Major League Soccer is a league teeming with aspects that divide soccer fans and pundits to great lengths.
These difference can become very petty at times, and can cause numerous fiery arguments that prevent fans from seeing eye-to-eye on the various facets of the US and Canada’s premier soccer league.
One such mechanism that divides MLS fans is the league’s annual collegiate draft. On one side, the draft is seen as a meaningless waste of time and an attempt at garnering the same attention that surrounds the NFL and NBA drafts. Yet, there are those who support the draft and see it as a way to find the next big thing in MLS. And at the very least, to find those MLS lifers and role players that all teams in the league need.
What should be agreed on, is the SuperDraft is similar to putting $100,000 on red in a Las Vegas casino. Since the MLS SuperDraft was instituted in 2000, the league has seen 13 number one picks come and go. In regards to just the number one picks, only one player – Maurice Edu – currently plays in Europe and only a handful have developed enough to gain an elusive European contract. Meanwhile, several number one draft picks either play in the lower tier(s) of US soccer or have retired.
In the last few years, number one picks seem to be fitting into the league better than in years past. Perhaps, that’s down to better development and coaching or perhaps it’s coincidence. Whether development, coaching or coincidence, the draft is still a gamble in finding the stand out stars of the future. And interestingly, only one of the league’s number one SuperDraft picks has won the coveted MLS Rookie of the Year Award – the previously mentioned Edu.
With the league’s big winter party kicking off on January 17, here’s a look back at the league’s 13 number one picks since 2000. (Note: this only looks at the SuperDraft, which came into existence in 2000. Prior to that was the Collegiate Draft)
2000: Steve Shak defender/midfielder UCLA
Shak was drafted by the NY/NJ MetroStars after an excellent college career at UCLA. The MetroStars seemingly made a mess of the draft as the team selected Shak over the likes of Nick Garcia, Danny Califf and future US national team captain Carlos Bocanegra; three players that have gone on to more prosperous soccer careers – but hindsight’s 20/20. Shak’s time with the MetroStars was short lived as he was traded to Colorado in 2001. He finished the season with the Rapids, but in 2002 he was loaned to the lower levels of US soccer. That would be Shak’s home for the rest of his soccer career, except for a short stint in 2004 in Sweden, and he currently plays and coaches for the Charlotte Eagles in the USLPro league.
2001: Chris Carrieri midfielder North Carolina Tar Heels
Carrieri had a fantastic college career at North Carolina, where he was named ACC Rookie of the Year and was a first team All-American. Drafted in 2001 by San Jose, Carrieri had a spectacular rookie year – though he was traded to Colorado and missed out on San Jose’s MLS Cup title – playing in 14 of the club’s games. In all, he notched 19 goals in 69 games for the Rapids. In 2004, Carrieri’s contract was declined by the team due to salary cap issues and surprisingly signed with lower league side Rochester Rhinos. Until 2008, the American played in the lower reaches of American soccer as well as the Major Indoor Soccer League.
2002: Chris Gbandi defender UConn Huskies
Gbandi had a very successful six year run with the Dallas Burn/FC Dallas. The Liberian was a solid left back throughout his time in the league, and was one of the team’s most consistent players. In 2008, Gbandi signed with Norway’s FK Haugesund, where he featured 37 times in two seasons. The defender retired after a one year stint with Miami FC in 2010, and since May 2012 has been a men’s soccer assistant coach at The College of Holy Cross.
2003: Alecko Eskandarian striker Virginia
If Eskandarian’s career hadn’t been affected by concussion and injuries, he may have gone down as one of the top strikers to ever play in MLS. Eskandarian led DC United to the MLS Cup in 2004 as he bagged 10 goals in the regular season and an additional four in the playoffs. After suffering post concussion syndrome in 2005, the striker was only a shadow of his former self, though he did tally seven goals for United in 2006. From 2007 to 2010, Eskandarian bounced around the league with Toronto, Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and LA Galaxy before calling it quits. Until recently, the American was a coach with Philadelphia Union‘s youth team, however, in July 2012 he was released by the club.
2004: Freddy Adu midfield/forward IMG Academy
The story of Adu is well know: Signed at 14 by DC United, traded to Real Salt Lake, sold to Benfica for $2 million and bounced around Europe and back to the US. Adu’s potential has always overshadowed the product on the field, and at only 23 some feel his career is as good as over; while others still expect the American to fulfill some of the expectations once placed upon his shoulders. According to reports, Adu has gone back to Turkey to train during the MLS offseason and it is suggested he may not return to the Philadelphia Union in 2013.
2005: Nikolas Besagno midfielder IMG Academy
For a second straight year, a MLS team decided to draft a player too young for the professional game. Real Salt Lake took Besagno at the tender age of 16, after being a highly sought after US youth international, which made him the second youngest player drafted in MLS to Adu. In four seasons, the midfielder played only eight times – though one local newspaper wrote about his impact for the club – and since 2009 he has played outside the top-flight of US soccer with the Washington Crossfire.
2006: Marvell Wynne defender UCLA
Best known for his pace, Wynne featured 28 times in his rookie season for the MetroStars. The team selected Wynne due to his ability to get forward from his fullback position though he criticized for his lack of on the ball skills. However, this did not stop former MetroStars’ coach Mo Johnston from adding the defender to Toronto in 2007. Following nearly three full seasons in Toronto, Wynne was dealt to Colorado in 2010 where he was converted from fullback to center back, and was a part of the Rapids’ MLS Cup winning squad. Wynne’s 2013 option had originally been declined by Colorado thanks to him earning over $320,000 last season. However, the two sides have renegotiated his contract and the central defender is now slated to be with the team come pre-season.
2007: Maurice Edu midfielder Maryland
Edu emerged from the University of Maryland with large amounts of hype surrounding his name. The midfielder helped the school to the 2005 NCAA College Cup and many expected him to lead Toronto to the upper echelons of MLS once he entered the league. Though he wasn’t able to turn Toronto into one of the top teams in the league, he was able to win the league’s Rookie of the Year award, making him the only number one pick to obtain it. However, Edu’s time in MLS was short-lived and after 38 games and five goals, the club sold him to Scottish club Rangers for around $4,000,000. The American had a great deal of success whilst in Scotland, winning the SPL title in three consecutive years and the Scottish League Cup twice. Due to Rangers’ financial woes in 2012, Edu was part of the mass exodus that left the club, and he currently plies his trade with English Premier League club Stoke City
2008: Chance Myers defender/midfielder UCLA
The Kansas City Wizards/Sporting KC picked Myers number one overall in 2008, selecting the defender and midfielder over Break Shea. In Myers first three year in the league he only featured in 31 of the team’s 90 matches, and many fans had written him off as just another draft bust thanks to his poor and inconsistent play. However, 2011 saw the American come into his own and become an integral part of an exciting Sporting KC team. Gone was his erratic play and it was replaced by a player more confident in his role on the team. Myers featured in 58 of the team’s matches in the past two years and has become one of the premier right backs in MLS with his ability to get up and down the flank.
2009: Steve Zakuani midfield/forward Akron
Seattle selected former Arsenal youth academy product and Akron Zips’ sensation Steve Zakuani as their first pick as a MLS team. Zakuani had a stellar season in both ‘09 and ‘10 playing in 58 matches, scoring 14 goals and adding 10 assists. Unfortunately, after a bright start to the 2011 season, Zakuani suffered a broken leg after a challenge by Colorado’s Brian Mullen. The winger was sidelined for 15 months, but made his return last season playing in 11 league and playoff games. He contributed one goal and one assist in that time, and Sounders’ fans will be chomping at the bit to get the DR Congo international back for a full season.
2010: Danny Mwanga striker Oregon State University
The Philadelphia Union made Mwanga, the 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year (14 goals, 18 games), the league’s number one pick. In his first season, Mwanga put up Rookie of the Year numbers – seven goals, four assists, 24 games – but was beaten out by DC United’s Andy Najar. He followed up his rookie season with an equally impressive year bagging five goals and another four assists in 28 matches. However, in 2012 Mwanga was part of the Union’s upheaval and the Congolese was traded to Portland. There Mwanga tallied three goals for the Western Conference’s eighth place team. At only 21-years old, much is expected from Mwanga in the up coming season from a new look Timbers team led by first year coach Caleb Porter.
2011: Omar Salgado striker Chivas Guadalajara youth system/US U-20
Salgado was a surprise pick by the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2011 at the age of 18. He was looked at as a player for the future, though he did play in 14 of the team’s games that year, scoring one goal and adding one assist. His fortunes didn’t improve much in his sophomore year as a broken foot on international duty with the US U-20 team, put the youngster out of action for the remainder of the season. Still at only 19, there is plenty of upside to Salgado’s game. It’s just a matter of fitting him into Martin Rennie’s system.
2012: Andrew Wenger defender/midfielder/striker Duke
Wenger’s college career is one that is looked upon with envy by many players: ACC Rookie of the Year 2009, Defensive Player of the Year 2010 and Offensive Player of the Year 2011. The Pennsylvania-native played wherever needed at Duke University, and Montreal’s desire to have versatility made him a no-brainer a year ago. The 22-year old tallied four goals in 23 games playing as a striker, though most of his appearances came as a substitute. Currently, Wenger is only one of three forwards listed on the Impact’s roster, Marco Di Vaio and Andrea Pisanu the others, therefore, it’s likely Wenger could see more playing time and responsibilities in 2013. However, only time will tell as MLS begins to wake up from its short hibernation and enters pre-season.