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The MLS SuperDraft is Coming: Who Loons fans should care about

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Let’s face it: the SuperDraft is losing relevance as a route to get top talent. It doesn’t mean the Loons won’t pick someone in two weeks.

MLS: MLS Super Draft
Mason Toye shakes hands with MLS commissioner Don Garber during the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. The Loons have the #7 pick in the 2019 edition.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When people lament that Minnesota United only have two picks in January 11th’s MLS SuperDraft—the 7th and 31st overall—it’s worth assessing some facts. 2018’s draft produced nine players after the first round whose options were picked up for 2019. There are eight from the latter three rounds of the 2017 draft who survived cut day this year. There are three players from the 2016 draft who will be in the league next year total.

The impact that the draft produced last year—a fairly average one, at that—was low. The 23 players picked in the first round of the SuperDraft last year averaged 413 minutes in the league last season. Seven didn’t log a single minute—to be fair, four were picked to be backup goalkeepers—while only two (Orlando’s Chris Mueller and New England’s Brandon Bye) logged over 1,000 minutes. Just 25 of the 81 SuperDraftees from 2018 saw the field for an MLS side last year. Six teams gave 1,000 or more combined minutes to draftees from all four rounds last year; the same number gave zero minutes each to draftees.

This suggests two problems in covering the choices Minnesota has in the draft. We want to project hopes and dreams onto prospects as fans, but the limited options and minimal likelihood that said players would get meaningful minutes both suggest not taking it too seriously. Do you go the problematic route that TopDrawerSoccer.com’s Ben Levin went, suggesting that certain players will be impact guys in positions of need for their drafting teams? Do you go the route of dissecting whether or not the draft is even needed anymore?

Or, because offseason content is scarce, do you write articles where predictions of future stars will fade away into irrelevance a year from now? It’s still fun to argue what the Loons should do, and we have a good record here at picking players to watch: our own Eli Hoff noted four such players last year, including two of the four to clear 1,000 minutes in their post-draft season (Orlando’s Chris Mueller and New England/Minneapolis City’s Brandon Bye). As such, let’s do it:

The Expected Generation Adidas Class

MNUFC have been happy to pick from the league’s GA program, taking both Abu Danladi and Mason Toye with their first picks in the last two drafts. The league is expected to take several high upside underclassmen, hewing toward attackers this year. The assumption is that VCU midfielder Siad Haji will headline the class, likely to go to FC Cincinnati. Additional candidates could be available for Minnesota at #7, albeit at positions of depth for the Loons.

Griffin Dorsey—Mason Toye’s former teammate at Indiana—would provide pace on the right wing. Amid missed time helping the Youth National Team in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, the sophomore Dorsey notched five goals and five assists for the Hoosiers, appearing on the United Soccer Coaches’ All-American Second Team and the All-Big Ten First Team. His upside might be a bit lower, but his playing style is reminiscent of Abu Danladi coming out of college: darting around on the ball and moving passes into the box with a decent shot.

UCLA’s Frankie Amaya could also take the leap to MLS after a freshman year split with the US U-20s. The diminutive #10 became a regular national teamer in 2018 after starring for USSDA side Pateadores, earning 11 caps with the baby ‘Nats, and with Dorsey will likely be one of the two available members of the CONCACAF U-20 side in the draft. Amaya’s passing ability and movement are his next level meal ticket, but he’ll need to improve his shooting to have a significant impact.

The Loons could also look to the imposing target man JJ Williams, a 6’4” junior out of Kentucky. Williams spent much of his first two years on the bench, but broke out in a big way in 2018, racking up 18 goals and eight assists in 22 games in his first time getting regular starts for the Wildcats. The Conference USA Offensive MVP is one of the three finalists for the MAC Hermann Award after being the focal point for a team that made it to the NCAA Elite Eight.

The problem, of course, is that each player plays in the positions of greatest young depth for the Loons. Minnesota have two long-term project attackers, both of whom likely project higher than Dorsey and Williams, and if Amaya needs two years of seasoning it would still leave you with a player likely to play second-fiddle to Darwin Quintero near the end of his deal. Minnesota could look to do the same thing that FC Dallas did last year with Francis Atuahene, picking solely on individual potential and stashing with a USL affiliate for a year, but with the paucity of players under age 23 in midfield and defense, an attacking choice might not serve the future well.

Players for Positions of Need

With Minnesota likely to look behind the front line for the draft, it’s more likely that the team goes for a senior midfielder or defender. If you want to pray for someone to fall to #7, it’s Wake Forest’s Brad Dunwell. A four-year starter for the Demon Deacons, Dunwell is perhaps the best #6 prospect to come through the draft in years, a stay-at-home central player who scarcely loses possession. He won’t provide much of anything going forward, but if placed with a downfield distributor like either Rasmus Schuller or Jan Gregus, he could shine. He’s arguably the most pro-ready midfielder in a spot of major need for the Loons. The big problem: another team that needs to develop a #6 is Toronto, who can’t keep Michael Bradley forever and who pick sixth.

If he’s available, Callum Montgomery could be an attractive choice. The UNC-Charlotte center back appeared on Conference USA’s First Team in consecutive years after hitting the 2018 USL PDL All-League Team of the Year. Combining top-level size and solid technical ability, Montgomery comes into the combine as the top defender, which means if the Loons want him, they’ll likely have to trade up to get him.

A more possible defensive pickup would be Akron’s Abdi Mohamed. The Ohio native spent three years as a box-to-box type with Ohio State, but looking for an added challenge he joined a Zips side that promptly threw him in as a right back. His technical ability showed in his new position, helping to anchor a young defense that made a surprise run to the 2018 NCAA College Cup Final. His versatility in being able to fill two positions of need could serve him especially well in Minnesota, with the added potential of being a face for a team reaching out to the Twin Cities’ East African community.

Looking much deeper into the draft, the biggest draftable area of need for Minnesota is a developmental goalkeeper to take the spot that Alex Kapp vacated. Last year aside, keepers need to be consensus top picks in order to merit first-round looks, so it’s likely that someone like Michigan State’s Jimmy Hague would be available around the 31st pick. Hague fits the mold that goalkeeper coach John Pascarella seems to prefer: nimble with his feet (even deputizing as a center back in his senior year of high school), solid passing, and big enough size to jump to shots. I’d also keep an eye on Fordham’s Rashid Nuhu—similar talent profile, but would cost an international slot—and UNC’s James Pyle.

Best Seniors Available

Let’s be honest: if “draft for need” is the strategy for Minnesota this year, you can look all across the field. Assuming the plan is to take players to develop at USL 1 affiliate Forward Madison FC, taking the best available would be smart. In that spirit, the Loons should probably look at Sergio Rivas. The Seattle University senior was one of the top attacking midfielders in the country each of the last two years, slotting home 12 goals and 17 assists in that 41 game span for a team lacking elite attacking talent. His passing is top notch, and while he would need to add the ability to move out of the middle to get to the next level, I see enough in his game to function as the attacking spear of a midfield troika.

A similar candidate to play an attack-first #8 at the next level is Maryland’s Amar Sejdic. Picking the captain and game-winning scorer for the College Cup title winners is always a good choice from an intangibles position, but Sejdic also is a heads-up playmaker. He’s not the fastest player, which would strain his next-level ability to compete for a full 90 minutes, but he makes up with top class tactical knowledge and vision, a product of working under legendary coach Sasha Cirovski. A good combine performance could push him into the eyes of teams above Minnesota at #7, though if he’s available it’d be hard to look past him.

With the Loons also needing elite goal scoring options, they could look to Andre Shinyashiki from the University of Denver. He doesn’t cut the standard goalscorer profile for an MLS team—scouts doubt his technical skill, and he’s a bit undersized—but when you score 28 goals in a season against anyone, it’s difficult to ignore the front runner for the Hermann Trophy. The Sao Paulo native laid waste to the mid-major Summit League, propelling the Pioneers to a NCAA tournament berth, and also showed significant promise in the PDL last year for the Colorado Rapids U-23s.

Draft Strategy

Minnesota United have to look with some skepticism about how to treat this draft. The elite talent for both now and in the future is going to be off the board when Siad Haji goes first to FC Cincinnati. San Jose and Orlando both can take the best player available and likely have them start in 2019. FC Dallas can also take the best upside player at #4 and stash him at their new USL 1 affiliate North Texas FC, leaving Chicago—the team responsible for nearly a quarter of the minutes played by draftees last year and who will probably need to replace the Scotland-bound homegrown Andrew Gutman—and Toronto, who will look to get someone able to make the leap to MLS-quality within a year to bolster their aging squad.

That doesn’t leave the Loons without options. If the team wants a player with starting ability to fill a space of need, I’d get Dallas on the phone if Brad Dunwell is still available at the fourth pick and sort out a modest deal to move up. If the team wants to go the Generation adidas route and stay off accruing salary for a couple years, Griffin Dorsey has the physical ability to develop quickly, has experience playing at a higher level with the YNT setup, and will find it easier to adapt to professional life with his former Hoosier teammate Mason Toye, likely on the taxi squad to Madison. If the team wants to add intangible benefits and fill the need for midfield bodies, both Abdi Mohamed and Amar Sejdic would be inspired choices, and both could still be around in the #10-15 range should a team like Colorado want to move up—or if DC United, who gave zero minutes to draftees last year, want to sell out of the first round.