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MLS SuperDraft: Who are some top late-round steals in league history?

Around the time of the MLS SuperDraft, we usually hear plenty about the difficulty of finding impact talent who will translate consistently to the professional level.

And those assessments aren't necessarily wrong. Finding players in the SuperDraft who can develop into week-to-week contributors in MLS is difficult. Every year, many more picks wind up in the USL Championship or off professional rosters altogether than develop into first-team regulars. 

But don't think it can't be done. There are plenty of examples throughout MLS history – even recent history – of selections who carve out lengthy and impactful professional careers. You never know where the next gem might come from.

Here's a look back at some of the greatest steals in the event's history.

Steve Ralston | Tampa Bay Mutiny

1996 College Draft
Round 2, Pick 8
No. 18 overall

Steve Ralston

Drafted 18th overall by the Tampa Bay Mutiny in the 1996 MLS College Draft, Ralston became a pillar of consistency during his MLS career, first during a six-year stint in Tampa that saw him burst onto the scene by winning the '96 Rookie of the Year award. During that debut campaign, the Mutiny led the league with 58 points and racked up a whopping 66 goals. After the Mutiny folded in 2002, the Florida International University product joined the New England Revolution, where he embarked on another standout eight-season run that saw him retire as the league's all-time leading assist man in 2010, before his record was eventually broken by Landon Donovan

Shalrie Joseph | New England Revolution

2002 SuperDraft
Round 2, Pick 2
No. 14 overall

Shalrie Joseph

Another Revs legend, Joseph is still remembered as one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history thanks to his exploits in New England that saw him earn Best XI selections in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009, plus start the 2008 All-Star game. He made his biggest mark in that initial run with the Revs from 2003-2012 that saw him rack up 261 appearances and score 37 goals, before brief stints with Chivas USA and the Seattle Sounders. All told, that's a fantastic legacy for any SuperDraft pick, let alone a second-rounder.

Jozy Altidore | New York Red Bulls

2006 SuperDraft
Round 2, Pick 5
No. 17 overall

Altidore may have only made 37 appearances for the Red Bulls after getting selected as a wide-eyed 16-year-old in the 2006 SuperDraft, but that's only because his talent was such it compelled La Liga side Villareal to purchase him for $10 million that, at the time, was the largest transfer fee paid for an MLS player. That return on investment certainly merits Altidore's inclusion, but when you consider his standout play since returning to the league with Toronto FC, the US men's national team striker has an easy case as one of the best SuperDraft picks of all time.

AJ DeLaGarza | LA Galaxy

2009 SuperDraft
Round 2, Pick 4
No. 19 overall

You need only look at DeLaGarza's trophy case from his time with the Galaxy from 2009-16 to see why he merits inclusion. The center back was a vital cog for a Galaxy team that can still lay claim to the most dominant stretch in league history, with DeLaGarza sporting MLS Cup rings from 2011, 2012 and 2014, as well as Supporters' Shields in 2010 and 2011. While Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are rightfully remembered as the anchors of those teams, the steady presence of DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez in defense can't be overlooked. The 32-year-old is still at it, too, joining expansion side Inter Miami CF this offseason following a three-year stint with the Houston Dynamo.

Graham Zusi | Sporting Kansas City

2009 SuperDraft
Round 2, Pick 8
No. 23 overall

A fixture for a Sporting Kansas City core that's remarkably strong, Zusi wasn't a hyped-up prospect when he arrived from the University of Maryland as a second-round SuperDraft pick in 2009. Since, he's been about as consistent as it gets. Zusi has racked up 279 appearances since his MLS debut and led the league in assists with 15 in 2012. He's also showcased impressive versatility, emerging as one of the league's better right backs since switching to the position from the wing.

Nick Rimando | Miami Fusion

2000 SuperDraft
Round 3, Pick 11
No. 35 overall
This one shouldn't even need explaining, with the longtime RSL man nothing short of a legend. Rimando is arguably the best goalkeeper in MLS history, and played through 2019 before retiring. It can be easy to forget that he actually started his career as a draft pick of the Miami Fusion back in 2000, making 47 appearances there before a five-season stint with D.C. United that preceded his legendary run in Utah. Either way, it shouldn't be forgotten that the GOAT started out as a humble third-rounder in Miami.

Cristian Roldan | Seattle Sounders

2015 MLS SuperDraft
Round 1, Pick 16
No. 16 overall

Roldan's case is an interesting one, as he was widely considered the No. 2 prospect in the 2015 SuperDraft class before a so-so performance at the MLS Combine saw him slide all the way down to No. 16, where he was swooped up by Garth Lagerwey and the Sounders. Since, Roldan has emerged as one of the league's top young players, finding a niche in the defensive midfield after a collegiate career spent as a center attacking mid at the University of Washington.

While his future is likely in a deeper-lying role, he's also found success playing on the wing and has 20 MLS goals to his name. He's also started to break into the rotation with the US men's national team. With two MLS Cups already in the bag and a lengthy contract extension signed with Seattle, Roldan could blossom even further.

Michael Bradley | New York MetroStars

2004 SuperDraft
Round 4, Pick 6
No. 36 overall

Before he became a staple of the US men's national team, Bradley was a 16-year-old draft pick trying to prove himself after he was selected by the MetroStars in 2004. He was transferred to Eredivisie side SC Heerenveen in 2006 for a $250,000 fee, making him the youngest MLS player ever to be sold before he spent time in the Bundesliga with Borussia Monchengladbach and in Serie A with Chievo and AS Roma.

Those overseas tours saw Bradley establish himself on the world stage, but he's done some of his finest work teaming up with Altidore in Toronto, where the duo helped spearhead a 2017 treble-winning team among the greatest in MLS history. All of that makes his fourth-round draft status seem funny in hindsight.

Geoff Cameron | Houston Dynamo

2008 SuperDraft
Round 3, Pick 14
No. 42 overall
Few likely predicted Cameron's rise to an English Premier League regular when he arrived in Houston as a third-round SuperDraft pick in 2008, but it didn't take long for the defender to show his quality is top-class. After making 116 appearances for the Dynamo from 2008-12, Cameron transferred to Stoke City, where he racked up 168 appearances from 2012-19 before moving to Queens Park Rangers. When it comes to SuperDraft defenders who outperformed their draft status, it would be hard to put anyone above the 34-year-old.

Jack Elliott | Philadelphia Union

2017 SuperDraft
Round 4, Pick 11
No. 77 overall
The most-recent addition to our list, Elliott came to the Union from West Virginia as a fourth-rounder in 2017. The lanky 6-foot-5 center back has been a rock ever since, starting 29 games in a standout rookie season in 2017, appearing in 17 more games in 2018 and starting all 34 games for Philly last season. That type of output has to leave the Union thrilled with the value they got on the pick, and Elliott looks primed to continuing providing a steady presence along the club's backline. 
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