Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps say 2011 SuperDraft class will be phenomenal.
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Expansion teams place premium on SuperDraft

NEW YORK – The Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps may already be bitter rivals, but they agree on one important point: The upcoming 2011 SuperDraft will be stacked.

On Monday afternoon, Vancouver had the first pick among eight MLS player selection mechanisms and the Whitecaps opted to place their No. 1 priority on the MLS SuperDraft in January.

“The SuperDraft, over its history, has produced some quality players who have become cornerstones in MLS franchises,” Whitecaps director of soccer operations Tom Soehn said on a media conference call, while pointing out the likes of Carlos Bocanegra and Maurice Edu.

“We feel like we’re going to get someone who can be a benchmark for the franchise. The exciting prospects we know are going to be available led us to that pick.”

Even though Portland may have had to settle for the No. 2 selection in the SuperDraft, their technical director says they are also sure to be winners.

“The SuperDraft is a phenomenal class coming out this year,” Gavin Wilkinson told reporters on the call. “Whether it is 1, 2, 3 or pick No. 4, it’s a fantastic class coming out. We may not be after the same player as Vancouver, so we’ve not necessarily lost anything.”

Wilkinson admitted Portland would also have sought the No. 1 pick in the SuperDraft had they won the coin toss held at the MLS All-Star Game between them and the Whitecaps.

The Timbers took the No. 1 priority in the Expansion Draft, which will put to work the extensive MLS knowledge that new Timbers manager John Spencer acquired while serving as an assistant with the Houston Dynamo.

“We have an idea of players that may go unprotected [in the Expansion Draft] based on their salary demands and how much they’re featuring in their current group,” Wilkinson said. “John has an understanding of those players and what they can do for us.”

Ahead of the Expansion Draft, every current MLS team will be able to protect 11 players, while Generation adidas players automatically receive protected status. Portland and Vancouver will alternate selections in the Expansion Draft and MLS clubs will be able to protect one additional player for every player selected from their unprotected list.

“There are always one or two players that you wonder why or how they became available,” Wilkinson said. “We’re excited about the possibilities and the potential of picking up a proven MLS player that fits into our system.

“With the Expansion Draft, we have the ability to bring in 10 good players and the No. 1 pick is going to be very valuable. I’m sure we’re going to pick up a great player.”

Soehn was equally excited about the No. 1 placement in the allocation ranking, which he feels has “unbelievable value.” The former D.C. United manager cited the blockbuster trades involving Brian McBride and Troy Perkins when the two Americans returned to MLS from Europe.

But Vancouver are not waiting until the end of the current MLS season to make real moves. In fact, the Whitecaps have signed 10 new players in recent weeks, with the goal of getting a closer look and seeing whether they are ready to contribute to MLS.

However, while Portland have already picked out a manager, Vancouver still have not made a final decision on their MLS head coach. Teitur Thordarson is currently leading their USSF Division 2 side.

“Teitur has done a great job so far and, at this point, we didn’t want distractions around these types of decisions,” Soehn said. “We’ll continue to evaluate the process as we move on. You’ll find out [the name of the coach] when we feel it’s time to move forward.

“Right now, our goal is to win, and we have a lot riding on this season. Our goal is to try to win a championship and piggyback that into moving to MLS.”