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2023 Whitecaps MLS SuperDraft preview

MLS: SuperDraft Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It is the most wonderful time of the year. And no, we’re not talking about the weird old guy in the red suit, the strange obsession with reindeer and the figgy pudding. Instead, we’re all ginned up on eggnog just thinking about the MLS SuperDraft.

The event isn’t what it once was, to be sure. Gone are the days when a half-dozen or more blue chip prospects sat in wait in the draft, with others there for the taking with a bit of scouting. Good players still exist, to be sure, as this blogger doesn’t subscribe to the en vogue “dump the SuperDraft” takes. But finding those gems can take a bit more effort.

This post is not intended to be a definitive account of who the best undiscovered gems are. My viewing of college soccer last year was relatively limited as, I imagine, was yours. It is instead intended to be a survey of some of the potential options available at pick number 13, when the Caps will go on the clock. Depending on how things shake out, some might still be around at pick 29 when they go again.

Finding information on this year’s SuperDraft class was abnormally difficult. Aside from a burst of info on who was a part of the combine/showcase event hosted by MLS earlier this year, there hasn’t been much. Few highlight packages, no mock drafts and no real dive into the relative merits of the likely first round draftees. I take this to be a reflection of the ambivalence that most fans approach the draft with more than a reflection of the talent pool.

I used a couple underlying assumptions in coming up with these three potential targets, which actually are less restrictive than usual. The presence of the MLS NEXT Pro team means that I think the Caps will feel a bit freer to take a guy who otherwise would be an international, as he would have a logical home to develop without costing the senior side an international slot. Unless he impresses in camp, I have to imagine whomever is picked at 13 and 29 is destined for the developmental side anyway.

And while the Caps have some more pronounced needs, basically everywhere else on the pitch seems fair game and I could see them gravitating towards any number of players, based on who is on the board. I didn’t really rule out any guys on the basis of position for this piece.

Without further ado, here are some potential names to be familiar with for the Caps.

Malcom Johnston, M, University of Maryland

First things first, let’s acknowledge what to most of you reading the blog already know: This is Alistair Johnston’s brother.

There is always a narrative connecting the best Canadian player in the draft to the Canadian teams, regardless of whether there is any real reason to believe there is concrete interest. Sometimes this is born out (Ryan Raposo), other times not so much (I remember when Shamit Shome was thought to be a nailed on first round pick).

Johnston, however, makes a certain degree of sense, beyond potentially recruiting his brother back to MLS if he’s unhappy at Celtic (let’s hope not for the national team’s sake).

A guy who was the undisputed leader of the Maryland side, he also would give the Caps a certain degree of positional flexibility. Based on how the season was going, he played as a defensive midfielder, a central midfielder and an attacking midfielder and seems like his skillset translates well to the professional level.

Beyond his family ties, Johnston made headlines for his set piece prowess (he was perfect from penalties on the season and banged in a couple free kicks to boot) and a nice bicycle kick during Big Ten play that made the rounds on social media.

But his attacking prowess seems to give him a leg up as a deputy to Ryan Gauld as an attacking midfielder. He bagged six goals and eight assists last season, a marked rise from his junior year and numbers that earned him All-Big Ten status. If you wanted to try and fashion him into a central midfielder, a type of leader that is a logical heir apparent to Russell Teibert, well, I think you could do that too. If Johnston is available at 13, you have to think the Caps take a good long look.

Moise Bombito, D, University of New Hampshire

Bombito was an interesting inclusion on the list of Generation Adidas signees, putting him on the radar for those like myself who were zeroing in on Daniel Munie of Indiana and Andreas Ueland of Virginia as the best centerbacks in the draft.

Like Johnston, Bombito is a logical inclusion on this list just by virtue of being Canadian. The Montreal native is proof that development in soccer is not linear – he excelled in junior college before transferring to the University of New Hampshire (hardly a soccer powerhouse), where he is attempting to capitalize on an excellent junior season.

A finalist for the Mac Hermann award and an All American, Bombito was somehow his team’s second leading scorer, even nabbing a pair of match winners. New Hampshire had one of the stoutest backlines in college soccer with his help, putting them top five in the country for goals conceded.

This makes a bit more sense when you see his 6’2 frame in action – the guy is athletic and physical in a way that dominates over what you have to imagine is inferior opposition. This context makes it tough to tell at times if his excellent recovery speed and domination in the air are a sign of someone who is an MLS defender in the making or just a sign that he is merely a cut above a weaker conference. The same is true of his skills on the ball; his highlight videos show lots of silky smooth dribbling and passing sequences but I’m not sure those will be his hallmarks in MLS.

Bombito seems like a guy who can develop nicely, particularly with another year of seasoning in MLS NEXT Pro and also could be a punt to help bolster the centerback depth on the cheap, owing to his Generation Adidas contract. American teams might hone in on some of the other top CBs but the Caps should be paying close attention to Bombito.

Isaiah Reid, F/LB, Clemson

Reid is a guy that I don’t see the Caps drafting with the 13 pick but I figured I’d toss out a name to keep an eye on in the 29th pick as well.

If Reid pulled the trigger on going pro after his 2021 season, he might have been on the radar for a mid-first round selection. His College Cup in particular was prolific; he scored seven goals in the regular season and added a brace in the national title game to win Clemson a national championship.

He was much quieter in his senior season, scoring only two goals but also is a guy who potentially was moved around the pitch a bit. He seems to project more as a left wingback/left back in the pros (its where he played in the College Showcase) but left winger doesn’t seem entirely out of the picture.

At 5’10, 150 pounds, Reid could easily grow physically in an MLS NEXT Pro type setup and potentially develop his considerable attacking skills into a decent wingback profile. His passing and distribution is, admittedly, unclear (he topped out at a career high of three assists in college). But the Caps have shown they like Clemson, drafting two guys from the program last year. If they want a buy-low lottery ticket, it seems like Reid is a good punt.

Other names to watch:

Cristian Soto, M, University of Washington: A smaller frame but excellent on the ball and another potential central midfield option.

Duncan McGuire, F, Creighton: The nation’s top scorer but has gotten lost in the shuffle a bit against the backdrop of some sexier attacking players. He could fill the Tos Ricketts supersub poacher role well.

Xavier Zengue, D, Dayton: A bit more of a project than Bombito, Zengue could be a guy that benefits from MLS NEXT Pro and could be a good option if someone else goes for Bombito or the other top central defenders.