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Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.

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It Seems To Me . . .

Thin draft produces answers for few teams.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Friday, February 9, 2001) -- Letís take a look at the Major League Soccer "Super Draft 2001" to determine how each team did. I wonít get into how "super" the draft as a whole was (not very), nor will I talk about D.C, Unitedís many trades. No, I donít think United President Kevin Payne has lost his mind, but I will save a detailed examination of the United situation for my next column.

As has been the case in MLS draft over the years, this one was carried out with a lot of quiet backstage maneuvering and the obvious fact there were all kinds of silent agreements between teams as to: "If you donít do this, I wonít do that."

It also has to be understood this draft was carried out against a background of reduced roster sizes and a slightly reduced salary cap. Thus, it was never a question of teams simply drafting the best player available when it came their turn, or drafting to fill a specific need by taking the best player available at a position. Most players drafted had already signed with MLS, so teams had to consider whether they could afford the best player available, whether they could fit a player on their 18-man roster, or whether they should draft a "category" player, a Project-40 signee or a "junior international" who get special salary cap and roster treatment.

A central fact of the coming MLS season that must be understood by fans is that each teamís payroll will actually go down slightly. In the glow that followed MLS successfully defending a lawsuit brought by its players, statements were made that now the league could put the millions being spent on legal fees into player salaries. That has not happened.

In fact, just the reverse has happened. Although the league has gone to great pains not to make any public announcement, the salary cap which last year stood at $1.73 million per team has been slightly reduced to $1.7 million. Since the roster size has been cut by two players, however, the money is being spread over two fewer salaries and the league can brightly pronounce, "We are spending more per player this year, than last." Impressive PR-speak, donít you think?

The reduced roster size means that a lot of the picks in this yearís draft are going to end up playing in the A-League, subject to recall by their MLS team. This should be a boon to the A-League which will likely end up with a couple dozen players who would have been sitting on MLS benches.

Clearly, the strangest thing that happened in the draft was that young Bolivian midfielder Joselito Vaca was not the first player chosen. The 18-year-old, Tahuichi Academy graduate, said to be the best to pass through Tahuichi since D.C. Unitedís Jamie Moreno, was according to most of the MLS coaches I talked to far and away the best player available. Even better, as a junior international, he would not take a roster spot. So why did San Jose, Tampa and D.C United, (twice) pass him by and leave him to become the fifth pick by Dallas?

The consensus seems to be that most teams thought Vaca, who already played professionally in Bolivia for a year and is in the nationís full national-team pool and the heir apparent to Unitedís Marco Etcheverry, is simply passing through MLS. As one coach told me, "He is another Stern John" referring to the Columbus Crew forward who played two years in the league and then was sold to a British team, making MLS a multi-million-dollar profit.

At the core of MLSís business plan is signing young players from Latin America, the Caribbean, and to a lesser extent from the United States, giving them a showcase for a year or two and then selling them abroad. United, for instance, likely decided Mark Lisi manning their midfield for years was better than Vaca for two years, especially considering he was not going to beat out Etcheverry for a job in the near term.

So with all the constraints in mind, here is how I think each MLS team did (in alphabetical order).

Colorado Rapids: Last yearís trades left new coach Tim Hankinson to start with only the 17th overall pick, used surprisingly for defender Steve Herdsman from tiny Cornerstone College. This may prove a genius pick, or Herdsman may never be heard from again. Possibly Hankinson made the best fourth-round choice in former U.S. national under-17 and U-20 midfielder\forward Ryan Trout from University of Virginia. Overall it appeared to be a poor draft for Colorado, but not much more could have been expected.

Chicago Fire: Like Colorado, with no picks before the 23rd, the Fire did not expect much from the draft, and didnít get much. Coach Bob Bradleyís most interesting pick was goalkeeper Henry Ring in the third round. Ring, a first-team All-American with good size, could develop into a solid backup this season.

Columbus Crew: The big news for the Crew came outside the draft with the acquisition of Ugandan defender Tenywa Bonseu, then goalkeeper Tom Presthus in a trade from D.C. United. Columbus might well have had the best late pick in Edson Buddle, a forward who is still a Project 40 player despite spending 2000 in the A-league. New Zealander Duncan Oughton should be able to start in the midfield. Overall, with Bonseu and Presthus, Columbus helped itself.

Dallas Burn: Somewhere between surprised and shocked that Vaca was available, the Burn will get immediate help from him. For how long, is a question for another day. The second round produced Ryan Suarez, who many thought was the best defender in the draft. If that was not enough, U.S. under-17 striker Eddie Johnson came with the next pick. Tall, fast and lethal, Johnson, with a little maturity, should be the real deal. Overall, the best draft of any team.

DC United: Forget for a moment the trades that sent seven veterans out of town, United drafted well. When MLS persuaded Stanford All-American Ryan Nelsen to abandon his tryout in Europe, United received a bigger, faster and much younger replacement for departed Richie Williams. Mark Lisi was considered by many the best college midfielder in the draft. Then, to go along with Bobby Convey in its Kiddie Corps, United picked up U.S. under-17 flank midfielder Santino Quaranta, who probably wonít play much this year but will replace Ben Olsen, expected to move to England, by next season. Finall, United drafted midfielder Bryan Namoff who likely is headed for the A-league, but has great potential. Overall a strong draft, just slightly behind Dallas in immediate impact, but best over the long haul if Quaranta lives up to his potential

Kansas City Wizards: As defending champions, the Wizards didnít need to make many changes with few roster openings, so the draft was about looking to the future. Their first-round pick produced a good young defender in Jose Burciaga who actually could move into the starting side. Overall not a strong draft, but one wasnít needed.

Los Angeles Galaxy: Sigi Schmid took some risks in this draft. He got two quality young forwards in Brian Mullan and Isaias Bardales. Mullan could see a lot of action quickly if Cobi Jones does not resign. In third round pick Robert Russell from Duke, they took a chance he will sign with MLS and not go abroad. If he stays this could end up being a very good draft for LA.

MetroStars: The big move was trading goalkeeper Mike Ammann for D.C. Unitedís allocation which can be used to add either Colombian midfielder Pedro Alvarez or Russian Igor Sklyarov, the former Dynamo Moscow sweeper who has been working out with the team. Not much was expected from draft, but the club probably picked up help with its first pick (in the second round) with Brazilian Rodrigo Faria. Trinidad & Tobago international Kerwyn Jemmott could add pace to the midfield.

Miami Fusion: After filling biggest need by acquiring defender Carlos Llamosa, the draft was less important to the Fusion. Picked up a player with potential in Canadian under-20 forward Ali Ngon, and A-leaguer Greg Simmonds looked good with D.C. United during the recent CONCACAF Champions Cup. If the Fusion can convince MLS to match the offer defender Cory Gibbs has on the table from Saint Pauli in Germany, then this could be a terrific draft. Thatís not likely.

New England Revolution: With no early picks, coach Fernando Clavijo still managed to get top collegiate defender Nick Downing and A-League veteran Yari Alnutt who has showed in Open Cups he can score against MLS defenses. Two good choices, but there are still holes to fill.

San Jose Earthquakes: This will go down as either a great draft or another in a long line of mis-steps by the team. That will be determined by the contribution from first overall choice, striker Chris Carrieri. Playing for North Carolina, Carrieri led the NCAA with 25 goals. Not only will he have to start, but he will have to make an impact. In UNCís Eddie Robinson, they got a defensive midfielder who might be able to help immediately. While not a strong draft, finding two starters would be a big improvement over last seasonís disaster.

Tampa Bay Mutiny: A strong argument could be made that the Mutiny had the best overall draft. No. 2 pick, striker Ali Curtis is expected to be a young running mate for Mamadou Diallo. In 17-year-old Devin Barclay, it picked up a young striker who can contribute. The A-Leagueís Alberto Munoz and Craig Demmin could quickly become starters.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com..

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