The MLS SuperDraft is only two days away. Hold that excitement people.
The old cynics in us want to go on about it being more and more obsolete when you have a great academy program and a scouting network that produces cheap and impactful talent. But then the other part of our brain just keeps flashing up pictures of Tim Parker.
It’s still something of a lottery. There’s not a lot of Parkers out there down low in the draft and the Whitecaps will be picking at 16th spot in the first round this year unless they choose to trade up.
It’s their lowest first pick yet, the result of their best MLS season yet. Parker went 13th last year and once the draft day was done, ‘Caps coach Carl Robinson couldn’t hide his joy at him still being available at that stage. We now know why.
It may not be a perfect tool for player acquisition when it comes to immediate different makers, but Robinson has always been a manager with an eye firmly on the future and he firmly believes in the part the draft process has to play in building his squad. Just one part of many.
“You’ve got to use it how you want to use it,” Robinson told reporters on a conference call last week. “We’ll look at it. We got Timmy. Obviously we had Darren, we had Kekuta, we had Eric Hurtado. We’ve had a number of good players. We’ve had some players that worked out and we’ve had some players that haven’t worked out. But it’s important for us.
“But also important are our homegrown players and our Residency program because we spend a lot of money on our program and we want to develop our own players, which is why having eight homegrown players last year was great for us. One or two of them moved on this year but that allows us to maybe pick out one or two players out of the draft until one or two more homegrown players are ready for us, which won’t be too far away.”
Caleb Clarke and Ethen Sampson are the two homegrowns to have moved on this offseason, and with the likes of Chris Serban, Kadin Chung, Davie Norman and others waiting in the wings to take their place down the road, and with competition within WFC2 high as a result, whoever gets taken by the ‘Caps in the draft will have to be more of a Parker than a Mackenzie Pridham to have a good shot at making it with the Whitecaps first team.
“We have some exciting 16, 17-year-old kids,” Robinson added. “And there’s also a possibility of one of our USL players stepping up because they’re going to be given a chance in preseason as well. There’s three or four that I quite fancy in that team as well that will be given the chance.
“It’s down to them to stake their claim to get into the squad of the MLS. The draft is a very important component but it is not the only component, which I think is important to say.”
So with all that said, is the MLS SuperDraft still relevant to a team like Vancouver, that have invested heavily in their youth program? Where does Robinson feel the MLS draft is right now and what its effectiveness is these days?
“Each year you tend to hear the same things,” Robinson states. “You tend to hear that the draft isn’t as strong as it was last year and it isn’t this and it isn’t that. It’s a very good mechanism for building your squad.
“If you’ve got three first round draft picks, Toronto had that last year I believe and I’m not sure how successful that was for them. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work out. Kansas City are one of the best teams at drafting players within the league. Peter [Vermes] does a great job of doing that and building a team. As are DC United.
The other age old argument is do you pick to fill a need or do you pick the best player available and try to make them fit in to your plans or move them on for something in return?
Robinson admits there’s no right answer, but positionally is where he finds himself leaning right now.
“I think every manager will tell you one thing and if it’s right that year he’ll tell you that’s the way they do it and if it’s wrong he’ll tell you the opposite one the second year,” Robinson said. “It certainly depends. If you have a high pick, if you’re picking one, two, or three, then you’ve got to make the right decision. It’s key that you do that. If you’ve got a lower pick, then it might be taken out of your hands. And if you’ve got a pick, 15, 16, like we have, then who knows what’s available and at that split second, you’ve got to decide what you do.
“I feel the positional one is the important one for me to start with. Having said that, if there’s still a player that I’ve rated in my top five players that is available at 15, 16, and my player isn’t available, then certainly I’ll take the best player available.”
Heading into this offseason, and after some early movement, Vancouver’s positional needs were fairly clearly set out. They needed more goals, they needed a right winger and they needed a right back or at least right back cover, for the recently departed Steven Beitashour.
The signing of Masato Kudo hopefully ticked box one, the imminent arrival of Christian Bolanos ticks box two, so that leaves the final box, which has naturally led to a multitude of rumours suggesting that the ‘Caps will be taking care of that in the draft.
Although not if you listen to Robinson.
“If you look at the last two years, we’ve been pretty solid defensively,” Robinson added. “We’ve been pretty sound that way. We need to make sure that we’re like that again this year. We lost Steven, as we all know. That could work out one of two ways. We’ve freed a lot of cap space, which will allow us to strengthen at the top end of the pitch.
“I want players that are good players first of all, but are good characters like we got in Timmy last year. It was a great draft for us last year being to get Tim Parker at 13. So I will be looking at the front end of the pitch. To start with.”
Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Despite all the talk suggesting the Whitecaps may be prepared to offload an asset like Darren Mattocks to trade up for Chicago’s number one pick and nab Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro, Robinson is looking to strengthen his attack first and foremost in the draft.
The truth or a smokescreen? We’ll soon find out.
Yaro, it should be noted, is actually a center back, and for all his talents, putting a player like that in to a solid defence in a newish position to him, doesn’t make that much sense to me.
But if the ‘Caps were to snap up Yaro, or even grab Georgetown’s actual right back, Keegan Rosenberry, Robinson is likely seeing them behind Jordan Smith in the pecking order for the position anyway.
“Obviously we lost Beita, but we were able to get a deal with Jordan coming in at right back,” Robinson said. “So we’ll have full faith in Jordan taking over that position there. We’ll maybe look to add someone there within the draft.
“Will it be the first priority? No. There’s one or two other priorities in the draft that I think will come ahead of that position. But we’re always looking. We’re looking still to add three or four more players. There’s another forward or two that I’d like to bring in as well from the draft. So, we’re still looking.”
Robinson and his team flew down to the combine in Florida last Thursday and have been weighing up their options for long before that, with WFC2 coach Alan Koch taking in a number of College Cup games in November.
Last year, Vancouver were the only Canadian club not to show interest in moving up the picks to grab Cyle Larin away from Orlando. A big mistake considering how their goalscoring was? Perhaps. But would Orlando have given him up for anything? Probably not.
But this time around. whether it’s Yaro, Rosenberry or whoever else that Robinson is particularly wanting to pick up, the willingness to trade up to get them is very much on Vancouver’s agenda.
“There is a possibility that you can move up or you can move down,” Robinson said. “With that, you have to give up something if you’re low and if you’re high, you’re going to end up getting something.
“We’ll just assess the situation when we’re down there, based upon we’ve got a good value on players that we know that we like. Because of where we are in the draft, it’s going to be taken out of our hands at the start of it slightly. If we feel it’s right to move up, then we certainly will. Without a doubt.”