The 2022 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas class is shaping up to be solid, with several players emerging as key contributors heading into the June international break.
Now, will there be a Tajon Buchanan or Daryl Dike-level talent in this year’s crop? That’s a high bar to meet since those players collected upwards of $17 million combined in transfer fees this past winter when Buchanan went from the New England Revolution to Belgium’s Club Brugge and Dike went from Orlando City SC to England’s West Bromwich Albion. They’re also respectively part of the United States and Canadian men’s national teams.
But there’s undoubtedly solid MLS contributors carving out key roles across the league as their rookie seasons unfold. If the fit is right and clubs do their homework, they can acquire budget-friendly players who fill positions of need either right away or deeper down the depth chart. It’s perhaps not the most essential roster-building mechanism available to clubs, but there’s value to be found.
Before getting underway, here’s a quick breakdown of SuperDraft selections (by round) that actually signed with MLS teams in 2022. A bunch went to MLS NEXT Pro teams, so maybe they’ll reach their club’s first team long-term. The cheat-sheet version: 28 of 75 selections signed with MLS teams and there were 10 passes:
- First round: 21 of 28 selections signed with MLS teams
- Second round: 5 of 27 selections signed with MLS teams, 1 pass
- Third round: 2 of 20 selections signed with MLS teams, 8 passes
- Compensatory picks: 0 of 4 selections signed with MLS teams, 1 pass
Now, here’s a closer look at top contributors from the 2022 SuperDraft with about 40% of the season in the books.
Selection: No. 1 (First Round), University of Maryland
There is some pressure with going first overall, and so far Bender’s met the occasion in Charlotte. He’s contributed 1g/3a as essentially an every-game starter for the expansion club, giving a creative outlet for DP striker Karol Swiderski to feed off of. Bender's played as both an attacking midfielder and winger as manager Miguel Angel Ramirez institutes tactical flexibility.
Selection: No. 2 (First Round), Indiana University
Cincy turned some heads when picking the US youth international so high, a decision from the Orange & Blue’s front office that’s proven wise. He’s posted two clean sheets across six appearances, taking advantage of an opportunity that arose when veteran offseason signing Alec Kann picked up an injury.
Selection: No. 4 (First Round), Duke University
An Icelandic striker who was remarkably productive in the vaunted ACC, Úlfarsson’s coming into his own during the Dynamo’s new era. He scored his first goal in last weekend’s 3-0 romp over the LA Galaxy, often spelling club-record signing Sebastian Ferreira off the bench. He’s made 13 appearances and two starts.
GOAL: Thorleifur Úlfarsson, Houston Dynamo FC - 62nd minute
Selection: No. 5 (First Round), Saint Louis University
Keller doesn’t appear first-choice as Austin jockey for the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield top spots with LAFC, but that doesn’t mean the center back’s anchored to the bench either. He’s appeared in four matches (two starts) and is pushing both Julio Cascante and Ruben Gabrielsen for a starting role. A slow-burn of a rookie year for the highly-rated defender could benefit all parties.
Selection: No. 8 (First Round), Stanford University
Bouda’s inspiring journey from his native Burkina Faso to the states is now in its MLS chapter, and he’s featured in six matches off the bench. The majority of the San Jose’s winger minutes have gone to Cristian Espinoza and Cade Cowell, giving Bouda a target to chase in his professional career’s early days. The livewire attacker has proven dangerous in the US Open Cup, too.
Selection: No. 9 (First Round), University of Washington
Inter Miami have basically a brand-new senior team roster, opening the door for Sailor to appear in four games (three starts). Some of that is injury and/or suspension-related, with manager Phil Neville appearing to prefer Jamaican international Damion Lowe and Zambian international Aime Mabika in the heart of defense. But the rangy defender has looked the part as well in his early opportunities.
Selection: No. 14 (First Round), Duke University
Murphy’s turned out to be a great pick by Cincinnati, one that’s stepped right into a starting center back role for first-year manager Pat Noonan. He’s got one goal across nine games (eight starts), adjusting rather seamlessly to the MLS level after being in the ACC. Murphy is a great example of acquiring cost-effective, domestic pieces through the SuperDraft.
Selection: No. 27 (First Round), Grand Canyon University
The Timbers were in need of fullback depth, and they did well by acquiring Rasmussen so late in the first round. An attacking standout during his college days, he’s shown a willingness to get forward and get stuck in for the perennial Western Conference contender. The highlight of his Portland career so far may be this worldie he scored in preseason:
Selection: No. 28 (First Round), Oregon State University
The last player picked in the first round, Ntsabeleng scored a memorable game-tying goal in a 2-1 Texas Derby win over Houston in late April. That’s the highlight of his 10 appearances (four starts) thus far, carving out a quicker-than-expected role in FC Dallas’s midfield. The 24-year-old South African is shifty on the dribble and fits nicely into a ball-progressing mold.
Selection: No. 36 (Second Round), Oregon State University
Already 23, Djeffal spent his youth career at Ligue 1’s Nantes before coming to the Pacific Northwest for college soccer. That background’s evident in the Frenchman’s early contributions at D.C. United, appearing in 10 games (seven starts) amid their coaching change. The center mid’s proven reliable alongside several central park partners.
Selection: No. 81 (Third Round), University of Pittsburgh
The German midfielder/defender has been a Swiss Army knife of sorts for Real Salt Lake, playing anywhere manager Pablo Mastroeni has asked him to. It’s proven productive as well, with Löeffelsend notching one assist across 10 appearances (three starts). There were just six players picked after the 24-year-old, proving there’s value deep in the SuperDraft if you know where to look.