Ah, the SuperDraft steal, an elusive commodity that can turn a draft pick that would otherwise be trade bait into a franchise game-changer.
They don’t come around often – the legions of players drafted in late rounds who fail to make an MLS impact attest to that – but there are still plenty of test cases since the birth of the league in 1996 to encourage technical staffs and fan bases in search of a bargain-turned-centerpiece.
For purposes of this column, we’ve eliminated any player chosen in the first two rounds from the running. Supplemental Draft picks (sorry, Chris Wondolowski) are also out.
And so, with the 2014 SuperDraft now less than 48 hours away, we present you with the biggest MLS draft steals of all time, a list that includes US national team stars as well as a one-time Mr. Irrelevant.
5) Jeff Parke (2004 6th round, 60th overall by Metrostars, final pick)
Freddy Adu went first in Charlotte, Chad Marshall second and Clarence Goodson and Clint Dempsey back-to-back with picks seven and eight. Meanwhile, Jeff Parke waited. And waited. And waited.
In fact, Parke was still waiting with just one pick left on the board in 2004 – lucky No. 60. Fortunately for Parke – and the MetroStars, for that matter – he wouldn’t be forced to wait any longer.
A decade later, Mr. Irrelevant has played more than 20,000 MLS minutes, started 234 games, lifted multiple US Open Cups and earned a USMNT cap.
4) Davy Arnaud (2002 5th round, 50th overall by Kansas City)
Despite being named an All-American as a junior, Arnaud was no sure thing coming out of West Texas A&M. Some probably wondered why he left college a year early altogether, especially after the midfielder logged just 43 minutes as a rookie.
But a year later that number was 812, including three goals in just seven starts, and the year after that Arnaud was an shoo-in starter for the Wizards, a role he wouldn’t relinquish until the then-captain departed Kansas City for Montreal ahead of the 2012 season.
All in all, the now 33-year-old has scored 48 goals and dished out 43 assists in nearly 300 MLS appearances (297) and found a way to rack up seven international caps and one goal. Not bad for a guy passed on 49 times back in the winter of 2002.
3) Kevin Hartman (1997 3rd round, 29th over all by LA Galaxy, second to last pick)
Hartman’s the most-decorated goalkeeper in MLS history. He was also second-to-last pick and the third goalkeeper taken in the 1997 SuperDraft. Remember Tom Presthus and Scott Coufal? Me either. (Presthus played more than a 100 games in MLS and has one USMNT cap to his name. Not a bad career by any definition, but one remembered best by MLS originals.)
All the Galaxy got with the 29th overall pick was the player who would man their goal for the next decade, a Goalkeeper of the Year winner and owner of two MLS Cup titles and 116 wins in LA colors.
All told, over 17 seasons with LA, Kansas City, Dallas and New York, Hartman compiled a resume that few, if any, will ever be able to match: 411 starts, 37,260 minutes played, 112 shutouts, 1,474 saves, 180 wins and a nickname (El Gato) that will go down in league history.
2) Geoff Cameron (2008 3rd round, 42nd overall by Houston)
In 2008, Cameron was taken with the very last pick of the third round. Six years later, he’s been transferred to the English Premier League in a multimillion dollar deal, earned more international caps (23) than anyone taken in 2008 not named Brek Shea or Roger Espinoza and is poised to play in a World Cup.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
These days, Cameron is a poster boy for late-round draft picks, the starting right back for Stoke City after making his name as a Best XI center back with the Houston Dynamo. Think there’s some draft remorse in MLS coaching circles on this one?
1) Michael Bradley (2004 4th round, 36th overall by the MetroStars)
Think anyone doubts Bob Bradley’s motives now? Yeah, he may have drafted his 16-year-old son in 2004, but clearly the man had a keen eye for talent and faith his progeny would drop all the way to the fourth round.
Michael didn’t make an impact as a rookie, a foot injury robbing him of any playing time, but he jumped straight into the starting lineup as a teenager a year later and was off to Dutch side Heerenveen as the youngest MLS player ever to be sold after that.
The rest, as they say, is history. More than 200 European appearances and 82 USMNT caps later, Bradley is back where he started, pegged as a Designated Player savior for a Toronto FC side in desperate need of saving.
Can Bradley do it? Don’t bet against him. He was a steal back in January 2004, and odds are he’ll be one again, though not at the same price, 10 years later.
Ante Razov (1996 3rd round, 27th overall by LA Galaxy)
Nick Rimando (2000 3rd round 35th overall by Miami Fusion)
Jack Jewsbury (2003 5th round, 43rd overall by Kansas City)
Alan Gordon (2004 6th round, 53rd overall by LA Galaxy)
Jonathan Bornstein (2006 4th round, 37th overall by Chivas USA)
Steven Lenhart (2008 4th round, 48nd overall by Columbus)
Sean Johnson (2010 4th round, 51st overall by Chicago)