The 2017 MLS SuperDraft has become a sleeper hit for the Union

Photo by Earl Gardner

The MLS SuperDraft is an odd apparatus. Drafts make sense in basketball or football, where the best talent (coming from the American college system) is headed to the best league for that sport. But soccer is a bit more amorphous, the “best” talent could be going through the American college system, or it could be coming through any of the development academies popping up around the country like so many mushrooms. Or because soccer is a global game (even more so than basketball), they could be coming from other countries where the game is played at as high a level, if not higher. So while the NFL draft remains the premier form of acquiring new talent, the SuperDraft is sort of a mixed bag. Some players, like Maurice Edu (#1, 2007), Geoff Cameron (#42, 2008), or Graham Zusi (#23, 2009), come through the draft and build successful careers for themselves. Others fail to even be signed to a first contract by the teams that drafted them.

Yet the SuperDraft persists because this is America, and we do drafts dammit. But it also serves as a final filter to catch any talent that hasn’t already been found. The reality is that the odds of making a living as a professional soccer player in America are even slimmer than the odds of making a living as a professional basketball or football player. Saquon Barkley only needs to make a few smart financial decisions and he’ll be set even if he doesn’t pick up a second NFL contract. Meanwhile Sebastien Le Toux is selling homeopathic cream and working with his wife’s real estate staging company. Brian Carroll is an accountant in Indiana. And those guys had long, successful careers. So even players of significant talent can and should consider the fact that going to college is probably the smart move, even if they eventually make it to MLS. They’re going to want that degree when their playing career is done. So there is good talent to be found every year at the SuperDraft, even if it’s surrounded by a lot of chaff.

For all their flaws, the Union have, historically, done very well with the SuperDraft. In 2010 they picked Danny Mwanga (#1), Amobi Okugo (#6), and Jack McInerney (#7). None of them became Union legends, but they were all good players that made the team better. In 2014 they made probably the best draft pick of all time in Andre Blake (#1) after trading their #2 spot and some allocation money to D.C. United. It was a major move, and the effects are apparent as Andre Blake continues to be at least one of the best keepers in the league.

But 2016 was when the Union really earned a reputation as shrewd draftsmen. With Josh Yaro (#2), Keegan Rosenberry (#3), and Fabian Herbers (#6) the Union’s picks seemed to be some of the best players available. There was some consternation over neglecting to select promising left back Brandon Vincent, but history appears to vindicate that decision. Granted, so far Yaro has failed to deliver the performance that was anticipated, and the jury is still out on Herbers. But neither of them was a mistake, and the value of the Keegan Rosenberry is self evident. At the time it was regarded as a complete success, with many sources claiming the Union “won” the SuperDraft.

In contrast, the 2017 SuperDraft passed without much fanfare in Philadelphia. The Union traded their first round pick to Chicago in order to secure the top of the allocation order and sign Alejandro Bedoya. And of course the “star” of that draft has become Jack Elliott, the Mountaineer that was picked at #77. He was picked so late that both Montreal and Real Salt Lake passed, forgoing the opportunity to pick players before the Union even made their fourth round pick. And Santi Moar (#82), while not officially a Union man yet, has become a fan favorite with Bethlehem Steel.

However before the Union picked either of those players, they picked Marcus Epps at #25. His rise hasn’t been as meteoric as Elliotts, but with two consecutive starts in place of the struggling David Accam, it appears his ship may be coming in. How he responds to more challenging opposition in the coming weeks, and his role on the team as Head Coach Jim Curtin figures out how to best utilize Accam, will be key to any success the Union find going forward.



    – some people, not me

    • Neither Yaro nor Herbers is likely to pan out as an MLS player.

      Epps is certainly promising, though it’s a bit too soon to tell. Santi Moar is still too undeveloped to know.

      Now Rosenberry was a very fine pick, and Elliott, given his position in the draft, was sheer genius. I will certainly give credit for those two.

      But they do not justify giving Earnie a whole hell of a lot of credit for team that has been mired in 7th-8th place, with little promise of being much better, since he got here 2.5 years ago. And it’s the “little promise” part that stings.

      Meanwhile, it doesn’t look like he’ll be around much longer for us to debate this anyway.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Agreed. They already knew about Roseneberry too and would have been a homegrown if MLS didn’t pull an MLS on us.
        ES wasn’t horrible, but we didn’t improve as a team under him. That’s statistically a fact. He had some hits and some misses. Who is next will be very telling.

  2. Tim Jones says:

    Avoiding the ES debate in this comment, instead sharing an interesting tidbit from Steel head coach Brendan Burke in a quote the other day that I saw.
    Apparently on the Steel’s off-day this past Tuesday (They had played 3 in 8 days including flights to Charleston and Indianapolis) he Burke watched the Union’s practice because Santi Moar had been invited to practice with them.
    Moar got lost in the David Accam hype last January, and was not invited to Florida. He is physically small, but deserves a shot to discover whether he can play with MLS athletes.

  3. scottymac says:

    So we drafted well in 2017 because Marcus Epps had a good game and Elliot had a good rookie year?
    Elliot is a decent find and frankly probably better than McKenzie. He looked rusty coming back from injury, but I think that’s more on the track record of the U and rushing guys back.
    Epps still has to work on his touch and he’s a long way from being better than Accam.

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