For coaches and general managers, Thursday marks the culmination of months and years of work. For the players, Thursday could represent the realization of a lifelong dream.
The 2016 MLS Draft is set to take place in Baltimore, Maryland, on Thursday afternoon, and with it will come the next wave of professional players that will fill and bolster MLS rosters. This class of MLS hopefuls is arguably weaker than those of years past given the amount of Homegrown Players that clubs have signed this offseason, but still the belief is that there are several prospects capable of coming in and contributing in 2016.
Naturally, much of the talk going into the four-round draft is who will go at No. 1. The Chicago Fire currently hold the top overall selection, but have made no secret that they are considering trading it. If the Fire cannot find a deal they like and stay put, then they have to decide whether or not to take Georgetown centerback Joshua Yaro.
Yaro is widely considered the top player in this draft, but is coming off a less-than-stellar showing at the MLS Combine. Yaro is athletically gifted but smaller in stature than most central defenders in MLS, which is why many coaches and scouts see him as a right back at the next level. The uncertainty as to where he best fits could ultimately lead to him not being taken by the Fire, or whoever holds the top pick. And if that happens, the whole draft could be thrown for a loop.
Right now the Colorado Rapids, Philadelphia Union, New York City FC and Real Salt Lake all follow the Fire. The Union are possibly in the greatest position of that bunch, however, given that they hold both the third and sixth selections on Thursday.
The club is looking to use those picks to find two players capable of contributing immediately, but what positions they address is unknown. Head coach Jim Curtin has been tightlipped as to what areas of his roster he wants to improve through the draft, but they should be able to pick up talented players like Omar Holness and Fabian Herbers, who are each members of this year’s Generation adidas class.
One player who is not part of the Generation adidas class, but has gotten a lot of attention during the past week is Brandon Vincent, who was a four-year player at Stanford. Vincent was called up by Jurgen Klinsmann for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s annual winter camp during Day 1 of the combine last Friday, and is widely considered the best left back available.
The Rapids could take him at No. 2 despite having done well defensively last year, but might not get the chance if the Fire deem Vincent a more suitable prospect to help their cause in Chicago this season. Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni and the club’s brass have been preparing for every scenario, however, and are unlikely to be surprised no matter what happens in front of them.
At No. 4 comes New York City FC, which is being led by a new head coach unfamiliar with the setup of a draft. Former France national team midfielder Patrick Vieira was appointed head coach of the club this offseason, and is being shown the ropes of what the combine and draft are about by NYCFC director of football operations Claudio Reyna.
NYCFC would probably be better served to take a defensive player given their struggles without the ball last year, but may deem an attacker like Holness or young Jack Harrison too good to pass up on.
As for Real Salt Lake, a prospect in midfield or up front would make more sense. The absence of Abu Danladi from the draft has weakened the attacking pool, but there should still be serviceable options available at No. 5.
A draft is always hard to predict, though. A player could be taken much higher than expected or plummet depending on how teams rate them. There are also a lot of moving parts, as clubs weigh trades for picks and other assets.
Ultimately, around 80 players will be selected on Thursday. Their dreams of becoming professionals will be fulfilled and mark an unforgettable moment for them in their lives, but that will also only be the beginning of their journey at the next level. A lot of work will lie ahead, especially if they want to have long and fruitful careers.
The draft madness and memories are about to begin. Chicago Fire, you are on the clock.