The true winners (or success) of the MLS SuperDraft 2021 presented by adidas won’t be known until a ball is kicked. And at this stage in the draft’s development, in a year's time, a draft class can be judged by how many players remain on a roster.
It was no surprise to see an ACC-heavy first round, as they were the only major conference to play in the fall of 2020. Twelve of the first 27 players selected came from the league. There’s also uncertainty as to when players will join up with their respective MLS teams right away, as some may stay in school for the spring season.
Still, there’s enough to glean, and something to grade from the 2021 Draft. Let’s get into it.
Atlanta United: A
Josh Bauer, at least from this pundit’s perspective, was the best center back available among the senior crop. He tumbled to Atlanta in the second round. Hard to fault United for going in that direction, as he also fits a need and can compete for a spot. Aiden McFadden, out of Notre Dame, is a hard-nosed midfielder that could either sign with Atlanta United 2 or play in the spring.
Austin FC: B
Both Daniel Pereira and Philip Mayaka are talented. That’s obvious. But from a fit perspective, the latter seemed a slightly safer bet to compete for minutes right away with the first overall pick. He’s physical, tough and can cover ground in ways that Pereira didn’t show in the ACC. There’s a lot to like about the other picks, however, especially Aedan Stanley and Daniel Steedman, who were quality ACC players in 2019 before signing with MLS-run USL teams in 2020. Keep an eye on goalkeeper Noah Lawrence, who played at Cincinnati before transferring to Ohio State in 2020 but didn’t have a chance to play there in the fall due to the pandemic.
Chicago Fire FC: B-
Having traded away its first-round pick in December, the Fire grabbed a pair of regionally-based college players to go with a talented attack from California. Jackson Ragen’s a 6-foot-6 center back from Michigan, and he’s someone that could play in the spring before coming into camp. Christian Pinzon had a stellar year at Cal State Fullerton and could come into preseason, as the Big West has already canceled soccer for the spring. Midfielder Mitch Guitar is under contract with Indy Eleven, but is certainly a bit of a sleeper as he’s a talented player that missed the 2019 college season due to injury.
FC Cincinnati: B+
Calvin Harris is talented and on a Generation adidas contract, so the pick makes sense from that perspective. The roster fit? There’s a lot of internationals on the team at the moment, so that’s where maybe going with a defender might have made more sense. Second-round pick Avionne Flanagan is an athletic, left-sided player that could make the team as an option at left back. Jonas Fjeldberg is a good stash, someone that could play in the spring and be closely monitored not too far away at Dayton.
Colorado Rapids: A
Trading up, Mayaka or Pereira were in play for the Rapids, and Colorado grabbed the former. Not much else to add when a team gets the top prospect with the third pick.
Columbus Crew SC: B+
The MLS Cup champs joined the ACC party, going with a solid defender in Justin Malou with the final pick of the first round. It’s decent value, depending on if the team views him as a right-sided center back or outside back. He’ll need to show he can get forward to really pan out. Joshua Jackson-Ketchup is a right back at Ohio State the Crew can monitor during the spring. The Crew gets bonus points for signing Isaiah Parente to a Homegrown contract from Wake Forest earlier this month.
FC Dallas: B-
Hard to argue with FCD’s approach here — protect academy assets that may end up with North Texas SC. Nicky Hernandez joined the USL League One team in 2020, already getting his pro career started. FCD now own his rights, as well as a pair of other grads from North Carolina in Mark Salas and Giovanni Montesdeoca.
D.C. United: C+
The moves D.C. made could certainly pan out. Kimarni Smith fills a need if he can be an impact player as a backup No. 9 — even though he played out on the left flank in a 4-3-3 for Clemson. But he does require an international spot, making it a bit riskier at fourth overall. Trading back into the draft for Michael DeShields at No. 5 was also a bit of a head-scratcher considering the other defenders out there. He showed well in stretches at Wake before getting injured last fall and is a local kid from Maryland. Second-round pick Logan Panchot has a shot to make the roster, depending on if he stays in Stanford for the spring or dives in right away.
Houston Dynamo: A
It was a good day for the Dynamo. After trading for Derrick Jones, and reuniting him with Tab Ramos, Houston made smart picks. Trading down and reinforcing the backline with a Generation adidas player like Ethan Bartlow was a good start; Kris Strickler is the kind of player to roll the dice on in the second round, as he’s a proven ACC goal-scorer. SMU defender Brandon Terwege is expected to play college in the spring, so the Dynamo can monitor the center back and see if he’s ready to join the team at some point in the next year.
Nothing wrong with LAFC’s approach, as the draft isn’t going to be crucial to the team’s roster build. Two of the team’s picks, Daniel Trejo and Alvaro Quezada will be known well to the technical staff, as they played in the Big West. CC Uche is a low-risk, high reward pick after missing the bulk of 2019 due to injury. If he’s fit, sharp and healthy, he could make the team — always a bonus from a third-round pick.
LA Galaxy: B-
Two players from Denver University head to LA in the form of Josh Drack, a converted left back, and Preston Judd. Drack, if he can defend, has the potential to be a depth player at the back but could start out with LA Galaxy II. Judd, who signed with Sporting KC II, faces longer odds, and it would be tricky to sign him to LA’s USL Championship side. Better options were out there for sure, but there’s enough intrigue here not to get too low.
Inter Miami CF: C+
The draft isn’t going to be where Miami turns things around, though they did come away with some intriguing additions. Joshua Penn has upside, but is under contract with Indy Eleven. Aime Mabika is a mammoth center back that showed well in flashes, though he needs to show the mobility to defend in MLS. Second-round pick Joe Hafferty, a former Sounders Academy product out of Oregon State, was later traded to Seattle for a second-round pick in 2022.
Minnesota United FC: B
The Loons went with the upside play with Justin McMaster. If he’s healthy and back to his best, he could create havoc as an option on the wing. Nabi Kibunguchy has what it takes to make the roster, especially if he shows that he can play as both a defensive midfielder and central defender in MLS. Georgetown left back Sean O’Hearn may have the best chance of making the roster from preseason as a backup to Chase Gasper.
CF Montreal: A
Picking just once in the third round, Montreal did get a player with at least decent intrigue. Giuseppe Barone hasn’t played a college season since 2018, missing the bulk of 2019 due to injury. If he’s able to be sharp and bring quality, he’s a dark horse to make the roster. At that point in the draft, it’s definitely a win. Montreal gets an A for the moves made with these draft picks. Kamal Miller and Mason Toye are both more proven in MLS than anyone available at either slot.
Nashville SC: B-
Once again, Nashville used all of their picks — even the last one at 86. Who can stick? Irakoze Donasiyano has versatility and pedigree coming from Virginia. The rest may play the spring season and can be tracked. Thomas Judge is a modern left back, and if he can show the requisite level of quickness and defensive ability, making the roster doesn’t seem a stretch. Nashville do only have two goalkeepers signed, and Tor Saunders had a great 2020 with Coastal Carolina.
New England Revolution: C+
There were good center backs on the table in the end of the first round that the Revolution passed on, going with Pitt forward Edward Kizza instead. Kizza could prove to be a good finisher, though Aime Mabika and Josh Bauer were there for the taking. Protecting the MLS rights of New England Revolution II signing Francois Dulysse was savvy.
New York City FC: B
After moving out of the first round for allocation money, NYCFC took right back Ben Di Rosa. He has a shot at making the roster, and could even stay at Maryland for the spring season. The same could be said about Vuk Latinovich, a midfielder out of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
New York Red Bulls: B+
There’s a point to be made that going with one of several center backs in the first round was the better move. However, forward Luther Archimede has the tools to excel via the Red Bull pathway. Few players on the board have the traits to succeed with the Red Bull style of play, making Archimede a good pick. Lamine Conte and goalkeeper AJ Marcucci will most likely get the chance to prove their pro prospects with Red Bulls II.
Orlando City SC: C+
The Lions were all over the place with their picks. Derek Dodson came off the board a shade too high for my liking. Rio Hope-Gund looks a solid bet to at least make the roster as a center back — if there is space. He’ll likely go toe-to-toe with Brandon Hackenberg for a spot there. Picking Andrew Pannenberg gives them a goalkeeper with upside to challenge for a third-keeper spot.
Philadelphia Union: A+
Gotta play the kids right? Philadelphia’s commitment to sign and develop young talent, while trading picks away for allocation money is a great strategy for me.
Portland Timbers: B+
Traded away the No. 8 pick, nabbed some allocation money that will surely put into use. Dawson McCartney, picked in the second round, comes to Portland from Dartmouth and will try to earn a spot on the team. Diego Gutierrez has shown flashes at Omaha, before he transferred to Creighton for his senior season, which was canceled. He could stay in school, play in the spring and either join Portland or be traded if he shows well.
Real Salt Lake: B+
Getting GA flexibility with the No. 7 pick, Bret Halsey has potential to compete for minutes at right back. Elijah Amo and Aris Briggs are likely destined for the Monarchs, although the latter is a big 6-foot-4 forward that could surprise.
San Jose Earthquakes: C+
A good example of going local to try and fit a need is the direction San Jose took at No. 12 in Thomas Williamson. There are arguments out there that better picks were out there, but he could slot in as a rotational No. 9.
Seattle Sounders: C+
Would you rather have Aime Mabika or Roman Torres? Seattle were in the middle of a playoff chase so hard to fault the team for pulling the trigger in trying to win in 2020. Goalkeeper TJ Bush has a shot to make the roster as a third-string shot-stopper, as the Sounders only have Trey Muse and Stefan Frei under contract. The Sounders later picked up Miami's second-round pick Joe Hafferty. He’s a versatile player that will look to make the roster as an outside back or defensive midfielder.
Sporting KC: A
Any club that signs three homegrown players before the draft (including one from Clemson in Grayson Barber) gets an A in my book. Sporting did grab Matthew Constant (North Carolina) and Jamil Roberts (Marshall) in the second and third round, and both seem destined for Sporting KC II.
Toronto FC: B+
Trade down the first round for allocation money? Check. Get a player with the No. 25 pick that has a good chance of making the roster? Check. Matt Di Rosa may not have huge upside, and could still play in the spring season. However, he comes from a Maryland program that churns out pros on a regular basis and fills out the depth chart at left back. Nathaniel Crofts was an inconsistent winger at Virginia that faces an uphill climb to edge out some of the young Canadian talent already on the roster. TFC used all their picks, tapping intriguing college players like Paul Rothrock (Georgetown) and Jon-Talen Maples (SMU).
Vancouver Whitecaps: B
Picking David Egbo at No. 9 got Vancouver’s draft off to a strong start, and for the most part, it was a good day. Javain Brown is an athletic defender out of South Florida that could potentially serve as right back depth to Jake Nerwinski or even play centrally in a pinch. RSL Academy product Eric Iloski was grabbed in the second round, and fits the profile of someone that could be stashed in school this spring to get games and see where he is; it’s a similar profile to Michigan defender Joel Harrison, Vancouver’s final pick of the day.