Toronto to evaluate draft prospects based on potential

Faces of First Kick: Paul Mariner

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TORONTO – The trick in the MLS SuperDraft is to see beyond what a player already is to what he can be.

“Maybe this is what is fantastic about the MLS coaches,” Toronto FC director of player development Paul Mariner said in a telephone interview on Monday. “They can see things in players that some people don’t see and it’s not necessarily the first-round draft picks.

“Sometimes the lower draft picks do extremely well and people say, ‘Where did that kid come from?’ That’s coaches having an eye for a player with some growth in them.”

Mariner, a former England international who first came to MLS in 2004 as an assistant coach with the New England Revolution, was speaking from the MLS Player Combine at Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where clubs gathered to evaluate the top prospects heading into Thursday's SuperDraft.

Toronto FC have two first-round picks in the draft, fourth and 12th overall.

Toronto need to deepen their defensive ranks, but both head coach and technical director Aron Winter and Mariner say that while they are looking into their options at the SuperDraft, if there is a better player available when their turn comes, they will take him regardless of that player’s position.

While an obvious factor is how good a player is now, the key aspect to choosing a player could very well be how much he will improve as a professional.

“It’s growth in a player,” Mariner said. “What you see at the college level is what you see at the college level. But it’s what growth is there in that player. Are you taking a player out of college who is already at his max? Has he got no growth? Or do you see somebody with [the potential to grow into a top professional?]

“There are some very smart people in Major League Soccer at the coaching level. They can see things when they draft a player that raises people’s eyebrows, but eventually they become really good.”