Today is the day. At 9 AM Pacific, the Vancouver Whitecaps will head off to the MLS SuperDraft (live coverage on MLSSoccer.com) and, picking second overall, make their second selection in franchise history.
The Montreal Impact are picking first and there two consensus top picks: Duke utility player Andrew Wenger and Akron forward Darren Mattocks. Look around and you'll see that almost everybody agrees: Mattocks first, Wenger second. He's almost written on the Whitecaps roster in pencil.
The Whitecaps have the second pick of the second round, of course, and there's a bit more suspense there. Some lazy writers are linking the Whitecaps to Charlotte forward Evan James because he's Canadian, but James was considered a supplemental draft pick at best before having a good MLS Combine and, with four Canadians under contract, the Whitecaps have no need to go hunting for token Canucks.
Whether the second-round pick is James or Colin Rolfe or Jeb Brovsky's long-lost brother Irving, it won't get the headlines. It's the Whitecaps' first pick that's bringing suspense. Wenger and Mattocks are considered good talents, capable of slotting into an MLS eighteen almost immediately, although Wenger has the drama of supposedly wanting to stay in school until he graduates in May. Which one will the Whitecaps get? Or will the Whitecaps pull another Omar Salgado and go off the board?
These players won't determine whether the Whitecaps win or lose next year, or even three years from now. The MLS SuperDraft does not, as a rule, produce spectacular players. But Mattocks and Wenger look better than usual; better than Nagbe and Kitchen from last year. The Whitecaps could be in for a very nice, useful player, and let's hope they've done their homework.
A matter of months ago, Andrew Wenger and Darren Mattocks were considered approximately equal, with Wenger maybe edging ahead on superior versatility. On November 1, Ives Galarcep wrote that Wenger was best player in the draft, and just last week Galarcep was saying Wenger is "widely regarded as the most talented player in the draft. However, over the past weeks (and particularly since Mattocks, after much vacillating, signed a Generation Adidas contract), Mattocks has been consensus number one despite neither he nor Wenger playing any games.
What happened? Well, Mattocks finally ended the speculation linking him to Europe, which allowed the segments of the American soccer media specializing in such things to unreservedly pump his tires (although Mattocks is, of course, not American but Jamaican). And the part-time pundits started to weigh in, seeing video clips of Mattocks (certainly the most exciting player in the draft), comparing them to the technical but somewhat unrefined style of Wenger, and, having read that these two were the best prospects in the draft, marking their scorecards appropriately.
These things build on themselves: writer B who sees writer A putting Mattocks number one is nudged towards considering Mattocks best, which influences writer C, which confirms the beliefs of writer A. So Mattocks is top on every draft board. A good but not spectacular showing at the MLS Combine certainly didn't hurt Mattocks's stock, while Wenger skipped the event to train with the American U-23 team.
Well, the MLS Combine is meaningless athletically: players in a couple 80-minute weekend scrimmages on mediocre pitches with unfamiliar teammates against unmotivated adversaries. There's no grit, no tackling, no tactics; they prove about as much as a jog through the park. Moreover, as everybody makes their final analysis leading up to the draft, there's been a very slight reaction against Mattocks from some fans: nothing serious but a sort of "wait, what the hell's going on here?" as the well-read supporter suddenly wonders how the heck they got into this consensus.
I'm not trying to break any news here; not saying Montreal won't pick Mattocks. I'm just saying that opinion on the Jamaican U-23 isn't as unanimous as it looks.
Now, I think Wenger is the best player available but that doesn't mean I'll flip out if the Whitecaps end up with Mattocks. Mattocks is an undeniably good player. Akron's been a goal factory for the past several NCAA seasons but even by their standards Mattocks has shot the lights out. He's got all the physical gifts to be a successful striker, and while as a rule I prefer drafting more technical players he's no slouch with the ball at his feet.
The only way the Whitecaps can really lose is if they get cute and take neither of the top two. "Wow, Luis Silva is such a talented playmaker and he really blew the doors off at the Combine!" No. Don't do it. Mattocks and Wenger earned their reputations with consistent first-class performances in the NCAA over multiple seasons; the NCAA doesn't count for a tonne but it damned well counts for more than the MLS combine. Bob Lenarduzzi told TEAM 1040 "I don't think we're going to surprise too many people", which certainly has me breathing a little easier, but you never know with these guys.
Ultimately, my prediction for the first two picks is going exactly with the chalk. Mattocks first, Wenger second. I'd be delighted with it, and I think Montreal is going to make a minor mistake.
I'll be chattering in the comments of this post, as work permits, about the draft until I have time to get posts up. Please, do join me.