it very hard… I’ve played against a lot of European teams and I think they’re just on another level than MLS right now, especially for youth players. So I think if I were presented with two options, I would take the European option.”
This is similar to what Cristian Roldan went through before the 2015 Draft. The University of Washington midfielder was one of the top prospects in the draft. However, questions about his signability helped him plummet to 16th…where he landed with the nearby Seattle Sounders. Soon, he signed with MLS and has become one of the brightest young domestic talents in the league.
If United could get a commitment from Yueill that he’d play if drafted, a trade up the boards would be a fantastic move. With extra allocation money given to expansion sides and two early-second round picks, they have the pieces. Now, it’s up to the technical staff to make another big decision in an offseason full of them.