Friday, January 16, 2009
Hot Stove: 2009 MLS Superdraft Floor edition
Trader Mo, where did you go?
Toronto FC GM Mo Johnston has been a notorious draft-day wheeler and dealer, earning the appropriate nickname "Trader Mo." From his days in New York to his current stint in charge of TFC, Johnston has not been afraid to pull the trigger on blockbuster draft-day deals. So the logical thinking was Johnston would surely get an itchy trigger finger and deal at least one of TFC's three first-round picks. However, that wasn't the case as Mo kept all his picks and had potentially one of the best first rounds in recent draft history. Toronto got perhaps the best forward, O'Brian White; the best midfielder, Sam Cronin; and the best goalkeeper, Stefan Frei, available in the entire draft. If these three rookies can have an impact, it looks like Trader Mo and TFC will makes a run at that first-ever postseason berth.
True to their wordThere aren't many owners in MLS Superdraft history who have attended the draft, let alone worked the draft war room. But there were D.C. United co-owners Victor MacFarlane and Will Chang, right in the middle of the D.C. United coaching-staff huddle, led by head coach Tom Soehn. MacFarlane and Chang are actually being true to their word from earlier this offseason -- they said that they would have a much more visible and hands-on role in the day-to-day operations of the team in order to get D.C. back on top of MLS. Macfarlane and Chang vow to keep a much tighter grip and have made it clear this offseason that a return to D.C.'s winning ways is the absolute priority and that everyone will be held accountable, from the front office to the players, in 2009.
Back in MLS?One of the bigger surprises of the 2007 Superdraft was defender Ty Harden, who, after being selected 23rd overall by the L.A. Galaxy, played a significant role -- and minutes -- during a very impressive rookie campaign. But somewhere along the way, Harden became disenchanted with being a pro soccer player and decided to retire before the 2008 season to seek his purpose in life.
However, it appears Harden has had a change of heart for now and is set to return to MLS this season. Not to the Galaxy, but rather to the Colorado Rapids, who acquired his rights for a third-round selection in the 2009 draft. Harden will be reunited with Paul Bravo, who left the Galaxy last week to become the technical director of the Rapids. Bravo selected Harden while at the Galaxy and is excited about Harden's impending return to MLS. "He's coming back, and we're excited to have him. To get a proven player like that for a third-rounder, we believe, is great deal for us. He'll make us better in the back right away," Bravo said.
Bystanders once again
For the second consecutive year, the Houston Dynamo didn't have a selection in the first round and were, for the most part, once again bystanders during the draft. But last year they made the most of their picks, as they nabbed Geoff Cameron with the 42nd overall pick. Cameron, invited to Bob Bradley's January USMNT camp is, by all accounts, set to have a breakout season in 2009. Head coach Dom Kinnear and assistant coach John Spencer rate Cameron, a finalist for the 2008 MLS Rookie of the Year award, highly. Spencer, one of the best players ever to play in MLS, is especially high on Cameron. "He's got everything. He's got all the tools to be special player," Spencer said. "I am telling you he's got a chance to be a great pro in MLS, maybe eventually in Europe and for the U.S. national team."
Holding patternWith just two picks in the 2009 draft, San Jose Earthquakes GM John Doyle and coach Frank Yallop didn't have much to do on draft day. Which is just as well: They're very content with their roster heading into the upcoming season. "We're planning on bringing everyone back and really just picking up right where we left off last season," Doyle said as we chatted inside the concourse at the St. Louis airport after the draft Thursday. "We got our roster where we wanted it during the second half of last season and feel very good about our group."
Building from the bottom upThis time a year ago, Sigi Schmid was surprisingly bullish on his Columbus Crew, who in 2008 became just the fourth team in MLS history to win both the Supporters' Shield and the MLS Cup in the same season. Schmid, now the head coach of the expansion Seattle Sounders FC, has the task of building the club from the bottom up. What is his philosophy on building an expansion team? "You have to hit the mark in three key areas if you are going to be a successful expansion team," Schmid said. "You have to do well in the expansion draft, with foreign players' signings and the college draft. If you do well in those three areas you have a good shot of starting strong as a franchise right out of the gate." Schmid selected the University of Akron's Steve Zakuani as the No. 1 overall pick. He's also particularly pleased with the recent expansion draft, as at least four clubs inquired about re-acquiring players lost to Seattle in that draft. It's a strong indication that Schmid did well in the first area, but only time will tell whether the club's foreign signings, particularly the oft-injured Freddie Ljungberg, and the college kids will pan out.Let's do it again!U.S. Soccer star Mia Hamm and her husband, Nomar Garciaparra, have reached out once again to their friends in Hollywood and professional sports to participate in the second annual Mia Hamm & Nomar Garciaparra Celebrity Soccer Challenge, a charity soccer match benefiting Children's Hospital Los Angeles and the Mia Hamm Foundation.
The match will be held Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. PST at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Scheduled to appear are current and former players on the U.S. men's and women's soccer teams, skateboarding legends Tony Hawk and Ryan Sheckler, U.S. Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh, NFL Hall of Famer Marcus Allen, Zachary Levi of "Chuck," Jimmy Jean-Louis of "Heroes," singer and guitarist Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, and yours truly. Brandi Chastain, Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda are among the big-name soccer players on the schedule.
The inaugural event raised more than $150,000, and the 2009 event, with the help of partners Nike, Gatorade, WMG, AEG and Stanford Financial, has already surpassed the 2008 total.
General-admission tickets for the Celebrity Soccer Challenge cost $20 and are on sale through Ticketmaster and directly through the Home Depot Center. All proceeds will benefit bone-marrow-transplant patients and family services at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
Allen Hopkins covers Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer for ESPN. Look for Allen patrolling the sideline during "MLS Primetime Thursday." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.