Yesterday, SB Nation kicked off its second ever MLS Mock SuperDraft. In the 2011 edition, yours truly picked Darlington Nagbe first overall in a selection which would have gotten me the best overall goal but, pretty clearly, not the best overall player (although he sure had a better 2011 season than Omar Salgado did). I also got the ball out of the infield with my pick of Michael Farfan eighth overall rather than Michael Nanchoff, then struck out completely in the second round when I went for John Rooney.
The SuperDraft gets a lot of flak, particularly from fans of teams like the Vancouver Whitecaps with a strong academy system. It's not the most important source of talent and none of the players we take are likely to have the careers of a Russell Teibert or a Bryce Alderson; these are older players who spent prime development years in the bass-ackwards American college system. But there's still good talent on offer: players with brains and skill who can definitely help the Whitecaps. No MLS team yet has successfully built without help from the SuperDraft, and seventeen players of defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy are SuperDraft graduates.
Vancouver is picking second in the SuperDraft and has a chance at a fine player. Recent second overall picks include Sam Cronin, Tony Tchani, Brek Shea, and Bakary Soumare. While the depth of this year's SuperDraft is questionable it's considered a good one for front-line talent, so we can only hope that the real Whitecaps are as intelligent and as lucky as my mock Whitecaps were.
My picks come after the jump. The full list of players selected in the 2012 SB Nation Mock MLS SuperDraft is here.
My first pick won't surprise anybody. My philosophy for high draft picks has always been "best player available, regardless of position"; when you have the best player that means you have the best player, and you can use him to upgrade your team on the field or trade a surplus asset for something more useful or generally increase the overall skill of your team in whatever way you see fit. This is why I took Nagbe last year despite a common view that the Whitecaps were strong at forward.
So who was the best player available this year? It mattered a bit less this time around, as I was only picking second overall; future SB Nation Montreal blogger Sofiane Benzaza and the Mock Montreal Impact had the first pick. The consensus top two are Pennsylvania grad and forward Darren Mattocks and utility player out of Duke Andrew Wenger. Both are Generation Adidas so contract isn't a concern; it comes down entirely to which player is best.
No surprises reared their ugly heads. Benzaza and the Mock Impact took Mattocks, which was fine by me as the Mock Whitecaps picked up Duke Blue Devils alumnus Andrew Wenger. A slight 6'0" talent, the 21-year-old Wenger is the defending winner of the NCAA's Hermann Trophy and is a recent invitee to the United States U-23 training camp, although when Olympic qualifying rolls around he's considered a long shot to actually make the team.
Wenger played up top in the 2011 NCAA season for Duke and did exceptionally, having also played very well as a central defender in 2010. Versatility is good, and when you're looking for an MLS-ready player out of the NCAA you're looking for somebody who can dominate in all areas of the field. That's Wenger. He reminds me of Perry Kitchen, probably the best player out of the first five picks of last year's SuperDraft: not eye-catchingly athletic like Omar Salgado but incredibly versatile and used to the responsibilities, both defensive and offensive, which accompany playing such a variety of roles.
Wenger is neither the quickest nor the most agile player on two feet. I've seen him called a future professional centre back but, at a wirey 6'0", I doubt he's big or strong enough. I'd prefer to see him in midfield or at fullback to avoid exposing his lack of size. Wenger does have a reputation as a very intelligent player with good endurance, which should help him in the middle of the park. He's far from a perfect player, and I wouldn't pencil him into a starting spot, but he's the best available.
Even had Montreal not taken Mattocks, I think I would have preferred Wenger. When I'm looking for a player who can make the enormous jump from NCAA to MLS, I don't want some flashy forward who got by third-rate defenders and made his bones off that. I want a player who's shown he can do anything on an NCAA soccer field and has both the intelligence and the work ethic to adjust to a higher tempo.
In the second round one can afford to take a bit more of a chance: safe picks tend to yield the likes of Jeb Brovsky; utterly replaceable roster meat. A riskier selection will probably be a bust but may pay off in a big way. To this end, I felt secure in handing the Mock Whitecaps Louisville forward Colin Rolfe.
Rolfe turns 22 in February and isn't large for a forward. He got his goals (nine of them) with skill rather than size. Rolfe is a reasonably quick player and his most obvious asset on the field is a killer work ethic: most of the scouting reports on him emphasize his tenacity and drive in the defensive half as well as when he's looking to score.
Rolfe wasn't an elite NCAA scorer (though he was quite a good one), he is a little older, and the Whitecaps already have plenty of forwards. However, he strikes me as a good risk pick. Vancouver's strength up top with Eric Hassli, Camilo Sanvezzo, Long Tan, Atiba Harris, and Omar Salgado means that Rolfe can play MLS Reserves and even USL PDL games without having to worry about contributing immediately. Rather than rot away on an MLS bench he can improve his skills in a professional coaching environment for the first time. The tools all seem to be there and there's no doubt that he'll work hard. Odds are that Rolfe won't make it, but that's true for all second-round SuperDraft players: he looks like he has a better-than-average chance.