Friday, January 14, 2011

MLS 2011 Super Draft

by Dick Mac

The MLS SuperDraft was held yesterday in Baltimore. I was supposed to be in attendance, but a mix-up at my workplace required that I cancel my vacation days and miss the event.

A large contingent of Red Bull New York ("RBNY") fans, including the supporters clubs Empire Supporters Club, Hans Backe Viking Army, and Garden State Supporters, all boarded buses provided by the team, for the nearly-200-mile ride South.

This year's draft was reduced from four rounds to three. It is not clear to me why this was done; it certainly does not appear to be for a lack of talent. Perhaps individual teams have now developed such effective youth programs that the securing of college players and young Internationals is not as vital as previously.

There are two new teams joining the league this year: Portland Timbers (see very cool jersey above) and Vancouver Whitecaps, those teams were selecting first, and Vancouver managed to trade for an additional pick in the First Round.

U.S. National Team Under-20 sensation, 17-year-old Omar Salgado (pictured) was the first overall pick and will begin his career in Vancouver.

The next three picks were all from Akron University and their selections began a remarkable total of five players from that school being drafted in the First Round; this out of a total of 18 picks.

Overall, the First Round saw fifteen college players, two internationals, and one minor (Salgado) selected.

RBNY selected forward Corey Hertzog, from Penn State, in the First Round. We are a team rich with forwards and Hertzog's selection is odd considering the lack of depth we have in the back. A defender or defensive midfielder would have filled an immediate need.

RBNY selected John Rooney, of England, in a Second Round pick acquired from Houston. The 20-year-old midfielder Rooney is the younger brother of England superstar Wayne Rooney and came up (as did his brother) through the Everton FC youth system.

An additional Second Round pick, 21-year-old defender Tyler Lassiter may help fill the lack-of-depth in the back. Lassiter appears to be a very smart young man; he has been studying Sports Management, at Duke University, and comes to the draft a little bit older than most other student-athletes because he has pursued his education.

With a draft pick acquired from Portland, RBNY selected second in the Third Round and chose 22-year-old midfielder Billy Cortes (pictured, right), from the University of Maryland.

ESPN2 covered the First Round of the draft live and did a good job presenting the sport fairly and enthusiastically.

Here is the full list of First Round selections:

1. Vancouver: USA U-20 F Omar Salgado
2. Portland: Akron F Darlington Nagbe
3. D.C. United: Akron MF-D Perry Kitchen
4. Chivas USA: Akron D Zarek Valentin
5. Philadelphia: Maryland GK Zac MacMath
6. New England: California D A.J. Soares
7. Houston: Akron D Kofi Sarkodie
8. Vancouver (from Toronto): Akron MF Michael Nanchoff
9. Chicago: North Carolina D Jalil Anibaba
10. Kansas City: James Madison F C.J. Sapong
11. Houston (from Portland): Indiana F Will Bruin
12. Columbus: Indiana D Rich Balchan
13. New York: Penn State F Corey Hertzog
14. Chivas USA (from RSL): Ecuador F Victor Estupinan
15. Columbus (from San Jose): Michigan F Justin Meram
16. Los Angeles: Uruguay MF Paolo Cardozo
17. Dallas: Stanford D Bobby Warshaw
18. Colorado: North Carolina D Eddie Ababio

The entire list of selections can be seen at this MLS page.

Neither United States soccer nor MLS fans are held in high regard (or sometimes even considered at all) by European and South American supporters; but the display of support shown by the fans throughout the draft was remarkable.

The Empire Supporters Club, in New York, is perhaps the most erudite gathering of fans in any place for any sport. Their chants from Section 101, though sometimes as pedestrian and sophomoric as any other fans', occasionally rise from the ranks of the ironic to the brilliant. I recall one match where a Red Bulls player (Dane Richards, perhaps?) lost a shoe while pushing through the box and scoring a goal. Within seconds, hundreds of ESC members were waving one of their shoes in the air shouting in unison "we only need one shoe"!

Unlike other sports in the United States, soccer fans gather together in an organized fashion, learn the same chants and songs, parade to the matches as a cohesive unit, and support the team through thick and thin.

This devotion to the team and its players fosters a remarkable bond that crosses the nearly impenetrable athlete-fan wall that in other sports is rarely breached. The team's front office makes accommodations for the groups, maintains a relationship through liaisons, and helps ensure that the groups and the causal fans co-exist comfortably.

The newest supporters club for RBNY is The Hans Backe Viking Army, who have embraced the manager's heritage and commandeered their own real estate in Section 102 at Red Bull Arena.

Nobody can predict how this year's batch of draftees will fare in the coming season or the years ahead; but it is certain that Red Bulls fans have another exciting season ahead at Red Bull Arena. You can get tickets here.

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