This Thursday, the 2015 MLS Superdraft will take place in Philadelphia, Pensylvania, filtering another batch of college soccer talent into the league. For the Vancouver Whitecaps, barring a last minute swap to scoop up Cyle Larin (please, soccer gods? You can have Mattocks...), this will be their first year since inauguration without a top ten pick.
In the 13th spot, pickings will be fairly slim, and perhaps tinged with a hint of superstition.
Traditionally, only a small portion of drafted players actually end up getting any meaningful minutes. After the first or second round (though I’m sure the league would say otherwise) the draft is essentially over. But a 13th pick should still have some merit, right?
Interestingly, only a couple of the players picked 13th have actually gone on to have somewhat successful careers. Sounder’s goalkeeper Stefan Frei and former Earthquake Arturo Alvarez (pictured above) are arguably the only two picks to successfully make an MLS career out of their selection.
Out of the rest, a number have made their way through the lower tiers of North American Soccer. These include former New York Red Bull draftee - and former ‘Cap - Corey Hertzog (now of the Tampa Bay Hammerheads), New England draftee Rob Valentino (Arizona United), Real Salt Lake draftee Jamie Watson (Minnesota United), LA Galaxy draftee Josh Gardner (Missouri Comets), and DC United draftee Stephen Armstrong (Charleston Battery).
A few more unlucky 13-ers have had still less success:
- Jed Zaynor, who was picked by the Columbus Crew in 2006, only managed to make 50 MLS appearances for three clubs in six seasons before retiring at age 27.
- 2007 Houston Dynamo pick John Hayden never even played in an MLS game, making a handful of U.S Open Cup appearances before being sent out on a short loan and then waived. He now plays arena soccer for the Louisville Lightning.
- Rodrigo Faria, drafted by the Metrostars in 2001, actually did quite well at the beginning of his short MLS career. The young Brazilian scored eight goals and won the rookie of the year award in his first season, then scored 12 more times in his second season. Sadly, after being traded to the Chicago Fire and then to the San Jose Earthquakes, Faria was unable to find his previous form. With the exception of an overtime goal in the 2003 MLS Cup Semi-finals, he had an unremarkable third season. Out of form and out of contract, Faria returned to Brazil to work in business, ending his career.
- The strangest of all 13th Superdraft picks is undoubtedly Hemir Niebles. The Colombian-born midfielder was drafted in 2002 by Sigi Schmid and the LA Galaxy, but left training camp after a couple of days to train in his hometown of New York. He had apparently been wooed by then-coach Octavio Zambrano, who promised to make him part of the Metrostars squad. In reality, Niebles found himself stuck as a practice player, mired in the reserves. He never signed an MLS contract, and ended up working as an engineer while playing soccer part time for the New York Freedoms. Niebles is the only Galaxy first round draft pick never to play an MLS game.
Whether or not the number 13 is relevant, it’s fascinating to see just how difficult it can be to make a career out of soccer. With any luck, Carl Robinson and his team will be able to find a gem, or at least a solid player, amongst the bunch.