Cheat sheet for team needs in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft

The 2022 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas is next Tuesday, Jan. 11 (2:30 pm ET). While it's fair to say the centrality of the draft as a player acquisition tool has faded in recent years, it is still a big deal.

Just ask last year’s Revs, who won the Supporters’ Shield and set the single-season points record with a backline that came entirely via the SuperDraft. Or ask Orlando City, busy counting their millions after selling Daryl Dike to West Brom.

So, as always, you should pay attention.

With that in mind, here's the cheat sheet I've made for myself, focused on team needs that I think can be addressed with draft picks. Understand that this isn't a list of the most important thing they can address on the entire roster – nobody's going to draft a Lorenzo Insigne next week – but rather a list of what I think these teams will be looking for when their name is called.

We’ll go in reverse alphabetical order:

Vancouver Whitecaps FC logo
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
  • First-Round Pick: 16
  • Top Draft Need: whatever

The ‘Caps, who’ve done such good work rebuilding the roster with big-money imports and smart-money intra-league moves, just don’t have much in the way of needs. Chances are they’ll pick whoever they think happens to be the best available domestic talent.

Toronto FC logo
Toronto FC
  • First-Round Pick: n/a
  • Top Draft Need: Backline help

EDITOR'S NOTE: Toronto traded the No. 3 overall pick and Dom Dwyer to FC Dallas, then Dwyer's contract was bought out. No more first-round pick for the Reds.

TFC have a bunch of holes to fill, and it wouldn’t shock me if they went in an unexpected direction here.

That said, Bob Bradley has a pattern: He takes domestic defenders when they’re available. Every first-round pick he made with the Fire was a defender. Every first-round pick he made with the Metrostars was a defender or d-mid. With Chivas USA he picked defender Marvell Wynne (then flipped him for Sacha Kljestan, to be fair), while his first two picks in LAFC’s inaugural draft were a left back and a right back.

Given that precedent and TFC’s need, I think the direction here’s pretty clear.

Sporting Kansas City logo
Sporting Kansas City
  • First-Round Pick: 22
  • Top Draft Need: Backline depth

You’re unlikely to find starters at this point in the draft but you can find contributors. In fact, Sporting’s pick last year was 23rd, and Javain Brown was the pick. He’s really good!

Unfortunately, he was picked by Vancouver, who’d acquired that pick for Erik Hurtado the year before. Ooops.

It’s weird, though. Sporting damn near built a dynasty via the draft, getting Chance Myers, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Teal Bunbury, CJ Sapong and Dom Dwyer from 2008 to 2012. Since then their best pick has been… Saad Abdul-Salaam, probably?

This isn’t a player acquisition method they seem to value anymore, but if a serviceable defender is available here, they should go for it.

Seattle Sounders FC logo
Seattle Sounders FC
  • First-Round Pick: 20
  • Top Draft Need: whatever

This is the highest the Sounders have picked since taking Cristian Roldan 16th back in 2015. Since then only one player – younger brother Alex Roldan, picked 22nd in 2018 – has emerged via the draft and stuck around for a decent amount of time.

They have no needs so there’s no urgency here.

  • First-Round Pick: 8
  • Top Draft Need: Center back or left back depth

The Quakes are not the types to blow off the draft, though it’s worth noting last year’s first-rounder, forward Tommy Williamson (12th pick), was cut after one year and zero appearances.

Still, they’ve had some success recently with the likes of Jackson Yueill and Tanner Beason, and could use another Beason-type pick here. San Jose’s thin behind him and Nathan at center back, and have just one natural left back on the roster. Getting a guy here who can contribute right away could make things a lot easier in 2022.

Real Salt Lake logo
Real Salt Lake
  • First-Round Pick: 25
  • Top Draft Need: Fullback depth

Donny Toia was released and there have been rumors about Aaron Herrera drawing (justified) European interest for a while. RSL have often found solutions to these sorts of problems via the academy, and that might once again be the case here, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

What I’m saying is that any left-footer who can kick a soccer ball is worth a flier with this pick.

Portland Timbers logo
Portland Timbers
  • First-Round Pick: 27
  • Top Draft Need: Fullback depth

The Timbers are pretty famously uninterested in the SuperDraft and in developing any players acquired via it. They did hit big twice – Darlington Nagbe somehow fell to them way back in 2011, and Jeremy Ebobisse in 2017 – and George Fochive, taken 39th back in 2014, has been a useful squad player off and on over the years.

But the truth is whoever is taken here is very likely to play no role for the Timbers.

Philadelphia Union logo
Philadelphia Union
  • First-Round Pick: n/a
  • Top Draft Need: whatever

Another team that has no real interest in the draft. GM Ernst Tanner even said as much a few years back after trading out of the 2019 SuperDraft in its entirety, saying that he’d rather the developmental roster spots go to academy kids. This time he traded his team’s first-rounder (26th) to Nashville as part of a draft-day trade last year.

Fair enough! It’s hard to argue against the success Philly’s had with those kids. Though it’s also hard to argue with the success they had via the draft, getting guys like Andre Blake, Keegan Rosenberry, Jack Elliott and Raymon Gaddis over the years.

Orlando City SC logo
Orlando City SC
  • First-Round Pick: 18
  • Top Draft Need: Center back depth

Orlando went from one of the best drafts imaginable – getting Dike 5th overall and turning him into an eight-figure transfer out – to one of the worst, when they cut both of last year’s first-rounders after just one season.

They need to replace Dike, as well as Nani and Chris Mueller, but they won’t likely be doing that with a mid-first round pick. What’s more likely is that they’ll see if there’s a center back they value at that spot, one who can actually make the roster, stick around and maybe soak up some minutes when the incumbents need a rest.

New York Red Bulls logo
New York Red Bulls
  • First-Round Pick: 15
  • Top Draft Need: Central midfield or left back

Despite a barren past couple of years, RBNY have consistently been one of the best drafting teams in the league, and they don’t always need a high pick to do it. In 2019 they got Sean Nealis 25th, while the year before that they took Brian White 16th, Tom Barlow 39th and Jared Stroud 83rd.

As it stands their central midfield depth chart is pretty barren, though they can fix that by sliding John Tolkin inside. That, of course, would leave left back/wingback barren, so it seems a good bet that the Red Bull braintrust will target one of those two spots.

Do I really think they’ll find a starter here? No. But nobody really thought Nealis or White were going to be MLS starters, and both certainly are – even if it took a while for them to get there.

New York City FC logo
New York City FC
  • First-Round Pick: 28
  • Top Draft Need: Center back depth

The Pigeons have only three center backs on the roster, one of whom was taken in last year’s SuperDraft (Vuk Latinovic, 71st overall).

In truth I expect them to address the need for depth here via the transfer market, but if the 71st pick can make the team one year, it stands to reason the 28th can the next.

  • First-Round Pick: 24
  • Top Draft Need: whatever

The Revs don’t have any glaring needs that they should address here in large part because they’ve done such great work addressing their needs via the draft over the past half-decade. Guys like Brandon Bye, DeJuan Jones and Henry Kessler are going to be around for a while; Andrew Farrell already has been. When you’re able to take potential like that and mold it into productivity, you won’t have too many roster-building worries to address with a late first-round pick.

So what’s most likely is that Bruce Arena will pick a kid to stash with the MLS NEXT Pro side for a year and see if he turns into someone who can contribute down the line.

Nashville SC logo
Nashville SC
  • First-Round Pick: 26
  • Top Draft Need: whatever

Nashville’s roster is pretty full, though even late first-rounders have a decent chance of making the cut given the academy is so nascent it’s not producing any first-teamers as of yet. “Best talent available” should be the call here, though maybe with a focus on speed, specifically from wide areas?

Worth noting: the Six Strings traded their natural first-rounder (21st) to the Galaxy for Ethan Zubak. I found that to be a weird one given that Zubak doesn’t really fill a need, but Nashville’s been much more good than bad with regard to intra-league player acquisitions, so I’ll leave the criticism at that for now.

CF Montréal logo
CF Montréal
  • First-Round Pick: 11
  • Top Draft Need: Goalkeeper

EDITOR'S NOTE: Over the weekend, Montréal re-signed goalkeeper Sebastian Breza on loan from Serie A sister club Bolgona. Their trio for 2022 could very well be sorted now.

Olivier Renard’s made a ton of moves from within the league over the past couple of years, and basically all of them have been very good. What he hasn’t done, though, is acquire a contributor via the SuperDraft. Yet.

Montréal have a chance to change that here, and might even get to address their most obvious need. They do have two young(ish) ‘keepers in the fold already in James Pantemis and Jonathan Sirois, but neither has been particularly convincing. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that “best ‘keeper available” here turns into “starting ‘keeper in 2022.”

Minnesota United FC logo
Minnesota United FC
  • First-Round Pick: 17
  • Top Draft Need: Central midfield

The Loons have largely made good use of the draft, picking up starters in Chase Gasper and Hassani Dotson, as well as taking Mason Toye then flipping him for $750k in combined Allocation Money (though I wager they’d like to have him back, given the need for a starting-caliber true center forward). And much of their depth elsewhere – in goal, on the wing, on the backline – has come from the SuperDraft.

They’ll want to add to the central midfield depth chart this time around with Dotson slated to slide into the XI next to Wil Trapp. The 17th pick is not too low to make that happen – Dotson himself was picked 31st overall back in 2019.

Inter Miami CF logo
Inter Miami CF
  • First-Round Pick: 9
  • Top Draft Need: Right back

Can Inter get a starting-caliber right back here? It would really help them navigate the cap crunch they’re facing due to the league-imposed sanctions handed down last spring. Nothing can provide breathing room like a few draft picks hitting and making big overseas spending unnecessary.

Miami have not been great at that thus far, though. While former No. 1 pick Robbie Robinson is still around, they traded away Dylan Nealis (taken third overall in 2020) and released Josh Penn (10th in 2021) after just one year.

They literally can not afford to miss so badly this year. Whether it’s a right back or not, they need to find a contributor.

  • First-Round Pick: 21
  • Top Draft Need: Fullback depth

They traded their natural 14th selection to FC Cincy, but then jumped into the first round with the 21st pick when they sent little-used Homegrown center forward Ethan Zubak to Nashville.

It’s worth noting that last year’s first-rounder, left back Josh Drack, wasn’t signed to an MLS contract. Instead he spent the year with Los Dos in the USL and was productive as hell, registering 2g/9a in about 2300 minutes. I expect he’ll sign a first-team deal and slot into the depth chart behind veteran Jorge Villafana, which makes right back a more pressing issue than left back.

  • First-Round Pick: n/a
  • Top Draft Need: Goalkeeper

They traded their natural first-rounder, 10th overall, along with Mark-Anthony Kaye to Colorado for $1 million of GAM and an international roster slot. I bet when they made that move they thought that pick would be a lot lower than 10th.

Anyway, LAFC badly need a goalkeeper and a d-mid. I don’t think they’re planning to get either via the SuperDraft.

Houston Dynamo FC logo
Houston Dynamo FC
  • First-Round Pick: 4
  • Top Draft Need: Center forward

Another year, another high draft pick for the Dynamo. The hope will be that new head coach Paulo Nagamura actually develops whoever is selected here, which the previous head coaches mostly failed to do.

For a team that’s spent so long in the basement and that has seemed ripe for a rebuild, Houston’s got a weirdly stuffed roster. There are no areas of obvious thinness aside from center forward, and while lots of good center forwards have come out of the SuperDraft, Pat Onstad’s got three open DP slots to work with. I expect him to actually go that route to fill the No. 9 hole.

So the real path here is probably “best talent available regardless of position.”

D.C. United logo
D.C. United
  • First-Round Pick: 13
  • Top Draft Need: Goalkeeper depth

Bill Hamid is obviously the man now, and for the next half-decade, but there are no other ‘keepers officially on this roster. And the drop-off from Hamid to back-up Jon Kempin last year was SUBSTANTIAL.

If there’s a ‘keeper they like on the board at 13, this one should be a no-brainer.

FC Dallas logo
FC Dallas
  • First-Round Pick: 3 & 6
  • Top Draft Need: Center forward

Dallas have one DP center forward on the roster in Franco Jara, and I suspect they’ll use some of the Ricardo Pepi windfall to add another. So picking a center forward here when you’ve already spent two DP slots on that spot seems like overkill.

Maybe it is! But if you’re a Dallas fan, would you want to go into the season with just a two-deep center forward depth chart, and with one of them solidly into his mid-30s and a history of struggling to produce in MLS?

Another thing to consider: Dallas don’t have another Pepi coming. Their academy isn’t precisely dry, but the 2004s and onward aren’t as highly regarded as the 1999s through 2003s were/are, and none of the center forwards coming up look like sure things.

So getting a young No. 9 to work on here makes sense. Give him 2000 minutes with North Texas in 2022 and see what’s what for 2023 and beyond.

  • First-Round Pick: 12
  • Top Draft Need: Center back depth

After an offseason purge the Crew have just three center backs rostered, two of whom are in their 30s.

Truth is I think they’ll probably add a veteran at that spot and will just go best available here, but center back and left back are the two areas of obvious need.

Colorado Rapids logo
Colorado Rapids
  • First-Round Pick: 10 & 23
  • Top Draft Need: Center forward

If the Rapids make the right acquisitions this offseason they have the chance to jump from a 60-point darkhorse to 65 or 70-point elite contender. The biggest need is a center forward who can put the ball in the net 15-20 times a year, which I don’t think they’ll find in the SuperDraft (at least night right away).

Still, the Rapids are good about making moves, developing players and taking their time with things. Getting a true No. 9 and stashing them in MLS NEXT Pro for a year could end up paying real dividends down the road, and give them the flexibility they could need should they want to flip fully developed players for Allocation Money or other assets.

  • First-Round Pick: 2 & 14
  • Top Draft Need: Central midfield

Forget depth: I’m not sure Cincy even have starting-caliber guys in deep central midfield. Or on the backline. Or right back.

I’m also not sure that any of the above will get addressed here. This is a team that, generally speaking, lacks talent, and just needs to get a bunch more of it at any spot. Even if it’s a guy that doesn’t necessarily fit the system that Pat Noonan wants to run, a talented young player can at least be used as a trade piece.

So yes, “best talent available” is the real answer here, for both picks. Though if I was a Cincy fan I’d be keeping my fingers crossed that 2022 Generation adidas class center back Kipp Keller drops to No. 2.

  • First-Round Pick: 7
  • Top Draft Need: D-mid/CB depth

The Fire have open DP slots and it’s a good bet that they’ll be spent on the “3” line of the 4-2-3-1. They also have a bit of veteran depth and a couple of promising Homegrowns coming up, so that area of the pitch isn’t as barren as it currently appears on the depth chart.

D-mid isn’t precisely barren either, and I actually like what they have at center back for the first time in forever. But one more guy to add who can hopefully contribute at both spots makes sense for a team that looks set to reap the rewards of finally leaning into their Homegrown potential.

  • First-Round Pick: 1
  • Top Draft Need: Center back

Domestic center backs are worth their weight in gold, and most elite teams over the years have had at least one domestic CB. Many have had two.

The 2022 Generation adidas class contains Kipp Keller, a big, left-footed domestic CB who played both in the midfield and in defense for St. Louis University. And everyone I’ve spoken with around the league thinks he’ll go in the top two – he's highly rated.

I wouldn’t overcomplicate this if I was Charlotte.

  • First-Round Pick: 5
  • Top Draft Need: Center back or left back

I’m not convinced that Austin have a single starting-caliber CB on the roster, and they certainly have no LB depth behind Zan Kolmanic.

With the fifth pick they should figure out how to address one or the other of those needs.

  • First-Round Pick: 19
  • Top Draft Need: Right back

A host of offseason moves have left Brooks Lennon as the only right back on the depth chart in Atlanta these days. Getting a prospect here who can develop into a contributor – maybe, if they’re lucky, even be one right away – could ease some offseason shopping needs and allow a bit more flexibility.