As we steam toward another MLS SuperDraft, you may have found yourself wondering about which teams have had the most success plucking beneficial talent in the annual conscription event.
I've been thinking about such things lately, and thinking about such things typically leads to research-nerd mode. Which means I now have an answer to that question for your inspection, at least when it comes to the past decade.
Normally when one outlet or another does a similar type of ranking of how well clubs mine young players (either through the SuperDraft or their academy ranks), objective numbers regarding minutes played are used to establish an order of merit. Hell, we've done that here before.
That's not what we're doing this time. This time, it's not just about quantity. It's about quantity of quality, which has been subjectively judged by yours truly. After a ridiculous amount of order-shifting outside the fairly obvious top two (it was rough, y'all!), I've nailed it down to a top five over the past decade.
And as competition was so incredibly fierce for the last couple of spots on the list, we're left with a very crowded honorable mentions field: Atlanta United, Chicago, Columbus, D.C. United, New England, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City, Sporting KC and Toronto FC.
No. 5: Philadelphia Union
Jack Elliott and Andre Blake | USA Today Sports Images
Despite the fact that they sometimes freely trade away high-round picks (or as happened last year, all of them), the Union have enjoyed a pretty good SuperDraft yield over the last decade. While Andre Blake has been a good first overall pick and Keegan Rosenberry (now in Colorado) was landed third overall two years later, some of Philly's top business has come in the later rounds.
Current backline marshal Jack Elliott and club games leader Ray Gaddis are prime examples. Zac MacMath also remains a solid performer, but several of their choices (e.g.; Michael Farfan, Richie Marquez, Jack McInerny and Amobi Okugo) failed to live up to their early excellence for too long and injuries saw second overall pick Josh Yaro flame out quickly.
No. 4: Minnesota United
For a team that's only taken part in three SuperDrafts, the Loons have gotten incredible value out of their picks so far. Much more is likely on the way, as Hassani Dotson, Chase Gasper and Mason Toye are all future US national team candidates just starting their careers.
And while some may insist otherwise, I'd certainly not go so far as to label 2017 first overall pick Abu Danladi (now with Nashville SC), with his decent 0.59 goals+assists per 90 minutes rate, as an outright bust. Still, it definitely doesn't help that six "star quality" players were taken in the next seven picks. Had the forward built on or even continued his rookie form, Minnesota would be a legit contender for the top spot on this list.
No. 3: Colorado Rapids
It's reasonable to claim that no team selected more useful cogs over the last 10 years than the Rapids. They fail to break the top three because most of those players lean closer to serviceable than stardom.
Perhaps Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki can break that mold in a way that Axel Sjoberg could not quite manage after a Best XI nod in 2016. Meanwhile, Dom Badji, Deshorn Brown, Marlon Hairston, Frantzdy Pierrot, Dillon Powers and Jared Watts all proved to be respectable pros with notable high points (even if a few of them appeared to be headed for more early in their careers).
No. 2: San Jose Earthquakes
The Quakes don't appear this high on the list because of quantity. They are here because when they hit, they hit big. Ike Opara is a two-time Defender of the Year winner, while Justin Morrow finished as the award runner-up to his former teammate in 2016. Steven Beitashour hasn't made a Best XI like those two MLS stars, but he's has been one of the league's best right backs for a decade and wins wherever he goes.
Not all of their jackpots are back-liners. Current midfielder Jackson Yueill (pictured at top) has the look of a guy who could turn up in a USMNT shirt for much of the next decade. Fatai Alashe was also once on the verge of cracking the senior team frame, and is still young enough to regain the mojo of his early San Jose years.
No. 1: FC Dallas
Matt Hedges (left) and Walker Zimmerman (right) in 2017 Concacaf Champions League action | USA Today Sports Images
Gosh, it would almost seem unfair if the club with the most enviable academy output were also the strongest drafters. Well, here we are. FCD have also killed it picking top-level MLS defenders, with Matt Hedges, Ryan Hollingshead and Walker Zimmerman all snared in the 2012 and 2013 SuperDrafts.
Throw in 2010 pick Zach Loyd and you've got a fully-formed, trophy-caliber backline. Like the Quakes, FCD may specialize in defenders, but that isn't the limit to their draft powers. They also grabbed forward Tesho Akindele, a Canada international and Rookie of the Year winner (now with Orlando City) who set a new career high with 10 goals this past season.
They've also drafted handy midfielders like Eric Alexander and Jacori Hayes, whose progress has been stalled a bit due to the club's continually deep holding stable.