While the influence of the MLS SuperDraft on roster building is not what it used to be, value remains.
Looking back over the past few seasons, a handful of players have contributed right away to their respective teams. Andre Shinyashiki, the No. 6 overall pick in 2019, earned Rookie of the Year honors while playing north of 1,600 minutes for the Colorado Rapids. Meanwhile, left back Chase Gasper worked his way into a starting role for Minnesota United FC.
In the shortened 2020 season, there were immediate returns. Daryl Dike (Orlando City SC), Henry Kessler (New England Revolution) and Alistair Johnston (Nashville SC) carved out key roles for their respective teams after joining MLS.
So, which players from the 2021 class can come in and compete right away? Here are five candidates to track.
Philip Mayaka (M), Clemson
Expected to be picked first overall by Austin FC, the fit and opportunity couldn’t be better for Mayaka. He’s versatile enough to play a number of spots across the midfield, and the lack of current midfield options for Austin indicate he could push for minutes right away. Most importantly, Mayaka is a quality player that can compete at a high level from the first day of preseason.
Ethan Bartlow (D), Washington
A late addition to the Generation adidas class, Bartlow’s track record in college soccer is impressive, even though he played just two seasons (2020 would have been his junior year). He checks several boxes when evaluating a potential pro, whether it’s his passing ability or defending (both individually and collectively), all while showing the hunger to make it at the next level. There may not be massive upside, but Bartlow looks like a high-floor player that can play rotational minutes in the upcoming season.
Josh Bauer (D), New Hampshire
Like Bartlow, Bauer didn’t get a chance to play in a fall season. However, he did sign with Birmingham Legion in the USL Championship and was exposed to a higher-level training environment. That leaves him prepped and ready for the 2021 season, likely as a top-10 pick. Bauer is mobile, good with the ball and has the requisite athleticism to stick in the league. He’s likely not going to be a starter right away, but his new team will have a reliable option from the bench or a good backstop to start 2021.
Kimarni Smith (F), Clemson
A second member of Clemson’s ACC-title winning team could be on his way to carving out some time this season. Capable of playing out wide or up front, Smith is a proven goal-scorer at a high level. His chances in 2021 will boil down to how he adjusts to better defenders and what role awaits. His international tag makes it tricky to project where he lands, but the forward has the tools to earn minutes and could be an effective super-sub in 2021.
Matt Di Rosa (D), Maryland
Just like Gasper, a left back from Maryland drafted in 2019, Di Rosa may not have a huge ceiling or a ton of upside. But he has the tools to be a serviceable option, doing what’s required of a modern fullback: getting into the attacking and creating chances, plus putting in the work defensively. Expect to see him picked somewhere in the mid-first round and start 2021 as a backup who can compete for a starting role as the season progresses.