Lots of talk but not a lot of action at this year's draft
INDIANAPOLIS -- Major League Soccer's 12th endeavor to fortify rosters through the college ranks will forever be known as the "Beckham Draft."
News of Beckham's signing broke just as many coaches and general managers were arriving at the downtown Hyatt, which is next door to the RCA Dome and the site of Friday's MLS SuperDraft.
All the hype, hoopla and big-dream stories that would typically accompany draft day selections became something of a weekend sidebar to the biggest singular piece of news out of the league since its birth.
The clamor over Beckham talk not only dominated media, it permeated talk among coaches and general managers.
So the 2007 MLS SuperDraft was hardly the huge swap meet it so often becomes. Yes, the coaches and GMs mingled extensively at the Hyatt's sports bar, the lobby and other common areas. And yes, a couple of minor deals were constructed.
But few of the talks ever really reached a serious stage. And it wasn't only the Beckham brouhaha that dampened further interest in trade talks.
The MLS draft pool was disappointingly shallow in most evaluations. That extinguished any sense of urgency for teams to move up in the selection order.
Typically, two or three players might be identified who have enormous potential, with everyone else falling into the order somewhere after. So usually coaches, GMs and advisers cast their lines and go fishing, to see if they can get lucky and move up in the draft order without giving away too much.
This time, Maurice Edu was generally considered the safest top pick. But even that wasn't a clear no-brainer. Edu is certainly no Adu. That is, selecting Edu wasn't the fait accompli that Freddy Adu's selection was in 2004.
And something else helped strip the sheen off the 2007 SuperDraft: Most teams have an opportunity to improve right away through the Designated Player mechanism, which hasn't previously been available. So most decision makers brought even less motivation to Indianapolis to move up in the draft -- even if they could have identified that one difference maker among the field, which most couldn't.
All that said, there was still some dealing as coaches slipped away from the crowd on Thursday before the draft to quietly plot deals. Some came to fruition. Most didn't get very far.
Adu's move in December to Real Salt Lake makes Mehdi Ballouchy something of a luxury in Utah. After all, Adu wants to play attacking midfielder, and coach John Ellinger already has a young, developing creator at the spot.
So RSL officials spent some time gauging other teams' interest in the Casablanca native, who started 26 games last year for Ellinger's side.
But as one RSL official explained, the club isn't in a big hurry to part with Ballouchy. After all, Adu figures to miss significant time this year while with the U.S. U-20 national team. Plus, who knows what will happen in the senior national team pool as Bob Bradley continues to plot a developmental course? Adu could spend some time there, too.
So Ballouchy and Adu could both see significant time at the attacking midfield position, especially since no one offered enough to truly interest Real Salt Lake officials.
Real was able to be conservative afterward, even trading away one pick in a draft-day move because it is about to announce the re-signing of defender Eddie Pope to a two-year deal. With that knowledge tucked away in pocket, Ellinger and Co. had little reason to be aggressive in swap talks.
FC Dallas was perhaps the only team aggressively trying to move a player. The club was desperate to unload Greg Vanney's huge salary. With Adrian Serioux now available at center back and with Shaka Hislop's huge salary for 2007 (about $200,000), coach Steve Morrow needed Vanney's money elsewhere.
Deals with Columbus and Los Angeles were discussed a day before the draft but ultimately failed to work. Word was out about Dallas' predicament, and those clubs weren't offering much. When Colorado offered its second-round pick (No. 18 overall), that was enough for Morrow. (FC Dallas also got Colorado's second-round pick in 2008, while the Rapids got Dallas' third-round selection in that same draft.)
Dallas' activity in the hours before selections commenced typified the 2007 SuperDraft. Whereas in some years Morrow and GM Michael Hitchcock would have spent their time trying to improve draft-day position, they spent much of Thursday working on their own Designated Player signing.
They talked twice that day with representatives of Dutch tough guy Edgar Davids, attempting to arrange a visit to Pizza Hut Park within the next two weeks. They want Davids, now at Tottenham, to join during the current transfer window (instead of waiting until this summer). So they are trying to move fast.
Of course, not all the talk in the hours before the draft is about exchanging personnel or picks. Some of it is just gossip and hearsay among the fraternity of coaches. For instance, they exchanged theories on Notre Dame midfielder Greg Dalby. Everybody loves his work rate and his leadership, but some were worried to varying degrees about pre-existing salary demands and bluffs from his representatives that European soccer might beckon if the right amount of cash isn't forthcoming.
Colorado's coach Fernando Clavijo either wasn't in on those conversations or knew something the others didn't. The Rapids took Dalby in the second round, with the No. 17 selection overall.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.