Leading up the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, you're likely to hear plenty about the difficulty of finding impact talent that 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.
With the first two rounds of this year's SuperDraft just around the corner on Jan. 9, 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
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 lead 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
Round 2, Pick 2
No. 14 overall
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 stint 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
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 that it compelled La Liga side Villareal to purchase him for a $10 million fee 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
Round 2, Pick 4
No. 19 overall