Well that’s all the hoo-ha over for another year. The first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft are in the history books for 2018 and only time will tell who have been the winners and who have been the idiots that based their final choices solely on performances at the MLS combine!
As the youthful exuberance and gnarly grumpy old man cynicism bid farewell to Philadelphia, Vancouver Whitecaps have two new additions at the end of it all – defenders Justin Fiddes and Lucas Stauffer.
Another pair of hopefuls added to the Whitecaps draft history, which let’s be brutally honest, hasn’t been stellar these past seven seasons. There’s hidden gems and then there’s fools gold, and despite having so many top five picks over the years, the ‘Caps have been pretty poor at casting their eyes over the young talent available.
We have no idea if either Fiddes or Stauffer will make the grade and become serviceable and valuable members of the ‘Caps MLS squad over the next few years. No-one does right now, not even the club or the players themselves. Maybe one will. Maybe both. Or they may go the way of others and you’ve forgotten all about them a few seasons down the line.
Talking of which, just where in the world are all of the Whitecaps previous 17 SuperDraft selections from the first two rounds these days? Well, all over the globe as it turns out. Three of them (a low 17.6%) are actually still in Vancouver.
So sit back, take a trip down memory lane, wonder who the hell some of these people are, and travel the world with us as we track them all down.
2011 – OMAR SALGADO (First Round – 1st overall)
You always remember your first. In many cases it’s one that actually you’d much rather try and forget. Omar Salgado. The 17-year-old phenom that was deemed to be a better pick than Darlington Nagbe. We all know how that worked out, but was it the ‘Caps who were actually worked? The whole Nagbe doesn’t want to come to Canada angle has been somewhat debunked over the years, but it’s all water under the bridge now.
The ‘Caps ended up with Salgado, an often sullen looking striker who spent four seasons in Vancouver and was injured much of the time with a right foot fracture that just didn’t seem to heal. He made 29 MLS appearance for the Whitecaps, only 12 of them starts, scoring one goal in his rookie season. His time here is most remembered for his injuries and his bad attitude, the latter of which saw tantrums when substituted, a training ground fight with Residency alumni Derrick Bassi, and a horrific lunging tackle from behind on another Residency star, Mitch Piraux, at training that led to senior players having to be held back from knocking his head off.
The ‘Caps ended up well shot of him, initially trading him to New York City FC, who then quickly flipped him to UANL Tigres in Mexico. He’s still there today, suffered more injuries, hasn’t established himself as a first team player, and been loaned out to lower teams.
2011 – MICHAEL NANCHOFF (First Round – 8th overall)
The midfielder out of Akron University never really seemed to get a fair shake of things in Vancouver. A groin injury prior to his rookie season played a part, as did the various coaching changes. He just didn’t seemed to be rated, making just 14 appearances, only two of them starts, over his two seasons here. The ‘Caps traded his MLS right to Portland Timbers in early 2013, and he spent three seasons there, interspersed with a loan to Jönköpings Södra in Sweden, but made only eight MLS appearances (one start) for the Timbers. He’s currently with Tampa Bay Rowdies in the USL, where he’s been since 2016.
2011 – JEB BROVSKY (Second Round – 19th overall)
The last of the three picks the Whitecaps had in the first two rounds of the 2011 draft, Brovsky carved out the best MLS career of the trio. Just not with the Whitecaps. He only played one season for the ‘Caps and played 24 matches, starting 16 of them. That can be deemed a success for a draft pick, as bad as that first season was for the ‘Caps. Whether he’d have gone on to have a great career with the ‘Caps we’ll never know. He was left unprotected in the 2012 Expansion Draft, Montreal picked him and he went on to have three good seasons with the Impact before New York City FC made him their second ever signing. Things didn’t work out there and he ended up with Minnesota in the NASL but has been without a club since last year following a torn ACL in October 2016. Seems such a waste.
2012 – DARREN MATTOCKS (First Round – 2nd overall)
Mattocks is an enigma. A legend in his own lunchtime. He clearly has a talent. He can clearly score goals and is athletic. But too often he is a nightmare in front of goal and his arched back, hands on face, exasperation became his trademark in Vancouver. When he was good, he was good. When he was bad, he was frustrating as hell. The Jamaican spent four seasons in Vancouver, made 96 MLS appearances (53 of them starts) and scored 20 goals, including the Whitecaps first ever playoff goal in LA in 2012. Traded to Portland in March 2016 for TAM and GAM, where of course he’s come back to haunt the ‘Caps on a couple of occasions, he’s now set to start a new adventure in DC United this season, as he still searches to become a regular starter somewhere.
2012 – CHRIS ESTRIDGE (Second Round – 21st overall)
If your first thought on this one is “who?”, well you’re not alone. I didn’t have any recollection of this guy at first. Not surprising as he was barely here for a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive. The Indiana University defender was cut from pre-season training camp mid February before his MLS rights were traded to Real Salt Lake, where he lasted just over two months, without making any appearances. He bounced around the lower leagues for a spell, spending a season and a half with USL side Rochester Rhinos, then a season with Indy Eleven in 2014, and half a season with both Carolina RailHawks and Charlotte Independence in 2015. Those seem to be his last clubs and his Twitter profile lists him as “former pro footballer” and he now seems to be an Orthopaedics sales rep. Certainly one of the biggest busts from a Whitecaps drafting perspective.
2013 KEKUTA MANNEH (First Round – 4th overall)
Certainly a successful draft pick, but one who never quite reached the stratospheric levels we hoped and expected. Whether that was down to the player, skill, fitness, mentality, or never being fully utilised in his preferred position as an out and out striker, you can argue a case for all. In truth it’s a mass mix of them. Scooter was a rare talent. Speed to burn and some sublime skill, but often too much of a one trick pony. I don’t think Vancouver every really got the best out of him. His development seemed to stall. But at least we have that hat-trick in Seattle and some other fine memories.
In just over four seasons in Vancouver, he made 103 MLS appearances (62 of them starts), scored 22 goals, and had 12 assists. But it was clear his time here was coming to an end and when he was traded to Columbus last March for Tony Tchani, it was both shocking but also made a lot of sense. He needed a new challenge and new coach to try and unlock the Manneh we know is in there. It didn’t quite work out with the Crew (24 appearances, nine starts, four goals) and he’s made the move to Mexico to join Pachuca in Liga MX. We’re looking forward to seeing how he does there. If he reaches that level we think he can, it’ll just add more to the frustrations surrounding his time in Vancouver.
2013 – ERIK HURTADO (First Round – 5th overall)
And the very next pick in 2013 brought the ‘Caps Erik Hurtado, one of only three first and second round draft picks to still be with the club. In fact, he’s the second longest serving first team player on the current Whitecaps MLS roster behind Russell Teibert. He’s about to enter his sixth season with the club and he’s quite a polarizing figure amongst the supporters. To be honest, I’ve done a complete 180 on him. You can’t fault his attitude, commitment, and workrate on the pitch. If he could only be a better finisher, a lot of the criticism levelled against him would disappear overnight. With 93 appearances (43 of them starts), he has 10 MLS goals and nine assists to his name and has proven to be a reliable, squad player, who comes at a good price. All in all, one of the ‘Caps best draft picks in terms of what he’s brought to the club and still bringing.
2014 CHRISTIAN DEAN (First Round – 3rd overall)
Another year, another top five draft pick, and another player who didn’t work out in Vancouver, primarily due to a horrendous time with injury. Dean’s story as a Whitecap was a sad tale of so much promise ruined by injuries that do leave you wondering about his future in the game. He just couldn’t stay healthy enough to make the first team breakthrough. Every time it looked like he may get that chance (preseason 2016 being the main one), an injury came along and took it all away. The centre back only made 12 MLS appearances over his four seasons in Vancouver, just seven of those were starts. Traded to Chicago Fire in August of last year, you wished him all the very best and hoped he could maybe turn things around playing on grass as opposed to turf, but three games in, injury struck again, on the same foot. We’ll see what 2018 bring and only wish good things for Christian. He really does deserve it.
2014 – ANDRE LEWIS (First Round – 7th overall)
It feels like only the Whitecaps could draft a player that then turns out has already signed for another club, in this case New York Cosmos! Things were eventually ironed out and he became a Whitecap. Perhaps best remembered for doing a back flip after scoring against UVic in Victoria and falling on his face, he never saw a sniff of the first team and was sent along to then USL affiliate Charleston Battery for the 2014 season, where he scored one goal in 14 appearances. He saw some time with WFC2 in 2015, scoring three goals in 13 appearances, but was traded to Portland Timbers 2 for the 2016 season. He’s still there but the Jamaican isn’t exactly setting the heather alight and never lived up to the promise you hoped from a U17 and U20 international.
2014 – MAMADOU DIOUF (Second Round – 30th overall)
The Senegalese striker out of the University of Connecticut was given a look by the Whitecaps but proved to be another bust. The ‘Caps signed him to a contract and loaned him out to then USL affiliate Charleston Battery. He scored three goals in 17 appearances for the Battery, and in what was frankly a horrible affiliation all round, he was at least a semi-positive part of it. But he couldn’t nail down a regular starting spot and the ‘Caps didn’t him back into the fold the following season. Instead he headed to FC Ilves Tampere in Finland for the 2015 season. He’s 30 now and appears to have been a free agent since the start of 2016. File him firmly in the flop category of draft picks.
2015 – TIM PARKER (First Round – 3rd overall)
Parker has undoubtedly been the Whitecaps best ever MLS draft pick so far. He may be overtaken by Jake Nerwinski or someone else one day, but right now, he’s the player all other ‘Caps picks need to aspire to first match, and then excel. He’s got three season under his belt now in Vancouver, two great, one average, and 81 MLS appearances (all but two of them starts). He proven to be a leader, captaining the team on occasion, and a perfect foil to Kendall Waston, forming one of the most formidable central defensive partnerships in the league. He’s still far from perfect, and still needs to work on aspects of his game, but you feel the best is yet to come and that will likely see him playing for the US national team. We can only hope a lot of that future is spent here. If we could get a Parker in the draft every couple of years, I’d be happy.
2015 – KAY BANJO (Second Round – 38th overall)
Falling in to the “did anyone actually ask him if he’d want to come to Vancouver category?”, Banjo proved to be a plucking terrible pick, but when you get down to that low in the second round, it’s kind of all a bit of a pig in a poke anyway. He had potential, and said it was “a dream come true” to be selected when we spoke to him after the draft. The striker had a nice overcoming the obstacles story to get here. Then he came, he saw, he trained a bit, then seemed to decide the ‘Caps weren’t for him and promptly left. I think the feeling was mutual on the club side. Spent last season with Pittsburgh Riverhounds in USL where he made 19 appearances, six of them starts, scoring two goals.
2016 – COLE SEILER (First Round – 16th overall)
You can’t put too much blame on the ‘Caps scouting for this pick going south. We all thought he had the ability to do so much more than he did. Robbo said “he had all the tools” to make it in the pro game, but it just never happened. It still could, just not here. Spent two seasons with the club, most of it in USL with WFC2. He looked like he could be another Tim Parker given time and continued development, but the latter never happened. He struggled in USL play last season and was released at the end of the year, which came as no surprise. He did at least make two MLS appearances in his rookie season, both as a right back. Currently unsigned, he’s likely to land with a USL club somewhere you’d have to think.
2016 – CHRISTOPHER HELLMAN (Second Round – 29th overall)
The German striker was yet another draft pick whose time as a Whitecap lasted weeks. Not helped by some dodgy/suggestive social media posts, despite his initial enthusiasm, when it became clear he was going to be fighting for minutes in WFC2 and likely down the pecking order, Vancouver and Hellman quickly didn’t seem to be a great fit and he departed schnell. He quickly signed with Charlotte Independence in the USL, making just eight appearances, and scoring no goals, before heading back to Germany to join FC Astoria Walldorf in the Regionalliga Sudwest in June 2016. He’s still there today, scoring goals, but whether his career will take him much higher is looking less and less likely.
2016 – THOMAS SANNER (Second Round – 36th overall)
The big target man was allowed to finish his degree at Princeton before heading to Vancouver to sign a USL deal with WFC2, where he spent a season and a half. He scored goals, including a memorable hat-trick, but his football IQ definitely felt lacking and he was never going to make the jump to MLS. He was released at the end of last season and if he decides to continue his football career, I’m sure he’ll land somewhere in the US.
2017 – JAKE NERWINSKI (First Round – 7th overall)
22 MLS starts in his first season as a pro. Playing Champions League football. Taking the starter’s spot from a veteran. Being in Rookie of the Year consideration. This is what draft picks can be. Every club wants one like that. Many get them. The ‘Caps seem to struggle, but found a diamond in Nerwinski who certainly looks like he could be a regular starter here for many years to come. This upcoming sophomore season will be a good gauge.
2017 – FRANCIS DE VRIES (Second Round – 29th overall)
The Kiwi centre back looked gangly at times but ‘Caps were high on his potential. Spending the 2017 season in the USL with WFC2, he looked good at times, captaining the team on occasion, but poor at others. There were murmurs Robbo may give him a MLS deal in the summer but some poor performances towards the end of the year seemed to put an end to that. He’s gone back to New Zealand now to join Canterbury United. Who knows, he might end up as another Michael Boxall, develop, and head back to MLS. The ‘Caps still hold his rights.
So there we have it. Feels like a bit of a rogues gallery at times, but at least there have been some successes. Is 17.6% a good return? It doesn’t feel great anyway.
Of course we’ve only looked at the first two rounds. There have been some players taken in the later rounds (and what was previously the Supplemental Draft) that have proven more worthy of a draft pick than those before them. Michael Boxall played a lot that inaugural season and recently returned to the league with Minnesota and we still have high hopes for the ‘Caps fifth selection in the 2015 draft, Spencer Richey, who will be on loan with FC Cincinnati this coming season.
How will Fiddes and Stauffer fit in to all of the above? Place your bets and we’ll see how things are looking with 12 months from now.