Armchair Analyst: Cheat sheet for team needs in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft

The 2021 MLS SuperDraft is on Thursday. While it's fair to say that the centrality of the draft as a player acquisition tool has faded in recent years, it is still a big deal. Just last year we saw Henry Kessler immediately settle New England's defense, Alistair Johnston bump some veterans to lock down the right back slot for Nashville, and Daryl Dike ascend to the precipice of stardom.

So you should pay attention.

With that in mind, here's a cheat sheet I've made myself for Thursday's stream on team needs that I think can be addressed through the SuperDraft. Understand that this isn't a list of the most important thing they can address on the entire roster – nobody's getting the next Lucas Zelarayan or Bebelo Reynoso via the SuperDraft – but rather a list of what I think these teams will be looking for on Thursday.

We'll go in reverse alphabetical order:

VAN

Vancouver Whitecaps

  • First-round picks: Nos. 9 & 23
  • Top Draft Need: Fullback depth
  • Secondary Need: Wing depth

The 'Caps are actually fairly deep and well set-up to play a pretty straightforward 4-2-3-1 if they make a couple of attacking signings (which I think will happen soon), and can mostly focus on just taking the best player available. But Jake Nerwinski is the only true right back on the roster, and there is the chance they move DP left back Ali Adnan, which would leave them exactly one deep at that spot.

TOR

Toronto FC

  • First-round pick: No. 18
  • Top Draft Need: Fullback depth
  • Secondary Need: Center back depth

The Reds are at least two-deep everywhere in their front six, so I suspect they'll focus on picking whoever they rate highest of the fullbacks (preferably a left back) and center backs remaining on the board when their number is called.

SKC

Sporting Kansas City

  • First-round pick: n/a
  • Top Draft Need: Center back depth
  • Secondary Need: Defensive midfield depth

Sporting traded their first-rounder (No. 23) to Vancouver for Erik Hurtado two years ago. Hurtado's absolutely been worth it for Sporting – he's given them much more, over the past two years, than you usually get out of a 20-something pick.

Unless they trade up, their first pick in this one won't come until No. 50. Whoever gets their name called will have his work cut out just trying to make the roster.

SEA

Seattle Sounders

  • First-round pick: n/a
  • Top Draft Need: Center back depth
  • Secondary Need: right back depth

The Sounders needed defensive depth late last year, and they got it by shipping their first-rounder (No. 26) to Inter Miami for Roman Torres. They don't pick until the end of the third round, 80th overall.

If they take someone, it'll be for their USL affiliate in Tacoma.

SJ

San Jose Earthquakes

  • First-round pick: No. 12
  • Top Draft Need: Center forward depth
  • Secondary Need: Defensive midfield depth

This draft is pretty heavy on center forwards, which is a place on the roster where the 'Quakes are pretty light. If they go for a No. 9 here, whoever they pick has a real chance at earning a regular rotation spot, and maybe even a long-term job as Chris Wondolowski's heir.

Stranger things have happened, like Wondo's rise to become the all-time leading MLS goalscorer in the first place. He was a fourth-round Supplemental Draft pick – essentially the 89th pick overall – back in 2005.

RSL

Real Salt Lake

  • First-round pick: No. 7
  • Top Draft Need: Center back contributor
  • Secondary Need: Right back depth

RSL really could go in any number of directions here, but based upon their offseason work thus far and whispers about more to come, I don't think they'll address their most glaring need, which is to fill that No. 9 role with a starter. Instead, I think they're more likely to look for a center back who can potentially soak up some minutes (this is a good center back draft) or a right back to occasionally give Aaron Herrera a rest.

POR

Portland Timbers

  • First-round pick: No. 8
  • Top Draft Need: Fullback depth
  • Secondary Need: Center back depth

Portland either strike gold – Jeremy Ebobisse in 2017 and Darlington Nagbe in 2011 – or get a non-contributor. There has been no in-between when it comes to their draft history.

Perhaps this is the year that changes, and some of the moves Portland's made suggest they have their eye on a left back via the draft. They traded last year's back-up, Homegrown Marco Farfan, to LAFC for cash. Then they traded Jorge Villafana, who'd been the starter for the past three years, to the Galaxy for this pick (among other things).

They've already imported the new presumed starter in Argentine Claudio Bravo, but he's the only left back on the roster. Getting an inexpensive back-up here would be the aim.

PHI

Philadelphia Union

  • First-round pick: n/a
  • Top Draft Need: they're not
  • Secondary Need: gonna pick anyone

Ernst Tanner explicitly has zero interest in the draft. He has said as much. He traded this year's first-rounder, No. 19 overall, to Orlando City for the Homegrown rights to right back Nathan Harriel.

ORL

Orlando City SC

  • First-round picks: Nos. 19 & 22
  • Top Draft Need: Left back depth
  • Secondary Need: Goalkeeper depth

An attacking left back who can complete progressive passes and not give up too much defensively? Feels like it's asking a lot for that type of player to still be on the board at No. 19, but damn do the Lions need a Joao Moutinho back-up.

What almost always is on the board at around the 20th pick is a goalkeeper worth taking a flier upon.

RBNY

New York Red Bulls

  • First-round pick: No. 13
  • Top Draft Need: Center back depth
  • Secondary Need: Wing depth

The Red Bulls are currently four-deep at center back, which is usually enough, but there's a chance that either A) one (or a couple) of those four gets moved, or B) Gerhard Struber uses three CBs in a 3-5-2, or C) both. So my money's on them looking for a guy who can compete athletically at the CB spot.

Struber generally doesn't use wingers, but I could see them picking a winger-type here just to have a change-of-formation sub ready to go in tactical emergencies.

NYC

New York City FC

  • First-round pick: No. 17
  • Top Draft Need: Left back
  • Secondary Need: Center back depth

It's hard to imagine NYCFC snagging a starting left back with the 17th pick, but it's worth remembering that Minnesota got Chase Gasper at No. 15 a couple of years back. Lightning can strike in the teens.

What's more likely is that they sign a starting left back on the international market and pick the best remaining center back here, as they're thin in the middle.

NE

New England Revolution

  • First-round pick: No. 24
  • Top Draft Need: Center back depth
  • Secondary Need: Winger

The Revs have owned the draft lately, getting four solid players – Henry Kessler, Tajon Buchanan, DeJuan Jones and Brandon Bye – out of the past three drafts. That leaves them without many needs, and I'm pretty sure that means Bruce Arena will just take whoever he happens to perceive as the best talent available regardless of position.

Will that be someone from the University of Virginia? Probably.

NSH

Nashville SC

  • First-round pick: No. 20
  • Top Draft Need: Left back depth
  • Secondary Need: Right back depth

Nashville are technically two-deep at each spot, though it gets pretty questionable pretty quick on both sides. As with everyone else picking outside the top 10, they won't be looking for a starter, though it's worth remembering that they struck gold with right back Alistair Johnston at No. 11 last year.

MTL

CF Montreal

  • First-round pick: n/a
  • Top Draft Need: Best talent available
  • Secondary Need: More talent

Montreal made a pretty good move in trading their pick – 11th overall – and $225k of allocation cash to Austin for the rights to center back Kamal Miller. They don't pick until 63rd overall.

While I'm not expecting them to, it wouldn't be shocking to see Montreal trade back into the first round, and maybe even into the top 10.

MIN

Minnesota United FC

  • First-round pick: No. 25
  • Top Draft Need: Wing depth
  • Secondary Need: Forward depth

The Loons have done so well in the draft over the past few years, finding starters, rotation pieces and, in Mason Toye, a talented young attacker they flipped for a profit. That kind of business means that, like the Revs, they don't have a ton of needs. The needs that they do have – a starting center forward and wing depth – are unlikely to be addressed here.

It'll be the "best player" route for the Loons. And while that may not sound exciting, remember that they got Hassani Dotson with the 31st pick a couple years back.

MIA

Inter Miami CF

  • First-round picks: Nos. 10 & 26
  • Top Draft Need: Center back depth
  • Secondary Need: Fullback depth

It's not quite a full reboot, but it feels pretty close to that. There's a new head coach, a new front office and there's sure to be a whole lot of new players. Given Miami's cap situation – I don't think they have a lot of wiggle room – they'd do well to hit on one of these picks and get someone who can give them cheap minutes.

They'd do especially well if that guy happened to be a lockdown center back, which they were badly in need of last year.

LA

LA Galaxy

  • Frist-round pick: No. 16
  • Top Draft Need: Midfield ball-winner
  • Secondary Need: Backline depth

LA got this pick – Portland's natural first-rounder – as part of the Villafana deal, which is some good work. It'll look even better if they draft a guy who can play literally any of the defensive spots on the field (d-mid and the backline) at a league-average level for a few-hundred minutes this year. They are paper-thin back there, and their goals against numbers attest to as much.

LAFC

LAFC

  • First-round pick: No. 14
  • Top Draft Need: Starting 'keeper
  • Secondary Need: Central midfield depth

So I don't actually think that LAFC will come out of this draft with a new No. 1. But bear in mind that Bob Bradley is the same guy who's drafted Carlos Bocanegra, Eddie Gaven, Mike Magee, Rico Clark, Michael Bradley, Jeff Parke and Tristan Blackmon. He is absolutely not afraid to take a rookie and toss 'em to the wolves. Never has been.

Also bear in mind that 'keeper is one of two spots on this roster that can obviously be upgraded. The other is center forward, and my money's on that upgrade coming via a DP signing.

HOU

Houston Dynamo

  • First-round pick: No. 3
  • Top Draft Need: Starting center back
  • Secondary Need: Goalkeeper depth

The vast majority of the best center backs in MLS history have come via high first-round draft picks. Chad Marshall, Eddie Pope, Michael Parkhurst, Omar Gonzalez, Ike Opara, Walker Zimmerman, Matt Hedges, Matt Besler, Bocanegra... it's a long and distinguished list.

Houston need to add to it on Thursday, given the state of their backline.

DC

D.C. United

  • First-round pick: No. 4
  • Top Draft Need: Center back
  • Secondary Need: Left back depth

So the weird thing about the Hernan Losada hire is that he has preferred to line his team up in a 3-5-2 thus far in his brief managerial career. D.C. United, meanwhile, have a roster that was very much built with a 4-2-3-1 in mind because there are lots of wingers and very few center backs.

Whatever formation Losada goes with, D.C. don't need a starter as badly as Houston do. But it sure would help.

DAL

FC Dallas

  • First-round pick: No 15
  • Top Draft Need: An overlapping left-footed left back
  • Secondary Need: Winger depth

Because of their academy and history of drafting well, Dallas don't have very many needs. The vast majority of their upgrading needs to come at the top of the roster, where their DPs have consistently underperformed. They're not going to address that here.

But they could end up with a true, overlapping left-footed left back. Ryan Hollingshead is the league's best at that position but he's right-footed. Back-up John Nelson is an actual left-footer, but he doesn't get forward. That can sometimes narrow the field for Dallas.

CLB

Columbus Crew SC

  • First-round pick: No. 27
  • Top Draft Need: Back-up right back
  • Secondary Need: Central midfield depth

Harrison Afful, 34, is currently without a back-up after Columbus sold Chris Cadden. While I doubt his back-up (and/or heir) will come with the final pick of the first round, crazier things have happened.

The other place to look is central midfield, where two of the three starters (Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe) are injury-prone, and there's not a ton of depth behind them.

COL

Colorado Rapids

  • First-round pick: Nos. 6 & 21
  • Top Draft Need: Center forward 
  • Secondary Need: Left back depth

I do think there's a chance that Colorado could look for a starting No. 9 with that sixth pick, which they acquired from Chicago in exchange for $125k in allocation cash. You don't trade that kind of money for a pick unless you've got something in mind, and looking at Colorado's roster, there are only two real areas of concern. They're listed above in order of priority.

It's worth noting that the 21st pick is Dallas's natural selection, which the Rapids acquired, along with winger Michael Barrios, in exchange for the 15th pick. Good bit of business no matter who they select here.

CIN

FC Cincinnati

  • First-round pick: No. 2
  • Top Draft Need: Winger
  • Secondary Need: Left back depth

Cincinnati need talent damn near everywhere, so even at No. 2 "just take whoever you think is the best player on the board without regard for position" is the right call. You could make an argument for center forward, winger, center back, defensive midfield, goalkeeper... it's all on the table.

But I do think that winger is the place to look given that Calvin Harris is the consensus second-best player available and that Cincy really, really need wingers if they're going to play a 4-3-3.

CHI

Chicago Fire FC

  • First-round pick: n/a
  • Top Draft Need: Center back
  • Secondary Need: Defensive midfield depth

The Fire traded out off the first round, sending that No. 6 pick to Colorado for cash. It looks like any immediate reinforcements will have to be new signings, not draft picks.

ATX

Austin FC

  • First-round picks: Nos. 1 & 11
  • Top Draft Need: Central midfield
  • Secondary Need: Depth everywhere

Clemson's Kenyan box-to-box midfielder Philip Mayaka is the consensus No. 1 pick. I have not seen a mock draft or a big board anywhere, by anyone who does those sorts of things, that doesn't have him in the top slot. I will be shocked if anyone else goes first, and given Austin's needs, I will be shocked if the kid's not wearing verde two days from now.

With that No. 11 pick it's a pure "best player available" play. But you could certainly argue that with the state of Austin's roster, central midfield, center forward and center back demand more attention than the winger, fullback or goalkeeper positions.

ATL

Atlanta United

  • First-round pick: No. 5
  • Top Draft Need: Center back depth
  • Secondary Need: Goalkeeper depth

Atlanta have a pretty stocked roster, one with depth everywhere and real quality in a few spots, so it's hard to pinpoint exactly what they need coming out of this draft. But I'm going with center back given how iffy things are beyond the starting duo of Miles Robinson and Fernando Meza (and to be honest, things were pretty iffy even with them last year).

Unlike the other teams in the top five, it's not a complete disaster if Atlanta swing and miss here. But they'd sure make things easier on themselves if they got a cheap and reliable contributor at some spot on the field.

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