Watch the MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas on Thursday at 12:30 pm ET. The first round will be streamed on ESPN's social and digital platforms (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the ESPN app) or follow using MLSsoccer.com’s real-time Draft Tracker.
I’ve got three questions bouncing around in my mind as I fly to Florida to embed with Inter Miami for another first in their short history: the 2020 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas. You can find Travis Clark’s final mock draft, a list of prospects most likely to make an impact in 2020 and much more coverage HERE.
How will Inter Miami and Nashville SC approach their inaugural SuperDraft?
The new boys own the first three picks. The top available talent goes through Miami (Pick No. 1 and 3) and Nashville (No. 2), whether by selection or trade. They’ll set the tone for the entire day.
As you can tell, Miami are in the driver’s seat. As we consider their options, it’s worth looking back at draft picks made by Inter sporting director Paul McDonough in his previous MLS stops. As always, draft picks are a numbers game and a collaborative process between scouts, technical staff and coaches, but they tell a story.
McDonough’s story is that he’s done this before, helping run Orlando City and Atlanta United’s first-ever SuperDrafts, with great success. The selections speak for themselves: Cyle Larin to Orlando (No. 1 overall) in 2015 and Miles Robinson (No. 2 overall) and Julian Gressel (No. 8 overall) with Atlanta United in 2017. It doesn’t get much better than that in recent draft history.
With Inter Miami, McDonough has his pick of the litter again, both high-ceiling forwards to choose from (Virginia’s Daryl Dike and Clemson’s Robbie Robinson) as well as a potential US national team center back prospect in Jack Maher. All three are Generation adidas players and cap friendly. McDonough’s gone both ways in the past in Larin and Robinson.
This time around, he can take two of those three or perhaps look to central defender Henry Kessler (should Maher come off the board at No. 2), Ryan Raposo for wing depth or Dylan Nealis for cover at right back. All but Nealis are GA signees. Or perhaps he’ll trade down and accumulate more assets.
All TBD, but McDonough’s record with high picks is stellar. He’s drafted for talent, not need, and it’s paid off. Whoever Miami takes No. 1 will be the player they think has the most potential, both to develop in the long-term and to impact their team in the short- to medium-term.
As for Nashville SC general manager Mike Jacobs, his two seasons with Sporting KC as assistant technical director tell us very little about how he’ll approach this draft. Why? Because Sporting had just one pick in the first two rounds in 2016 and 2017. That pick, 14th overall in 2017, was Colton Storm, who played for North Carolina FC in the USL Championship last year.
What we know about Jacobs is that he knows the college game inside and out (assistant coach at Duke, head coach at Evansville for nine years) and his network of coaching contacts spans the country thanks to his time in leadership positions at the NSCAA. He’ll get a top player at No. 2. The only question is at what position.
My guess is center back, either Maher (if he’s still available) or Kessler. Foundational defenders can still be found in the SuperDraft, and plenty of teams are built around those rocks: Robinson in Atlanta, Matt Besler in Kansas City, Matt Hedges in Dallas, Ike Opara in Minnesota, Walker Zimmerman with LAFC, Aaron Long and Tim Parker with Red Bulls, Jack Elliott in Philly etc.
Will the trade market be slower without the hotel bar and draft floor?
I get why MLS ditched the all-hands-on-deck Combine. I get why there isn’t a pomp-and-circumstance public event complete with draft floor, speeches and supporter groups in attendance. That doesn’t mean I won’t miss it, especially the hotel bar scene and “Oh, there’s Matias Almeyda eating a blueberry muffin” moments.
I do wonder if there might be a knock-on effect thanks to the lack of proximity between club decision-makers leading up to Thursday’s SuperDraft. I’ll be watching closely to see whether there are fewer deals within the confines of the draft itself as well as if we miss out on the “blockbuster” trades and signing announcements that’ve come during draft hours in the past.
I’ve shadowed technical staffs on draft day multiple times. Trade talks happened throughout the Combine, the night before the SuperDraft over beers, at breakfast the next morning, in the pre-draft meetings and during the draft itself, with coaches and general managers able to work out details face to face within seconds as the clock is ticking.
There’s no in-person bartering this time around. No hotel bar. No two-week Combine preamble in a warm-weather city to feel each other out and gossip. We’ll see if that matters.
Which Homegrowns would be high draft picks … if they were eligible?
As MLS academies widened their nets over the past decade, more and more college standouts are entering the league via Homegrown contracts rather than the SuperDraft. Gyasi Zardes. DeAndre Yedlin. Jordan Morris. You get the point.
Here are three names to remember. Travis Clark has the full rundown of Homegrown hopefuls here.
Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew via Indiana)
No official announcement yet from the Crew, but SoccerByIves.com reported last week that a Homegrown deal is done. There’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case. We’re just waiting on the press release at this point.
Morris is young – he turned 18 in November – and was the best freshman in college soccer (per Top Drawer Soccer) as well as one of the top central midfielders in the entire nation (First-Team All-Big 10, United Soccer Coaches Third Team All-America). He projects deeper in central midfield, but still managed two goals and eight assists for Indiana to lead the Hoosiers in points.
Here are two quotes that stand out when you do a little digging on the US U-20 prospect:
“Be the best player in all of college, that’s my goal.” That’s what Morris said before his first and only season at Indiana. He aimed high and, you could argue, delivered.
“He’s a dominant personality. He’s one that we want to have the ball a lot.” That’s what Indiana head coach and former Crew player Todd Yeagley said after a late October win against Rutgers in which Morris had two assists and a goal. He was saying that about a 17-year-old playing against men often four years older. It’s a good signpost as Morris begins his professional journey.
There will be two midfield spots behind Designated Player Lucas Zelarayan. One belongs to Darlington Nagbe. Morris will have to push Artur or Wil Trapp out of the way for the other one. Time to compete, learn and progress.
Eddie Munjoma (FC Dallas via Southern Methodist)
Every club in MLS wishes they had a Homegrown right back stashed away close to home that bagged 11 goals and seven assists during their senior season. Just business as usual for Luchi Gonzalez, who coached Munjoma in the academy, and FC Dallas.
Munjoma has no problem getting forward, clearly, and if he signs with FC Dallas, he’ll have the perfect runway to settle into the professional game. With Reggie Cannon holding things down for the first team – but potentially the subject of transfer interest – Munjoma could get his feet wet in USL League One with North Texas SC. He knows the coaches. He knows the environment.
Mauricio Pineda (Chicago Fire via Univ. of North Carolina)
Think back to what I said about foundational pieces in the back. Pineda could be that for the Fire, who have a spotty record with their top recent Homegrown prospects (Andrew Gutman, Cam Lindley and Grant Lillard, for instance). Pineda knows the organization, from both his time in the academy and the four years his brother, Victor, spent with the first team.
Now … will the Fire sign him? A deal is on the table, according to MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert.
Sources: The Chicago Fire have extended a Homegrown offer to North Carolina standout Mauricio Pineda. The offer is yet to accepted or declined.— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) December 13, 2019
Pineda, a 22 y/o CB/DM, made 79 appearances with UNC (17g/8a). He's the younger brother of Chicago's 1st HGP, Victor Pineda. #cf97
Whoever signs Pineda will get one of the best players in college soccer over the past four seasons. His frame isn’t massive, like Kessler, but he more than held his own at center back and defensive midfield and is more than capable of knocking it around in a possession-based system.