Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Ranking the 2015-2020 MLS SuperDrafts: Which was best?

The Major League Soccer starting gun fires next week.

We’ve spent post-MLS Cup December and early January lulled into a sleepy holiday trance by the syncopation beat of transfers, trades, free agency, draft mechanisms and the ever-present rumor mill. But on Tuesday (Jan. 11), the whole league will gather virtually for the 2022 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas.

From the SuperDraft, players, trialists and staffers from 28 clubs will pack their bags and report for preseason across North America. Training camps open in a couple of days for some teams, and then we’re rolling downhill fast until MLS Cup on Nov. 5. How fast? As of Friday, there are only 39 days until competitive soccer (Concacaf Champions League Round of 16) and 50 from MLS opening day on Feb. 26.

But first the SuperDraft! The headline gave it away, but we’re here to compare, contrast and, ultimately, rank the draft classes of what I am calling, strictly for the sake of convenience, the “modern” era of the draft from 2015-2020. The handicap is that each group only gets to put forth five players.

I will admit here that my science is inexact. There are no control variables or standard measurements, just a fun thought experiment.

These lists are the highest-level answer to, “Does the SuperDraft still matter?” It absolutely does if you take the talent available seriously. We’re talking players who’ve been transferred for tens of millions of dollars/millions in MLS Allocation Money or cash from abroad, Best XI and All-Star selections, decorated internationals, MLS Cup winners and league history makers. They’re the sort of players teams are built around.

You might have noticed that I’m not officially ranking the Class of 2021. So far, they’re not even in the conversation with 2015-2020, and I don’t think it’s a fair fight anyway after only one season.

However, I would like to shout out Vancouver Whitecaps FC fullback Javain Brown and Austin FC midfielder Daniel Pereira for making impacts in their first professional seasons. May there be more who follow.

This year, as always, there is talent available, and the players who fare the best post-draft day are almost always the ones who find the best fit. You’ll see that reflected in my rankings, which you are free to discuss/disagree with on Twitter. All draft classes are ordered by selection!

Class of 2015
  • Cyle Larin (No. 1 overall, 1st Round, Orlando City)
  • Matt Polster (No. 7 overall, 1st Round, Chicago Fire)
  • Tim Parker (No. 13 overall, 1st Round, Vancouver Whitecaps)
  • Cristian Roldan (No. 16 overall, 1st Round, Seattle Sounders)
  • Tyler Miller (No. 33 overall, 2nd Round, Seattle Sounders)

Also considered: Khiry Shelton (No. 2), Alex Bono (No. 6), Dominique Badji (No. 67)

I know, I know. It’s kinda BS to give the guys with the most years the top spot.

I had the 2015 group second to 2019, then flip-flopped at the last minute. Why? Larin beats out Tajon Buchanan as the “crown gem” of the group (for now, at least) and the career impact, individual and club accomplishments and future leadership role for Cristian Roldan in Seattle doesn’t have an equal. From there, it’s roughly like-for-like: a mix of fringe internationals and MLS starters, with the caveat that 2019 is nowhere close to reaching its ceiling.

Class of 2019
  • Tajon Buchanan (No. 9 overall, 1st Round, New England Revolution)
  • DeJuan Jones (No. 11 overall, 1st Round, New England Revolution)
  • Chase Gasper (No. 15 overall, 1st Round, Minnesota United)
  • Sean Nealis (No. 25 overall, 2nd Round, New York Red Bulls)
  • Kamal Miller (No. 27 overall, 2nd Round, Orlando City)

Also considered: Frankie Amaya (No. 1), Andre Shinyashiki (No. 5), Dayne St. Clair (No. 7), Hassani Dotson (No. 31)

This class has it all: big-time European transfer/Best XI player, two of the best young left backs in the league, two of the best young centerbacks in the league and an “also considered” bench with a seven-figure allocation trade, Rookie of the Year and key cogs for a perennial playoff team. All are likely to get better (perhaps much better) as well.

Class of 2017
  • Miles Robinson (No. 2 overall, 1st Round, Atlanta United)
  • Jeremy Ebobisse (No. 4 overall, 1st Round, Portland Timbers)
  • Jackson Yueill (No. 6 overall, 1st Round, San Jose Earthquakes)
  • Julian Gressel (No. 8 overall, 1st Round, Atlanta United)
  • Jack Elliott (No. 77 overall, 4th Round, Philadelphia Union)

Also considered: Jonathan Lewis (No. 3), Lalas Abubakar (No. 5), Jake Nerwinski (No. 7)

I could move 2017 up to No. 2 and you probably wouldn’t blink an eye.

Robinson is the best of the class, a Best XI and MLS Cup-winning central defender who appears to be a sure-fire Octagonal starter for the USMNT and potential European transfer. His career appears to be on the verge of another level.

The rest of the class is rock solid. Gressel is probably the league’s best crosser (and also an MLS Cup winner). Elliott is a perennially underappreciated all-league quality defender. Ebobisse is expected to be a double-digit scorer in San Jose, where Yueill is the captain and has gotten lots of run for the USMNT.

Class of 2020
  • Robbie Robinson (No. 1 overall, 1st Round, Inter Miami)
  • Daryl Dike (No. 5 overall, 1st Round, Orlando City)
  • Henry Kessler (No. 6 overall, 1st Round, New England Revolution)
  • Alistair Johnston (No. 11 overall, 1st Round, Nashville SC)
  • Nkosi Tafari (No. 14 overall, 1st Round, FC Dallas)

Honorable mention: Miguel Berry (No. 7), Jon Bell (No. 38)

Despite Dike (and Johnston!), I’ve got 2020 a touch below the rest. Kessler, Robinson and Tafari all appear to be solid MLS starters with yet unrealized potential. That’s understandable (and promising). They still have time to grow into bigger roles in their careers. This group could very well rise up these rankings in the future.

Class of 2016
  • Jack Harrison (No. 1 overall, 1st Round, NYCFC)
  • Keegan Rosenberry (No. 3 overall, 1st Round, Philadelphia Union)
  • Fabian Herbers (No. 6 overall, 1st Round, Philadelphia Union
  • Richie Laryea (No. 7 overall, 1st Round, Orlando City)
  • Tony Alfaro (No. 27 overall, 2nd Round, Seattle Sounders)

Also considered: Brandon Vincent (No. 4 overall), Andrew Tarbell (No. 8)

Strange to see a draft class with Jack Harrison so far down the list, huh?

I was surprised, too, but it comes down to the depth of the class for me. Harrison (multi-million dollar transfer, EPL star), Rosenberry (solid AF MLS starter) and Laryea (international and club difference-maker reportedly on the way to the Championship) is a helluva trio. But other years are stronger five deep – and even more so if you drop down into the “also considered” category.

Class of 2018
  • Tristan Blackmon (No. 3 overall, 1st Round, LAFC)
  • Chris Mueller (No. 6 overall, 1st Round, Orlando City)
  • Brandon Bye (No. 8 overall, 1st Round, New England Revolution)
  • Brian White (No. 16 overall, 1st Round, New York Red Bulls)
  • Alex Roldan (No. 22 overall, 1st Round, Seattle Sounders)

Honorable Mentions: Joao Moutinho (No. 1), Mason Toye (No. 7), Ema Twumasi (No. 11)

Solid! But perhaps not as spectacular as other years…

There is no star who shines blindingly bright here, just steady contributors with huge MLS value (see the allocation money shipped for Blackmon, White and Toye as well as new contracts signed) and yet untapped potential. Teams who make the playoffs have lots of steady contributors. Teams who win trophies have guys who find another gear.

At the very least, that’s what’s available in the SuperDraft next week. And who knows, maybe we’ll be introduced to the next Larin, Tajon, Dike, Robinson or Harrison, too.