MLS SuperDraft: Busy Toronto emerges stronger, richer

Posted by Jeff Carlisle

INDIANAPOLIS - One topic that came up often before Thursday's MLS SuperDraft was just what future the draft actually has going forward, especially now that the Homegrown Player Rule has diluted the pool of available players. But that doesn't mean a team can’t do plenty to help itself, and no one benefited more this year than Toronto FC.

Toronto bucked considerable history in the process, as the team's previous forays in the SuperDraft are littered with dubious decisions. But this was the team's first draft with new team president and general manager Kevin Payne, and he worked the proceedings masterfully on a day rife with deals.

-- Farrell goes 1st to New England

-- First-round selections

Not only did the team acquire two quality Canadian players in Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman, but by trading down three times over a two-day period - moves that saw them go from having the first and third picks overall to having the third and 16th picks - TFC acquired an unspecified amount of allocation money.

"We really wanted [Welshman]," Payne said. "We thought there was a chance we might lose him. But we were okay with other guys that we wanted. It’s just trying to understand what the probabilities are." Bekker, the MVP of the MLS Combine, saw his stock rise dramatically, and Payne was thrilled to land the Canadian U-23 international.

“Technically he’s very, very good,” said Payne. “He’s so sound technically, he can play quickly. But tactically, he’s way ahead of anybody else in the draft, and his understanding of what’s going on in the middle of the park.”

But it is the money that has the potential to really help TFC down the road. Payne estimated that the team’s allocation coffer swelled by 75 percent. “We have some big contracts that I inherited that we have to accommodate,” said Payne. “This gives us a better opportunity to build a team around those [contracts].”

The only mild surprise was that Toronto didn’t pick any of the available center backs as predicted by many. But with Darren O'Dea, Doniel Henry, and Logan Emery left from last year, and with the additions of Danny Califf and Gale Agbossoumonde, Payne insisted the team was set in that position.

“We think Agbossoumonde and Henry are better than anyone else in this draft, and they’re younger,” said Payne. “We just didn’t see a need at center back.”

Payne also indicated that he was in consistent communication with coach-in-waiting Ryan Nelsen, and that Nelsen - now playing with Queens Park Rangers - watched the combine and even did some additional research on some of the players the team was interested in.

As for when Nelsen might actually come on board, Payne said that there was no change, although he stated Nelsen was talking with the QPR brass on an almost daily basis. “He’ll be here when he’s here,” said Payne.

But all told, it amounted to a very good day for Toronto, something there has been little of over the years.

Other winners:

For the most part, most every team helped itself, especially when you add in Homegrown signings. The Homegrown deals signed by Gyasi Zardes and Oscar Sorto by the L.A. Galaxy makes its haul look much more compelling. Charlie Rugg seemed a stretch in the first round, but it’s worth noting he suffered through injuries during his senior year at Boston College. Defenders Kofi Opare and Greg Cochrane both seemed good value for the second round.

Columbus could already count their recruitment of young players a success with the homegrown signings of midfielder Will Trapp and defender Chad Barson to go along with forward Ryan Finley and defender Drew Beckie. Coach Robert Warzycha said before the draft how pleased he was to land Trapp, a possession midfielder who is just 19 and looks poised to play a part in the U.S. U-20 team.

Teams which went the more conventional route had success also. Vancouver did well by adding two burners in Austin Aztex forward Kekuta Manneh, and Santa Clara’s Erik Hurtado. With last year’s first-round pick Darren Mattocks already in the fold, the Whitecaps will have bags of speed with which to attack the opposition.

Colorado was one team that was rumored to have tried everything to move up, but will be happy with the trio of forward Deshorn Brown, midfielder Dillon Powers, and defender Corey Kindle. Soccer by Ives reported that they’ve also signed Dillon Serna to a Homegrown deal. Brown is a speedster set to replace the departed Omar Cummings, while Powers will provide depth in the center of midfield following Wednesday's trade of midfielder Jeff Larentowicz.

Surprises:

The shocks of the day had more to do with who fell rather than teams that did poorly. FC Dallas could barely believe its luck when Furman defender Walker Zimmerman slid to the No. 7 pick. Zimmerman was deemed a top-three selection, giving Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman an early present.

“His stock really rose a lot by not being at the combine,” he said of Zimmerman, who was nursing a groin injury. “I think we thought he would go No. 2 if not No. 1.”

Kansas City also cashed in when North Carolina midfielder Mikey Lopez, who was thought to be a top-10 pick, fell to Peter Vermes' side at No. 14. Given the departures of Roger Espinoza and Julio Cesar, it appears that Lopez’s landing was soft indeed.

Aside from Rugg, the pick deemed the biggest reach of the first round was Montreal’s selection of Fernando Monge, who was predicted by many to be a second-rounder at best. But Montreal GM Nick De Santis insisted that Montreal – which also selected New Mexico winger Blake Smith, Louisville midfielder Paolo DelPiccolo, and Cleveland State goalkeeper Brad Stuver – had a blueprint in mind when it came to its selection of field players.

“Smith can vary his game, whether it’s getting in behind or finding pockets and making some plays,” he said. “So we’re really happy with the first pick. And when you look at Fernando and Paolo, they’re both soccer players in midfield and offensive positions that we look for. It’s up to them and come in and see what they’re up against.”

But perhaps the biggest surprise was that of Ashton Bennett, a Jamaican forward with Canadian residency who went undrafted when he was expected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick. At least the Supplemental Draft beckons.

Overheard:

-- It looks like Freddy Adu’s exit from Philadelphia is proceeding apace. Manager John Hackworth let slip that Freddy Adu will not be with the team when training camp opens Monday. When asked if a sale or transfer was pending, Hackworth said, “Possibly, but it’s a decision we’ve made as a club with Freddy,” he said before declining further comment.

-- Chicago made noise the day before the draft when it acquired Larentowicz and a second-round pick from Colorado for the 11th overall pick and allocation money. That was thought to lead to a rather crowded central midfield for the Fire, but manager Frank Klopas said that there was added urgency to the deal given that former Mexico international Pavel Pardo is contemplating retirement.

“Pavel has given us a lot, he’s getting up there in age (36),” said Klopas. “He’s looking at the opportunity to play or not continue to play. For us to have this depth with someone like [Larentowicz], it’s good to be one step ahead. “I think it’s up to Pavel [to decide to retire]. We respect that fact, and a lot goes into it with his family. He’ll decided in the next 10 days or so. He might wake up and say, ‘Guys, that’s it, I’m done.’”

-- One question looming over Seattle’s selection of Indiana University’s Eriq Zavaleta is his best position. Seattle manager Sigi Schmid had Zavaleta rated as the fourth-best player on the board, and traded up to the 10th pick to land him. But in terms of the player’s on-field future, Schmid is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I like his defensive qualities, but in fairness to him he’s played the last two years as a forward,” said Schmid. “We’ll look at him there, and see if we think he can really break through there. My eye was a little more for him maybe as a defender first down the line.”

ESPN Conversations