With the 2021 MLS SuperDraft just around the corner, it’s only natural to reminisce about when clubs made particularly impactful selections. And as someone who can’t resist the temptation of making a best-of list, that's exactly what’s in store.
The history of the SuperDraft begins in 2000, so we'll skip over the years before. My old faithful "fluid formula" (patent pending) was used to judge the ranking, with all possible factors considered.
MLS achievements take priority, but exploits in foreign leagues and international play do count, especially with exceptional cases. Full careers were taken into account, but I threw in a few bonus points when the drafting team enjoyed monster benefits from their own choice.
Most important of all was the value gained above-expected dividends for draft position (heretofore abbreviated as xD@DP maybe?). To me, that's the true test of selection quality. We can all agree that Andre Blake is a great franchise cornerstone, but No. 1 picks should be – even if they quite routinely are not. I went searching for players who provided the most worth relative to where they were taken.
As such, I stuck away from guys picked in the overall top 10, because, ya know, they're supposed to be really good. Still, it took all my strength to keep from those like Clint Dempsey, Julian Gressel (both taken eighth overall) and Michael Parkhurst (ninth) eligible for this honor roll.
Still, there were plenty worthy options to make up a healthy honorable mentions section: Jonathan Bornstein (37th overall, 2006), Omar Cummings (39th, 2007), Jim Curtin (29th, 2001), Alan Gordon (53th, 2004), Sean Johnson (51th, 2010), Aaron Long (36th, 2014), Ian Russell (52nd, 2000), Gonzalo Segares (35th, 2006) and Kerry Zavagnin (30th, 2000).
No. 10: Brian Ching (LA Galaxy)
16th overall (2nd round), 2001
Unlike most players on this ranking, Ching didn't do much for the team that snared him in a forward-rich draft. It was one season and done with the LA Galaxy, who trimmed him from the roster to make way for Carlos Ruiz. Ching then spent a few years in San Jose, and was just coming into his own when they won the 2003 MLS Cup. After that franchise moved to Houston, he was the essential man up top in two more league title triumphs. When he retired, the Hawaiian had 90 MLS goals (regular season and playoffs combined), a Golden Boot, an MLS Cup MVP award and 45 US men’s national team caps to his credit.
No. 9: Davy Arnaud (Sporting Kansas City)
50th overall (5th round), 2002
The list of notable contributors taken this low is short and sweet. Arnaud somehow managed to do his fine Sporting KC work in between most of their title-winning (just one U.S. Open Cup triumph on his ledger), but they certainly got their chip's worth in the 50th draft slot. A hard flank worker, he'd post 43 goals and 36 helpers in his 252 total MLS contests. Arnaud, now an Austin FC assistant coach, also played for D.C. United and CF Montreal.
No. 8: Luis Robles (D.C. United)
50th overall (4th round), 2007
A few years down the road, D.C. United used the same pick to select the only goalkeeper on this list. Robles never signed for them, opting instead to develop in Germany. When he returned to America, the Arizona native became one of the premier MLS backstops of the last decade. He played every minute for his first five full seasons in New York, eventually working 183 straight league games. Robles, who guarded the goal for three Supporters’ Shield-winning Red Bull sides and won a Goalkeeper of the Year prize, retired sixth in career wins (114) and eighth on the MLS shutouts chart (72).
No. 7: Alejandro Moreno (LA Galaxy)
27th overall (3rd round), 2002
The stats don't leap off the page for a guy who played 11 seasons; 53 goals and 43 helpers of MLS production is quite good, but not the stuff of top-tier legends. However, Moreno was an energetic presence and supplemental scorer on some truly excellent sides. He’s the only player in league history to claim MLS Cup with three different clubs and take the Supporters’ Shield for three different clubs. Just to round out his value, LA also landed early 2010s dynasty staple Todd Dunivant when trading Moreno.
No. 6: Edson Buddle (Columbus Crew SC)
27th overall (3rd round), 2001
One year earlier, the LA Galaxy used the same exact spot to select a striker who’s one of just 11 players to reach 100 MLS regular-season goals (on the nose, in his case). Columbus got 42 of those goals and Eddie Gaven via trade in 2010. Briefly interrupted by a fairly productive year away in Germany's second flight, Buddle raised the Supporters’ Shield with two different clubs, earned a Best XI place and helped win MLS Cup 2012. He didn't have much impact with the USMNT, but two of his 11 caps came during important World Cup 2010 results.
No. 5: Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution)
14th overall (2nd round), 2002
When you grab a guy in the second round and he’s elite at his position league-wide for nearly a decade, it's a jackpot pick. Joseph was a constant source of backline protection while doubling as the most attack-proficient defensive midfielder in league history. It's a shame the Revs didn't win more than one Open Cup and one SuperLiga when he was on board, but three MLS Cup trips and four MLS Best XI citations speak volumes.
No. 4: Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
23rd overall (2nd round), 2009
The longtime Sporting Kansas City man lands ahead of Joseph thanks to a healthier share of club bonus points. He only narrowly trails all-time appearance leader Matt Besler, too. Zusi, who shifted from the wing to right back a few years ago, has recorded 29 goals and 72 assists in total MLS play. He helped paint the wall with an MLS Cup and three U.S. Open Cup crowns, then chalked up 55 USMNT caps and time at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
No. 3: Jozy Altidore (New York Red Bulls)
17th overall (2nd round), 2006
Like the two picks that follow, Altidore sits on a high perch with a big boost from what he accomplished outside MLS. The Red Bulls did get 16 goals in 41 games out of the teen striker before selling him to Villarreal for a $10 million fee. He proceeded to run hot-and-cold overseas, but packed a 31-goal campaign (still an American Exports-in-Europe record), an Eredivisie Team of the Season nod and a Dutch Cup-winning strike into his two-year stretch with AZ Alkmaar. He returned to MLS six years ago, and has bagged 67 goals and a slew of trophies with Toronto FC. Meanwhile, Altidore was busy racking up 42 goals (third all-time) in 115 caps as headlined by two US Soccer Player of the Year prizes and the winner in the famous Confederations Cup semifinal upset of a previously unbeatable Spain side.
No. 2: Michael Bradley (New York Red Bulls)
36th overall (4th round), 2004
Yeah, the current Toronto FC skipper only played one capable season for the team that drafted him, and yeah, the MetroStars (now Red Bulls) pretty much sold him to Heerenveen for peanuts. Nevertheless, Bradley authored a lot of fine performances in the Eredivisie, Bundesliga and Serie A. At the same time, he was a leading figure with USMNT, aiding two World Cup knockout runs and the famous 2009 Confederations Cup runners-up showing during his 151 caps to-date. Then he came back to MLS at 26 to captain Toronto FC through one of the mightiest club eras in league history.
No. 1: Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo)
42nd (3rd round), 2008
Arguments could be made that would sway the ordinal rank here and there, but you’d struggle to convince me that Cameron shouldn't be numero uno on this list. Talk about rate of return on investment. He was easily the lowest overall pick out of the top seven here, and Houston saw plenty of profit from the defensive handyman's four-and-a-half seasons in town (including a Best XI campaign and an MLS Cup appearance). They also pocketed when he departed for a solid Premier League career. Cameron, who's still plugging away dutifully at Queens Park Rangers, also enjoyed a decent World Cup 2014 among his 53 USMNT caps.