Climbing the Ladder: Looking back at SuperDraft storylines
With this year’s SuperDraft in the books, now’s the time to take a look at some of the more interesting stories and statistics surrounding the annual event.
RSL’s Velásquez a rare junior college pick
When Real Salt Lake selected Sebastián Velásquez (right) near the end of the Superdraft, it left ESPN’s coverage team scrambling for words to describe the previously unknown Spartanburg Methodist player. Maybe they should’ve expected it, because there was a similar reaction in 2009 when RSL took Jean Alexandre from Lynn University in that year’s first round. Now, Lynn plays in Division II, which is still off the radar for the vast majority of fans. But they do boast five players who have played for an MLS team (most notably Ivan McKinley), and there’s been many players to make it from D-II.
Junior college, meanwhile, is another story.
While few in number, there have been several great MLS players for whom junior college was their highest level of collegiate soccer. However, most of them didn’t make a direct transition. Edson Buddle and Stern John played in the American second division (the old A-League), while Justin Braun was undrafted and discovered playing for an amateur team.
What Velásquez did by getting drafted straight out of junior college is pretty rare. Last year, Paul Ogunyemi was taken by FC Dallas in the 2011 Supplemental Draft out of Schoolcraft College in Michigan, though he had last played for them in 2009 and made his name starring in the PDL. So Ogunyemi may not have gone “directly” from JC to MLS.
The most recent SuperDraft junior college pick before Velásquez was Yura Movsisyan in 2006, who as a Generation adidas player already had a contract with the league. The last time before that was more than a decade ago, in 2000. Santa Ana teammates José Retiz and Tomás Serna were taken by Los Angeles, who were familiar with them in the local soccer scene, in the very first SuperDraft. That didn’t work out so well; as it turned out, both were in the United States illegally. The Galaxy eventually did sign Retiz in 2003. Also in 2000, New England drafted Fabio Zuniga from Raritan Valley in New Jersey.
College Cup’s UNC Charlotte shut out of the SuperDraft
The top pick in Tuesday’s Supplemental Draft by the Montreal Impact was Evan James (at right, No. 5), the midfielder out of UNC Charlotte. The 49ers were the surprise package of 2011’s NCAA soccer season, making it all the way to the title game and putting up quite a fight before falling to heavily favored in-state neighbor North Carolina. In addition, D.C. United selected James’ teammate, defender Charles Rodriguez.
Tuesday was certainly a better day for everyone associated with the 49ers than last Thursday, where they were shut out during the SuperDraft. It’s not unprecedented to have a College Cup team go unrepresented in the main MLS draft, but it has been a few years. The last time, it was another Atlantic 10 school, Massachusetts. The Minutemen made 2007’s last four but had zero players selected in 2008’s SuperDraft (later, goalkeeper Zack Simmons was briefly on New England’s roster). Both teams had something else in common: They are the last two unseeded teams to reach the final four.
National champions UNC had two players taken in first round of the SuperDraft, defender Matt Hedges to Dallas and midfielder Enzo Martinez to Real Salt Lake. The average champion in the MLS era has 2-3 selections, with the highest being Akron’s seven players last year.
There’s only been one national champion to have zero players selected in the next draft, and that distinction belongs to St. John's. They won the NCAA title in 1996, but had no players taken in the three-round college draft that followed in 1997. However, a few of their players did go on to be drafted in future years and play in MLS, including Stefani Miglioranzi.
Hermann Trophy winners fare much better than college football counterparts
Duke’s Andrew Wenger followed up his Hermann Trophy award as the best player in college soccer by becoming the first overall pick of the SuperDraft by Montreal. In the process, he became the first Hermann Trophy winner to be drafted first overall since Virginia's Alecko Eskandarian was taken first by D.C. United in 2002.
And unlike college football’s Heisman Trophy, being named the top player in college soccer seems to help with draft positioning.
Excluding the winners who returned to school and those who sought contracts in Europe (Wojtek Krakowiak, Marcus Tracy), the average draft position of the Hermann Trophy winners is fourth. For comparison, the Heisman average over the same timeframe is 47th. Current RSL defender Chris Wingert is the only Hermann winner to drop out of the first round (No. 12 in 2004). But he'd be a mid-first-rounder now.
Finally, one other less known accolade is the Combine Most Valuable Player award, now named after former Columbus Crew head coach Tom Fitzgerald. Originally, it seemingly went to players outside of the top choices due to teams not wanting to tip their hands in the voting. But in recent years, the winners have been selected higher, though not quite Hermann level – the average pick is 14th. This year, Maryland striker Casey Townsend won the honor and was selected fifth by Chivas USA.