Starting XI: Top 11 questions heading into the weekend

Starting Xi, Jan. 13

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Straight from the site of Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft, here’s the countdown of the 11 most intriguing questions facing MLS clubs, players and coaches heading into the post-draft weekend.

11. Who drafted most deftly on Thursday?

The Armchair Analyst says it was Vancouver, followed by Chicago and Real Salt Lake. Others think Sporting Kansas City and rebuilding New England made the most of their picks. This one usually takes years to really figure out, though, as the sport’s nuances make such evaluations inherently subjective – and resistant to instant analysis.

10. Which draftees will make the quickest impact?

“MLS ready” and “pro ready” are terms often batted around on draft day by clubs seeking an instant impact from their picks. The increasing numbers of youthful prospects treated as long-term projects has underlined the value of those like Perry Kitchen (drafted third in 2011, 30 starts as a rookie) and Steve Zakuani (drafted first in 2009, 24 starts as a rookie) who are ready to pitch in right away.

9. Can Andrew Wenger take the heat?

This week, several learned MLS observers have noted the difficulties encountered by top SuperDraft picks of the past. While life can be very difficult in an expansion club’s first season, it’s hard to imagine Montreal’s inaugural draftee slipping up like so many of his predecessors have. Few college players in the modern era have been as effective in as many positions as Wenger and his technique and mentality appear to be second to none.

8. Have reports of the SuperDraft’s death been greatly exaggerated?

The rise of the youth academy system and greater leeway on the international market has led to speculation that the SuperDraft will soon fade into oblivion. Yet that idea was summarily dismissed by many MLS decision-makers on Thursday, who noted the lasting influence of the college scene.

“I think the draft is very important for every MLS team, I really do,” said Houston coach Dominic Kinnear. “Where would Kansas City be without C.J. Sapong last year? If you tell me the draft is irrelevant and not important, I would strongly disagree with you. …You can’t turn your back on the college game.”

7. Will Darren Mattocks continue the burgeoning Akron-to-MLS tradition?

Call it an off year for the University of Akron: only one product among the first-round SuperDraft selections, compared to last year’s whopping five. All the same, who would want to bet against Mattocks, given the long line of young stars – Zakuani, Kitchen, Teal Bunbury, Darlington Nagbe and the list goes on – who have preceded him?

6. What is Peter Nowak up to in Philly?

It’s hardly the first time such a question has been asked, but it bears repeating given the Union’s decision to select UCLA forward Chandler Hoffman with its first-round pick, amid rumors that the club is shopping Danny Mwanga to other MLS clubs. The crafty coach noted that international action will likely drain his roster this summer, yet the fact remains that Philadelphia have five strikers on their books at the moment.

5. Does the SuperDraft work against midfield schemers?

Many MLS folks will tell you that playmaking skills are more readily found on the overseas market, yet North Carolina’s Enzo Martinez looked like a surefire top-five pick in much of the run-up to the draft. The fact that he fell all the way RSL at 17th overall suggests that subtler skills sets may get lost in the shuffle on draft day.

4. How did the rebuilders fare on Thursday?

Most teams have some degree of roster construction to do at this point in the offseason, but expansion newcomers Montreal, and squads under new leadership in Colorado and New England, probably have the most to do on that front.

Jesse Marsch's Impact bolstered their midfield and defensive, but still lack attacking options. Oscar Pareja and the Rapids had just one pick and grabbed quality with Tony Cascio, but passed on Generation adidas values to do so. In Kelyn Rowe and Tyler Polak, New England grabbed two quietly promising – and thanks to GA, affordable – pieces.

3. When will Kenny Cooper find his place?

This year’s draft made history as the first to unfold without a single trade. The day nonetheless began with a big swap as the Red Bulls sent a sizeable package of assets to Portland for the enigmatic and often frustrating striker, who is now on his fifth club in five years. Cooper’s substantial gifts tend to make his stats look underwhelming by comparison. Could he prosper on a team which has been described in the same way?

2. George John will be staying across the pond for a while. Are others set to join him?

Almost lost in the SuperDraft hubbub was the news that FC Dallas have arranged a loan deal with England’s West Ham United for their big center back, who seems intent to continue his career in Europe. New York’s move for Cooper fueled speculation that Juan Agudelo may be eyeing a similar move soon. So for now, it looks like Omar Gonzalez’s on-loan knee injury hasn’t brought this trend screeching to a halt just yet.

1. Has MLS ever seen anything like KC’s comeback as a soccer city?

The SuperDraft is just one event within the massive National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention this week, and the whole spectacle has served as a well-deserved celebration this underrated town’s resurgent soccer scene, which looked terminal just a few years ago. From the vibrant supporters’ culture around Sporting KC to the glittering jewel that is Livestrong Sporting Park, the City of Fountains is back in the game, big time.