Yesterday, I leapt into the spirit of MLS Silly Season by taking a look at the four players the Vancouver Whitecaps added in the MLS SuperDraft oh so many centuries ago. Vancouver drafted a striker, at last, even though he won't be able to play for us until September, and generally wound up with a haul of youth that is quite good, even if it's not as good as it could have been.
Today, I proceed down the dark roads of the MLS Supplemental Draft. The Supplemental Draft is an odd thing: it began in 1996 as a way to allocate the rights to current professionals, mostly in the United Soccer Leagues chain but a few from overseas, between the MLS teams. This incarnation of the Supplemental Draft lasted until 1999, when it was abandoned as MLS was sufficiently mature to not need such sub-standard reinforcement. The 2003 Supplemental Draft was truly "supplemental", consisting of players signed by the league after the SuperDraft had been held. Finally, starting in 2005 with breaks in 2009 and 2010, it's been held as a way to bolster developmental and reserve rosters without adding any players genuinely expected to compete for MLS roster spots. The difference between a supplemental draft and simply adding more rounds to the MLS draft is... well, one's held about half a week later. Presumably this is so teams, with limited scouting budgets, can take a few days to properly assess the more obscure supplemental draft players after the real MLS SuperDraft class is already gone.
Nobody expects much from the modern Supplemental Draft, but there are good MLS players out there. Jason Hernandez was the first modern Supplemental Draft player to really break through, going sixth overall to the New York/New Jersey Metrostars in 2005 and playing 118 MLS games since then. Left back Danleigh Borman is a regular player for the New York Red Bulls after going seventh overall in the 2008 Supplemental Draft. Defender Chris Tierney went thirteenth overall in that draft and started for New England last season, and the earlier Supplemental Drafts also yielded a few useful players (not to mention midfielder Sal Caccavale, who is only the all-time MLS leader in career goals-per-minute with one goal in two minutes).
The odds are against any of Vancouver's supplementary draft prospects being major contributors. But we have a new MLS Reserve Division now, and these youngsters will have more time to develop and learn as professionals. One or two of them might make it someday, and the Supplemental Draft shouldn't be callously written off simply because the prospects are less polished. Talent is talent, and there are always a few diamonds in the rough.
As usual, the Whitecaps had the first overall pick in the Supplemental Draft. Did they grab a flashy striker to fill out a weak position? No, they played it sensibly and drafted defender Michael Boxall out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The 22-year-old Boxall, born in Auckland, got headlines because he's actually a New Zealand international. Well, sort of. Boxall has made 26 appearances for the New Zealand U-20 and U-23 teams and also appeared twice for a New Zealand "A" team at the 2006 Agribank Cup while a youth player training at Auckland City FC. The Agribank Cup, now the VFF Cup, is a third-rate annual tournament held in Vietnam between an assortment of developing national teams and second-rate youth and "B" teams. The 2010 incarnation was won by a weakened North Korean national team over Singapore, Vietnam, and the South Korean U-23 team. This is by no means a prestigious tournament (previous winners include the Uzbekistan U-23 team and a reserve team from FC Porto). The New Zealand Football Federation does not consider Boxall's two appearances to be full internationals, and he is officially uncapped at the senior level.
I don't want to count Boxall out, though. He played for New Zealand at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He's also got experience playing in Canada, having played with New Zealand at the 2007 U-20 World Cup as part of group C in Toronto. His football federation thinks highly enough of him, and at age twenty-two Boxall has plenty of time to crack New Zealand's senior roster. If he can stick around in North America professionally, I might bet on him.
Boxall is a tall, solid central defender. Not the most mobile player, he makes up for it with strength and awareness. With one goal in his career at Santa Barbara and one more in all his New Zealand youth appearances, combined with only an assist or two every season, the man has the offensive enterprise of a piece of wood but he's made life hell for American college attackers in his career. In truth, his style of play (move slow, cut out every pass you can get to, and if a guy tries to get by you make him regret it) seems better suited for the NASL than MLS, but a fair few of those players have adjusted to MLS in the past. Certainly he won't be intimidated by the occasional big, strong strikers we see in this league, and he should be able to win plenty of playing time with the reserves to improve himself.
Vancouver went a bit off the board in the second round, drafting 24-year-old Brampton native Joe Anderson out of Coastal Carolina University. He may be a Canadian kid but I'd frankly never heard of Anderson before the Whitecaps picked him. Nor had I heard of his school, though they are a Division I program and their soccer alumni include New England's Mkhokheli Dube (another Supplemental Draft pick) and D.C. United's Joseph Ngwenya. Though a midfielder by trade, Anderson is another tall player. Unlike Boxall, though, Anderson is thin, coming in at just over 150 pounds. Even in photographs, Anderson looks like he could be used to raise money for starving children, that's how slight this guy is. The book on Anderson is that he's a decent scoring midfielder. Playing two seasons at Coastal Carolina, Anderson scored a respectable five goals each year in thirty-eight appearances (twenty-four starts). Probably more important, he scored a hat trick in the Big South Tournament final against High Point, which probably raised his draft stock some.
Anderson is twenty-four years old, built like a stick, and was not a particularly dominant player against NCAA opposition usually at least two years younger than him. He's also not known for his defensive prowess and considered a poor playmaker. Even for the Supplemental Draft, he's a bit of a reach. It's relatively uncommon to get skilled players this late in the day, and he is a good Canadian boy. There were probably better choices at this position (I have a sneaking feeling that tournament hat trick raised him further up Tom Soehn's draft board than he really deserved), but the Whitecaps could have done worse.
Last of all came defender Santiago Bedoya out of Northeastern University. Santiago is the younger brother of six-time American international Alejandro Bedoya, and is a classical high-tempo left back. Bedoya was a prime scorer before his college days and actually joined Northeastern as a midfielder, but he handled the transition to defense extremely well: he won all-Colonial Athletics Association honours in 2009 and was strongly considered in 2010. Bedoya has also attracted interest from foreign shores, as he went on trial at his brother's Örebro SK club in Sweden last summer.
It's strange that Bedoya would slip to the third round of the supplemental draft given his credentials, and I'm actually fairly excited to see him. He's somewhat undersized for a professional left back at only 5'8", but this is not a serious debility in MLS. He's also fairly quick, although not a burner, a decent crosser of the ball, and scores the occasional goal. His big question mark is his ball handling, and among Northeastern observers his lack of a first touch has apparently become a bit of a running joke. You'll be unsurprised to hear I didn't watch Northeastern play last season but their defense was pretty good and recorded their share of clean sheets.
I find Bedoya awfully interesting: probably the most interesting pick the Whitecaps made after the first round of the SuperDraft. He clearly has most of the ingredients to be a serviceable professional fullback. A lack of touch would hurt him, of course, but players have succeeded in MLS without it. He seems like the sort of player it's smart to take in the Supplementary Draft: a bit of a risk, but somebody who has the potential to develop into a special player rather than a big, conservative, but ultimately limited spare part. By no means am I saying that he'll be our starting left back in 2011 or even 2012. I'm just saying that I want to get a good look at Santiago Bedoya.
So, where does this leave the Vancouver Whitecaps? We're off to a good start on defense, have a pretty strong midfield, and boast two solid veteran goalkeepers. The defense is mostly a veteran crew with Alain Rochat and Jay DeMerit headlining, while Wes Knight, Jonathan Leathers, Greg Janicki, and Mouloud Akloul are the best of the "tweeners" who I'm not counting on to thrive in the starting lineup but could be useful MLS players. A strong midfield anchored by Terry Dunfield, John Thorrington, Shea Salinas, and Philippe Davies will only get better if the rumoured transfer of Robbie Savage comes though, even if I have some problems with that signing. If Davide Chiumiento is finally officially added to the MLS roster, he'll add some obvious offensive flair. Between Davies, Salinas, and Michael Nanchoff, midfield is probably our best position in terms of young talent as well, and that's without considering promising trialists such as Gershon Koffie and Alexandre Morfaw. And at striker we have... Omar Salgado. Who can't play until September. Plus sometimes Atiba Harris and Jeb Brovsky.
I delight in being a contrarian, in telling you why everything you believed was wrong. But in this case, everything you believe is right. The Whitecaps need strikers, are starving for strikers, and have been since the 2010 season began. The front office is fully aware of this deficiency, but still. It would be nice for the Whitecaps to stop chasing old radio presenters playing for Derby County and start finding us a way to score some goals. I don't want Jonathan McDonald back.