Every year, the MLS SuperDraft comes under some fire for an alleged lack of usefulness and relevance, and yet every year, that same SuperDraft yields a sizable crop of players who go on to successful careers in the league, and frequently beyond.
In addition to the many upper-echelon picks who panned out, such as Omar Gonzalez (No. 3, 2009 SuperDraft, 2011 Defender of the Year) and Maurice Edu (No. 1, 2007, 2010 World Cup veteran), there is a surprisingly long list of players who rose from lowly draft positions to lofty perches in MLS and/or US Soccer – guys like Edson Buddle (No. 27, 2001) or, more recently, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour (Nos. 28 and 30, respectively, 2010).
These are the SuperDraft’s sleeper picks, and you can bet that among the more than 50 players currently jostling in the 2013 MLS Combine, there are several more of them, waiting to be selected in the 2013 edition of the SuperDraft in Indianapolis on Thursday.
With that in mind, here are the Postgame’s Top 10 sleeper picks in MLS SuperDraft history:
10. Sean Johnson, 2010, 51st pick (fourth round) — Johnson may have his shaky moments, but he pulls off spectacular saves fairly regularly, he’s locked up Chicago’s starting job between the pipes, with 72 appearances (and counting), and he’s got a voice like James Earl Jones. Johnson has also earned two caps for the US national team. Not bad for a 51st-overall pick.
9. Steven Lenhart, 2008, 48th pick (fourth round) — The mop-topped striker that everyone outside the city limits of San Jose or Columbus loves to hate was an afterthought in the draft (there were only eight players selected behind him), but he’s turned his half-chance into 103 league appearances and 28 goals in five seasons.
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8. Jack Jewsbury, 2003, 43rd pick, (fifth round) — Guess how many other 2003 fifth-rounders are still in the league? Survey says …zero. In fact, there’s only one fourth-rounder from that year still in the league – goalkeeper Josh Saunders. And Jewsbury is not just "still in the league" – they call him Captain Jack in Portland, and he spent years anchoring Kansas City’s midfield.
7. Graham Zusi, 2009, 23rd pick (second round) — Eight midfielders were selected ahead of Zusi in the ’09 SuperDraft. Hard to believe now that the Maryland alum (and Roger Federer doppelganger) has worked his way onto the US national team and become an All-Star catalyst for Kansas City, leading the league in assists last year with 15.
6. Alan Gordon, 2004, 53rd pick (sixth round) — A late-blooming sleeper, but a sleeper nonetheless. Gordon was selected by the Galaxy, but failed to make the team initially, signing with Portland of the A-League. After a 17-goal season in the second flight, he returned to LA in September 2004, and has been in MLS ever since. The man who once introduced himself to David Beckham, then asked, “And you are?” has battled injuries for much of his career, but he enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, producing 13 goals and seven assists in 23 games for San Jose, and earning his first two call-ups to the US national team.
5. Jonathan Bornstein, 2006, 37th pick, (fourth round) — Bornstein was a striker in college, but Bob Bradley converted him to left back and started him there in Chivas USA’s first game of 2006. It was a career-changing switch: Bornstein won the ’06 Rookie of the Year award and went on to earn 38 caps for the US. And he’s huge in Honduras.*
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4. Davy Arnaud, 2002, 50th pick (fifth round) — An ultimate sleeper out of sleepy West Texas A&M University, Arnaud developed into an extremely solid pro with 273 appearances, 43 goals (and counting), and seven caps with the US national team. Between Zusi, Jewsbury and Arnaud, KC know how to pick ’em.
3. Geoff Cameron, 2008, 42nd pick (third round) — The 42nd pick of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft is currently a starter for English Premier League side Stoke City and the US national team. In MLS, he was a two-time All-Star and played in the MLS Cup 2011 final. He’s living proof that negotiating the SuperDraft is about as scientific as fortune telling.
2. Kevin Hartman, 1997, 29th pick (third round) — Hartman was the second-to-last player taken in his draft class, and he went on to become Major League Soccer’s all-time leader in wins, shutouts, and appearances. He was the only member of the ’97 draft still in the league in 2012.
1. Jeff Parke, 2004, 60th pick (sixth round) — It’s practically a matter of fact rather than opinion that Parke is the ultimate sleeper pick. He was selected dead last in the 2004 draft. Every team in the league passed on him, several times. Yet he stepped straight into a starting spot with New York in his rookie year and went on to become a quality MLS center back. After a successful stint in Seattle, he’ll suit up for his hometown Philadelphia Union in 2013. And the former Mr. Irrelevant is currently in camp with the US national team.
Honorable Mention (draft position): Beitashour (30), Michael Bradley (36), Edson Buddle (27), Omar Cummings (31), Andy Dorman (58), Michael Farfan (23), Tally Hall (44), Nick LaBrocca (35), Eddie Lewis (23), Jesse Marsch (21), Brandon McDonald (46), Ryan Meara (31), Justin Morrow (28), Tim Ream (18), Nick Rimando (35), Chris Rolfe (29), Chris Schuler (39), Gonzalo Segares (35), Seth Sinovic (25), Khari Stephnson (28), Joe Willis (50).
* Bornstein’s stoppage-time header in an October 2009 World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica lifted the US into a 2-2 tie and sent Honduras to the World Cup for the first time since 1982.