SuperDraft: A history of late-round gems

Chris Wondolowski - San Jose Earthquakes - Yell

Every team picking in the first round of the 2018 SuperDraft will go in hoping to find the next Jack Harrison. Once you get past the first and second rounds, finding those kinds of players becomes more and more difficult.

But it’s not impossible.

Over the 22-year history of MLS, several late-round picks have become superstars for the team that drafted them.

Keep in mind that there have been many players picked in the later rounds that have gone on to have incredible professional careers. You can count Nick Rimando, Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron among the many names that could be mentioned in this space.

Here, we will try to stick to players who had an immense, longstanding impact on the team that drafted them, however late that may have been.

C.J. Brown – Chicago Fire (1998 Supplemental Draft/Round 1/Pick 1; No. 37 overall)

After a four-year career with San Jose State, Brown wasn’t even picked by a MLS team. Instead he signed with a lower division club, the San Francisco Bay Seals, leading them on an improbable run to the semifinals of the US Open Cup in 1997. After his performances with the Seals, Brown was selected by the Fire with the first pick of the Supplemental Draft in 1998.

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He went on to become a Fire legend, spending 13 seasons with the club and helping them win many trophies. He made 28 starts in his rookie season, helping Chicago capture MLS Cup and the Open Cup in their first season. He went on to win three more Open Cups (2000, 2003, 2006) and the Supporters’ Shield (2003) before hanging up his boots after the 2010 season. Individually he was named to the 2001 All-Star team, won the 2006 Defender of the Year and went on to register 15 caps with the US national team.

Davy Arnaud – Sporting Kansas City (2002 SuperDraft/Round 5/Pick 1; No. 50 overall)

The then-Kansas City Wizards picked O’Neil Peart, Chris Brunt and Dominic DaPra before selecting the Division II All-American from little West Texas A&M. Arnaud played just 43 minutes his rookie year, before working his way into the squad in his second season. He would go on to become a Kansas City soccer legend. He had his breakout season in 2004, registering nine goal and eight assists, and he went on to make at least 24 starts in his next six seasons with the club.

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The team captured the US Open Cup in 2004, and Arnaud was eventually named captain before departing the club prior to the 2012 season. He landed with the Montreal Impact, scoring their first goal in MLS, and was a stalwart for Ben Olsen and D.C. United for two seasons before retiring prior to the 2016 season.

Brian Ching – San Jose Earthquakes (2003 Supplemental Draft/Round 1/Pick 1; No. 61 overall)

This is a little bit of a cheat, as Ching was actually selected by the LA Galaxy in the 2001 SuperDraft. He was released after one season and ended up with the Seattle Sounders during their A-League (second division) days.

After a successful stint there, he ended up back in MLS after the 2003 SuperDraft. This left him available for the Supplemental Draft, in which he was selected by the Earthquakes after they made a trade to acquire the first pick. The Hawaiian scored six goals in his first season with the club, helping them capture the 2003 MLS Cup. After two more successful seasons in San Jose, including a Supporters’ Shield trophy in 2005, the club was moved to Houston.

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The Dynamo would win MLS Cup in their first two seasons in Houston, thanks in large part to Ching’s goalscoring contributions. He scored five goals in the playoffs over those two years, including a game-tying goal in extra time of the 2006 MLS Cup to help get the team to a penalty-kick shootout.

Ching also had success on the international level, registering 45 caps and scoring 11 goals. Bruce Arena named him to the 2006 FIFA World Cup squad, but he did not make an appearance in the tournament.

Ching is currently the managing director of the Houston Dash, the NWSL club owned by the same owners as the Dynamo. Both teams play in BBVA Compass Stadium, known to many Orange fans as “The House That Ching Built.”

Chris Wondolowski - San Jose Earthquakes (2005 Supplemental Draft/Round 4/Pick 5; No. 89 overall)

This gem is also a little bit of a cheat, as Wondolowski left San Jose for three-and-a-half seasons after the team moved to Houston, but the Bay Area native returned to his hometown team in June 2009.

Wondolowski nearly went undrafted in 2005 after four rounds of the SuperDraft and three rounds of the Supplemental Draft left him sitting at home waiting to hear his name called. His name was finally called by the Quakes with the eighth-to-last pick. Coincidentally, two players picked after “Bau Daigh” have gone on to have long MLS careers (Dan Gargan, Jeff Larentowicz).

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After returning from Houston, there's been no stopping Wondo, as he has scored 130 goals in eight-and-a-half seasons with the club. His 27 goals in 2013 are tied for the most by any MLS player in a season and his 134 goals are tied for the second-most in league history.

Wondo has also scored 11 goals on the international level and was a member of the 2014 US World Cup team.

Sean Johnson – Chicago Fire (2010 SuperDraft/Round 4/Pick 3; No. 51 overall)

The latest late-round steal, Johnson was selected by the Fire in the last round of the 2010 SuperDraft, between Irving Garcia and Ofori Sarkodie.

However, his emergence as one of the top goalkeepers in MLS shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Central Florida product was offered a Generation adidas contract after two seasons in school. Johnson made 176 starts for the Fire over seven seasons, second-most of any goalkeeper in the league over that span. After leaving the Fire following the 2016 season, Johnson had a stellar season in 2017 with New York City FC.

His performances have earned him multiple call-ups to the US national team and he has appeared in five games for the USMNT.

Editor's note: This piece originally ran on January 4, 2018.