Everyone loves a draft. From the immensely popular NFL draft to the NBA draft and Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player draft, fans get the chance to play general manager and envision which amateur will project to global icon and lead their squad to glory.
The MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas is set for Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET and while it doesn’t offer the same satisfaction as other drafts, it is still a must-follow for Major League Soccer fans.
It’s different than drafts from other major professional sports leagues because the youth development landscape has changed dramatically in soccer over the past 10 years or so.
The SuperDraft was once aligned with those other leagues because it was the major source of young talent for MLS teams, almost exclusively comprised of players who competed in college soccer.
But MLS has heavily invested in youth development and every team has its own academy from which to pluck the best young players. But that doesn’t mean the MLS SuperDraft is a waste.
There are gems to be found for the teams who do their homework, with Daryl Dike, who played at Virginia, was selected fifth overall by Orlando City SC in 2020 and just completed a transfer to English Championship side West Bromwich Albion for a reported $9.5 million, as the best example.
Who could be the diamonds in the rough this year and maybe push for immediate playing time? Who might hear their name called by MLS Commissioner Don Garber with the first overall pick?
Let’s get to handicapping.
First, it’s important to recognize the players who signed Generation adidas contracts and what that mechanism means for the draft.
Generation adidas is a joint venture between Major League Soccer and US Soccer, with adidas providing the sponsorship, that identifies and signs top collegiate underclassmen and US youth internationals.
Here’s the rub — Generation adidas contracts don’t count against the salary cap, giving teams even more incentive to select those players in the draft.
Dike, Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman, a two-time MLS Defender of the Year, Miles Robinson, an Atlanta United center back who, like Zimmerman, has emerged on the US men’s national team stage, Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan and Tajon Buchanan, who had a breakout year for the New England Revolution and Canadian national team this year and has since made the jump to Club Brugge in Belgium, all were signed to Generation adidas contracts.
Three of this year’s eight-player Generation adidas class hail from Saint Louis University. Left-footed center back Kipp Keller, the 2021 Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year, could be the No. 1 overall pick this year to Charlotte FC.
If the expansion side doesn’t go after the second team All-American, University of Maryland midfielder Ben Bender might be their guy. A box-to-box attack-minded midfielder, Bender was the unanimous Big Ten Midfielder of the Year selection in 2021 after seven goals and five assists in 18 games this year. Bender also was named first-team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches.
Charlotte just signed signed midfielder Chris Hegardt to a homegrown contract after acquiring his homegrown priority rights from Seattle for $50,000 in general allocation money. The 20-year-old, who likely would have been a Generation adidas signee, spent the last two years with Georgetown University.
Joining Keller from the Billikens is Isaiah Parker, a left-sided winger who had three goals and seven assists in his freshman year and could have the highest upside in the draft, as well as 6-foot-5 goalkeeper Patrick Schulte, who is a two-time Atlantic 10 first-team selection and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2021 A-10 Championship.
If Schulte isn’t the first goalkeeper selected, Roman Celentano out of Indiana will likely be. He becoming the first goalkeeper in Big Ten history to win the conference’s Goalkeeper of the Year award multiple times in a career, doing so in consecutive seasons after recording a career-high 11 clean sheets.
Stanford forward Ousseni Bouda, a native of native of Burkina Faso in Western Africa, was named the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. After missing his sophomore year due to injury, Bouda had five goals and a conference-best nine assists this past season. He’d occupy an international roster slot.
So would Thor Ulfarsson, a native of Iceland who was a standout forward at Duke University. He was named the 2021 ACC Offensive Player of the Year and earned first-team All-American honors after scoring 15 goals in his sophomore season.
The eighth member of this year’s Generation adidas class is University of the Pacific freshman Erik Centeno, who might be the highest-rated fullback on the draft board.
He was the only freshman to start in all 16 games for the University of the Pacific, recording six goals and five assists to earn first-team All-West Coast Conference and the conference’s Freshman of the Year honors.
Of course, there’s no guarantee those will be the top eight players selected. Other collegiate standouts who could hear their name early in the draft are Grand Canyon center back Esai Easley, a Hawaiian who was named 2021 WAC Defensive Player of the Year.
There’s also 6-foot-4 Washington center back Ryan Sailor, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American selection, Notre Dame defensive midfielder Mohamed Omar, who at 6-foot-4 could transition to center back, is a Toronto native who helped lead the Irish to the ACC title and a run to the College Cup semifinals.
There’s also Wake Forest forward Kyle Holcomb, a second-team All-American and first-team All-ACC selection after finishing his career tied for seventh in Wake history with 33 goals and ninth in career points with 74 and Michigan State wide attacker Farai Mutatu, a native of Zimbabwe who was named second-team All-Big Ten.