Toronto FC took advantage of a unique MLS SuperDraft landscape Wednesday, trading the first overall pick to the New English Revolution for the fourth pick and allocation money.
Toronto started the day with the first and third pick in Thursday’s draft in Indianapolis — and with a definite interest in making a deal. With Chivas USA announcing its intention to pick Connecticut midfielder Carlos Alvarez second overall, Toronto had the luxury of trading down and still having a clear view of the talent available.
“We have our eye on several players in the MLS SuperDraft, but we want to come out of the draft with more than just two player picks,” Toronto president and GM Kevin Payne said in a statement.
“We believe we can still get the players we want at the third and fourth picks, and have our team benefit from the allocation money.”
Toronto acquired the third pick in a December trade with the Portland Timbers.
Thursday’s draft opener will be the highest ever selection for the Revs. New England used the second overall pick in 2002 to select Taylor Twellman, who became the club’s all-time leading scorer.
New England has talked about acquiring depth at defence and forward. Offence may get more attention since the Revolution ranked 14th in league scoring last season with 39 goals. And Honduran forward Jerry Bengston, who scored a hat trick in the 8-1 demolition of Canada in October, could be absent for stretches due to World Cup qualifying.
But there are some quality defenders available.
While there isn’t a consensus No. 1 pick in this draft, Louisville defender Andrew Farrell has plenty of admirers.
A former defensive midfielder and right back, the 20-year-old Farrell moved to centre back his last two years at Louisville. He began playing soccer in Peru, where he lived from age five to his sophomore year in high school during his father’s Presbyterian mission trip.
Farrell is just five foot 11 and 165 pounds but scouts marvel at his athleticism and like his speed.
Furman’s Walter Zimmerman, who missed the MLS Combine through injury, is seen as a stud defender with great leadership qualities.
With two picks each in the first round, the Vancouver Whitecaps (fifth and 10th) and Montreal Impact (eighth and 18th) could also make moves on the day.
“It’s probably not quite as deep as the last couple of years, I think that’s the general consensus,” Matt Jordan, Montreal’s director of soccer operations, said of this year’s talent pool. “But I still think there’s opportunity in the draft for all the clubs.
“Most clubs probably look at the players that are in this draft with more of a long-term approach.”
Still for Toronto’s Payne, every draft has its merits.
“It’s an unusual circumstance in soccer where you can get players for free basically and then you can build your team around them,” he said prior to heading to Florida to watch the MLS Combine.
“I don’t know how deep a draft it is,” he added. “From our point of view, it may be better if it’s not a deep draft because that makes the high picks more important.”
Canadian talent may also figure early in the draft.
Canadian midfielder Kyle Bekker, a slick playmaker from Boston College, has turned heads at the combine and has moved up the draft ladder.
Oregon State forward Emery Welshman, also from Oakville and a teammate of Bekker at the Sigma FC club in nearby Mississauga, also earned kudos at the combine.
Michigan defender Kofi Opare of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Denver defender Drew Beckie of Regina were the other Canadians invited to the combine.
Indiana University’s Eriq Zavaleta is an interesting option in the draft. He can play both up front and at the back. Notre Dame’s Ryan Finlay is a goal-scorer.
Teenage Gambian forward Kekuta Manneh has also drawn attention, although is likely to go further down.
Payne has talked often of the need for character at Toronto FC, so mental skills will be valued as much as physical attributes.
Ten players have already left Toronto, which lurched to a league worst 5-21-8 record last season.
Toronto striker Eric Hassli reportedly also wants out, according to the well-informed website soccerbyives.net but TFC may have problems dealing the tattooed Frenchman who made US$790,000 last season. Hassli was close to former manager Paul Mariner, who was fired last week.
In Vancouver, coach Martin Rennie said the Whitecaps have built a good foundation and are now looking to fill specific needs.
“Last year, we got Darren Mattocks, who became a very good player for us and, now, we think, can become a mainstay of our franchise,” he said of the speedy forward.
Rennie said Mattocks is a good example of someone who was the best player available and also filled a positional need.
“Going into this one, we do hope to find the best player available,” said Rennie. “But at the same time, if they’re not in a position that we need, it doesn’t really serve a purpose (to choose that player), because with five picks in the draft, you’re hoping to get a player who can start for you. So if you’ve got someone who’s an established starter in that position, it might not be a wise move to take that player.”
The last time the draft was in Indianapolis, in 2007, Toronto used the first pick in franchise history to take midfielder Maurice Edu from the University of Maryland first overall. Edu went on to play for Glasgow Rangers and Stoke City.