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MLS Superdraft Preview

MLS: MLS Super Draft Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Get that drum rolling going folks, the most wonderful time is almost upon us. Yes, that’s right Thursday is the MLS Superdraft, an event so super it is being held by conference call for the first time ever.

The Caps hold the fourth overall pick in the annual amateur player draft, meaning having a terrible record does, in fact, have at least one tangible benefit. The Superdraft has declined in importance in recent years, as more teams are investing in their academies while the relative depth of quality players in college soccer remains the same. This means that the quality of players available to the Caps probably aren’t as good as they would have been a decade ago.

That’s the bad news. The good news? This actually appears to be a decent draft, with a few different options that leave the Caps with a few options.

The other good news is that there are a few high-potential Canadian players in the draft. The benefit here is obvious: the Caps can grab a guy (or two) which are undervalued by American teams because those players would require an international roster slot. It also means that the interwebs will erupt in anger when they inevitably don’t do that and draft some defender no one has ever heard of.

The reason for that is because, as best I can tell, basically all of Caps Twitter (TM) has become infatuated with Syracuse winger Ryan Raposo, a Hamilton, Ontario native who lit the ACC up this past two years. Starting 20 matches in 2019, Raposo had 15 goals and seven assists. Individual honors don’t always serve as a predictor of pro success but Raposo also earned First Team All ACC honors this last year.

It is on film, however, where Raposo really pops. His finishing and pace are clearly a cut above but more striking is his confidence, possessing a Dele Alli-like audacity to try little flicks, tricks and skill moves. Raposo is 5’7, meaning his physical skills may not be a great MLS fit but you forget about that pretty quickly given how exciting he is to watch. The fact that he is one of the younger top tier prospects in the draft helps as well, giving him more time to mold and develop in a pro setting.

The Caps have needs basically everywhere, although right wing is less of an immediate priority given the existence of Theo Bair. Nonetheless, the MLS mock draft released earlier this week have the Caps snagging Raposo and many fans have been banging the drum for them to do so.

In the interest of full disclosure I am one of those fans. But it is worth pointing out that there is historical precedent for this kind of situation. In 2017, many thought the Caps would snag Shamit Shome in the Superdraft. Like Raposo, Shome was a Generation Adidas prospect and many thought his potential, combined with his Canadian citizenship, would lead him to Vancouver.

But instead, the Caps passed on Shome in favor of an unheralded right back from UConn named Jake Nerwinski, making many fans apoplectic. Shome, in turn, fell to Montreal in the third round (the Caps passed on him again in the second round in favor of New Zealand CB Francis de Vries) and has had a fledgling MLS career with Montreal. Nonetheless, history has born out that Nerwinski wound up being a pretty good choice in that position.

This is all to say that the Caps have other needs which could be filled in the draft. Georgetown fullback/defensive midfielder Dylan Nealis has been another popular pick for the Caps in mock drafts (worth noting that Superdraft mocks are significantly more art than science and often look utterly stupid after the fact).

If you have a good memory, you will remember I recommended Nealis last year, when I did a “way too early Superdraft preview.” Here is what I had to say:

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.

Given the Caps needs at the moment, you could do a lot worse than that skillset. If the Caps want a Canadian Swiss Army Knife midfielder, they could kick the tires on Wake prospect Alistair Johnston, who could project as either a RB, where he played in college, or at central midfielder.

If the decision is instead to follow in their storied tradition of drafting central defenders, UVA CB Henry Kessler is one of the best in the draft—the retention of Erik Godoy means he would have time to learn the MLS ropes as well. And some website I’ve never heard of called projects the Caps will pick UCF striker Cal Jennings—one of the best pure striker prospects in recent memory and another guy I profiled in October.

The long and short of it is the Caps have options, either to go with the best player available or to grab someone who fits a pressing need. Raposo is my pick, in part because I think he is probably the best player likely to be available at number 4 and because his youth and skillset lend themselves well to both MDS’ style of play and MLS success in general. Projecting which college prospect is going to pan is tough but hitting on something will be a resource-effective way to ease the rebuild along.

Feel free to chime in in the comments with your takes on who should be holding up a Caps’ scarf on Thursday.