We’re in a bit of a dead period now for the Caps and my compatriots have the future of a certain French striker covered down pretty pat, meaning I’ve decided to pivot towards looking at another avenue the Caps can use for bolstering their squad: the MLS Superdraft.
The draft has always been a bit of a meme given that the talent pool in American college soccer has never been ridiculously deep. This has only gotten worse with time, as ]MLS teams have gotten more aggressive with their academy systems. This means that more and more top level players coming through the college ranks are already tied to a team and don’t go through the draft process.
Because of these factors, MLS has never been a sport like American football, where a draft pick can dominate instantly. Instead, it is more like the NBA, where a player is more likely to make an impact a couple seasons down the line (if at all).
But the draft represents a useful opportunity for the Caps to add a player who can log some quality minutes and maybe develop into something more. All this can occur for a minimal cap hit. A Generation Adidas player, for instance, does not count against a team’s roster limit and virtually all rookie players earn a salary at or near the league minimum.
So, for the notoriously stingy Caps, an opportunity exists! Wade through the mediocrity, pick correctly and you could find yourself with a season or two from a guy like Julian Gressel for a pretty modest cap hit.
The Caps have actually done a pretty good job of this in recent years! Tim Parker and Jake Nerwinski have been starters, despite being picked in the middle of the first round, and Brendan McDonough has managed to stick around.
Vancouver will pick fourth in my lovely hometown of Baltimore, behind expansion sides Inter Miami and Nashville SC and lowly FC Cincinnati. First we’ll take a look at the odds the Caps have of finding someone decent by looking at recent drafts. Then we’ll take a look at a couple college players that might make sense for them to target.
Going back over the past five years, I took at look at how many guys in the draft were either “studs” (elite players who really made an impact on their team), “starters” (guys who are league average or so) to evaluate the likelihood the Caps can find someone who can actually help them. Here are the results:
2019: 1 Stud (Andre Shinyashiki, Colorado), 0 Starters
2018: 1 Stud (Chris Mueller, Orlando City), 4 Starters (Joao Moutinho, Orlando City; Mason Toye, Minnesota United; Brandon Bye, New England Revolution; Brian White, New York Red Bulls)
2017: 3 Studs (Jonathan Lewis, Colorado Rapids; Julian Gressel, Atlanta United; Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes) , 4 Starters (Miles Robinson, Atlanta United; Abu Danladi, Minnesota United, Lalas Abubakar, Colorado Rapids; Jake Nerwinski, Vancouver Whitecaps;)
2016: 1 Stud (Jack Harrison, NYCFC*), 4 Starters (Keegan Rosenberry, Colorado Rapids; Brandon Vincent, Chicago Fire; Richie Laryea, Toronto FC; Fabian Herbers, Chicago Fire)
2015: 4 Studs (Cyle Larin, Orlando City*; Tim Parker, Vancouver Whitecaps; Axel Sjoberg, Colorado Rapids; Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders), 4 Starters (Khiry Shelton, NYCFC*; Fatai Alashe, FC Cincinnati; Alex Bono, Toronto FC; Matt Polster, Chicago Fire*)
2014: 4 Studs (Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union; Steve Birnbaum, DC United; Tesho Akindele, Orlando City; Nick Hagglund, FC Cincinnati; 1 Starter (Patrick Mullins, Toronto FC)
You can quibble with my classifications a bit if you want but these are the level of player the Caps should probably be shooting for. Obviously we would rather the player be more on the level of Gressel, Andre Blake or Jack Harrison than a Patrick Mullins or Fabian Herbers but both those guys have been serviceable MLS starters and having a cheap young player of their quality on the roster means the salary that would be given to, say, Andy Rose could be used elsewhere.
My survey has one major problem, however. The fact is it is simply too soon to evaluate many of the players from the past two draft classes—hence why Shinyashiki, the 2019 Rookie of the Year, was the only one to make the cut. There are a few other guys who may come good so it isn’t a total loss but it is clear that the older draft classes are much deeper.
The fact remains however that with 20-ish picks in the first round, your odds of hitting someone who can help you are, at best, less than 50/50. Most years it is more like 1/4. Obviously drafting isn’t a random act, some skill goes into scouting and identifying players. But given the sheer quantity of high draft picks who just straight up flop, it is more of an inexact science than in other sports.
The good news for Caps fans? The fact that most of the “studs” came from top-10 draft picks. So who might the team be looking to target? Here are a couple names from my (informal) look into college soccer-land.
Tanner Beasom, defender, Stanford
Yeah I know I keep talking about how set the Caps should be on defense. But Beasom, who would have been a first round pick last year had he left school, has shown the ability to contribute offensively as well and could well be converted to fullback in the pros. He could provide cover in a few different positions and is a born leader.
Cal Jennings, forward, UCF
There is some potential that Jennings, who largely flew under the academy radar, could still be nabbed as an Atlanta United homegrown signing. But the UCF man had a breakout, 20 goal season last year and came from nowhere to earn All American honors. His deft footwork and skillful positioning could provide some depth for the Caps.
Giuseppe Baronne, midfielder, Michigan State
The former U.S. U-17 international, Baronne is more of a creative player. He chipped in 3 goals and 10 assists, as the Spartans went to the Final Four. He has received extensive grooming with the Michigan Bucks of USL League Two, a program with a pretty strong track record of producing high level MLS prospects.
Dylan Nealis, defender/midfielder, Georgetown
The returning Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East could project as a more defensive- minded midfielder, who has impressed scouts with his range and defensive abilities. So much so that Nealis has made most all preseason All America lists and could be an intriguing understudy to Russell Teibert.
Will any of these guys light the world on fire? Perhaps not. They almost certainly will not single handedly help the Caps turn their squad around. And, as Christian Dean and Omar Salgado prove, there are no sure things in scouting college talent.
But these prospects could also represent a nice depth option that will help free up resources to be spent elsewhere or a trade chip that could be moved elsewhere for some Garber Bucks or a proven MLS commodity.