Well, folks we’ve arrived at the biggest mystery box in a league full of mystery boxes, the annual occasion where a league full of pundits pretend they actually watch college soccer. You may have forgotten about it, but it arrives anyway. That’s right folks, it is just about MLS Superdraft time.
For most MLS watchers the draft has become somewhat of a meme, a victim of the league’s own success at developing homegrown players. The number of legitimate stars in the making has thus steadily declined, though savvy teams can still find some opportunities for value, particularly in terms of adding depth pieces or scratching some lottery tickets for guys who might come good with some seasoning (perhaps in the league’s new reserve competition).
Fortunately, the Caps have been one of those savvy teams. The addition of Javain Brown in last year’s draft was the most astute of any in the league and he would have had a good case for rookie of the year, if the award still existed. David Egbo will likely get moved on but he showed real quality on loan with Phoenix Rising and in a different international roster slot situation, would be a decent depth piece for the Caps.
Moving into the draft, there are no obvious needs for the team, save one — domestic players. The move to draft two international players last year has put the team in a bit of a bind now and there is next to no chance that the Caps go back down that route this time around.
But beyond that, the team has the luxury of either moving the 16th overall pick on or sitting back and grabbing the best player available. There are a few Canadians in the draft and they could be viable options as well.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m a college soccer expert. If you are a college soccer expert, you probably aren’t looking to this website for guidance, anyway, and this is intended to be a bit of a primer on players I find a) interesting enough to burn a pick on and b) likely to be available when the Caps select at number 16. The team defied expectations with their picks last year and have consistently been willing to stick to their own draft board compared with arbitrary draft rankings (a move which netted them Tim Parker and Jake Nerwinski). This is all a way of saying that Tuesday will be a bit of a surprise — but hopefully this piece will make things a little less surprising.
Tani Oluwaseyi, F, St. John’s
Oluwaseyi is one of the aforementioned Canadian players who are getting first round consideration and he is probably the one who makes the most sense for the Caps. While they don’t need another forward, the departure of Tos Ricketts means there is some sort of opening here and Oluwaseyi would be a decent option.
The Mississagua, Ontario native was a first team all Big East selection in the spring of 2021 on the backs of a five goal, three assist season. You’ll notice I said spring of 2021 — Oluwaseyi actually missed the fall season with a knee injury, something which will potentially depress his value for the Caps (or create an opportunity for value for a guy that has been scouted less than some of his peers).
Highlights, however, show a guy who is a certain aerial threat (he is 6’2 after all) but also has good off the ball awareness and has a bit of pace about him as well, though this could be the mediocre college defenses he was playing against. His finishing his excellent and it appears he can be deployed as an out-and-out striker or as a winger — flexibility which could make him attractive.
The injury could scare teams away but, assuming the Caps have done their due diligence, this is a pick that would make sense for all parties involved. Oluwaseyi has a unique skill set that could give him a chance to see the field in year one, albeit on a limited basis.
Mohammed Omar, defensive midfielder, Notre Dame
We’ll break down the other Canadian player who the Caps could take a hard look at, as he also provides some positional flexibility. Experts appear split on whether Omar, a Toronto native, projects as a defensive midfielder or a centerback, but the project could be a worthwhile one for the Caps, who could give him time to make any need positional change.
Omar has trained with the Canadian U-20s and is a guy who is good on the ball, meaning he would be a sound CB in a Vanni Sartini system. His tall, lanky frame also makes him a pretty good fit at defender. He was a technically sound deep-lying playmaker in college who didn’t make many forays forward, though he did have a banger of a goal against Wake Forest.
But Omar is not a fast player, meaning he must rely on his positioning and solid tackling abilities to survive. This makes his MLS outlook a bit of a question mark, though he has been projected as a potential top-ten pick — or one who could slide down the draft boards. It is unclear whether he’ll be available but his passing and playmaking abilities and solid defensive frame seem to project him as a decent enough depth piece at CB.
Tristen Trager, forward, Air Force,
OK, now for a couple non-Canadians. Trager is another guy that falls a bit in-between positions. Some peg him as a false nine, others as an attacking mid and others think his long-term future is as a winger.
Much like Oluwaseyi,
there is an injury concern here — it is not known whether Trager will be fit to get in a full pre-season, something which would hurt his ability to make a meaningful impact on an MLS roster in season one. UPDATE: Per Trager’s dad, who kindly DMed me, he is healthy and should be ready to go for training camp.
He scored 13 goals and bagged 7 assists, though admittedly in a less competitive league than some of his peers. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the conference offensive player of the year nod.
When watching his highlights, you can see why a false nine or attacking mid spot is a potential option — Trager likes to drop deep when he plays centrally, holding up the ball and attracting attention of defenders. He does this very well and his passing abilities, combined with his hold-up play, seemed to be one of the main ways Air Force ran their offense. His finishing is good as well and his propensity for trying flicks and tricks reminds me a bit of Ryan Raposo’s college highlights.
Of course, the Caps still have Raposo and his skillset doesn’t really set him apart from some of the team’s current options. Still, he is likely to be there at the 16th pick and offers a well-balanced skillset that might need a loan to be fully honed and unlocked at the MLS level.
Justin Rasmussen, Midfielder, Grand Canyon University
Rasmussen is an intriguing option for the Caps if they wanted a midfielder, with Rasmussen playing on the left side in college. He could project more as a left back in the pros, meaning he would be a decent understudy to Cristian Gutierrez, as well.
Named the WAC preseason offensive player of the year, Rasmussen certainly has the passing and crossing skills to work as a wingback in Vanni Sartini’s system. He is also comfortable with both feet, something that sets him apart from some other options the Caps have at fullback.
Watching his highlights, Rasmussen is particularly dangerous from set pieces but he is an intelligent wide midfield player who uses space well.
His defensive abilities are uncertain — lots of people are projecting he might make a good MLS fullback but I haven’t seen a ton of indication as to how good Rasmussen is at tracking back, something it doesn’t seem like he was required to do a ton of in his college role.
Still, if the Caps want a guy with a similar skillset to Gutierrez to try and mold into a left wingback deputy, Rasmussen has the makings of that guy.