Many observers look at the MLS SuperDraft and see a mechanism of fading importance when it comes to building a competitive roster in this league. And as teams continue to place added emphasis on their academies and targeted allocation money to bring in non-designated player talent, that trend isn’t going away. But don’t tell that to this year’s Columbus Crew SC rookies.
Columbus Crew SC Rookies Making Noticeable Contributions in 2017
The club made four selections in this year’s draft. They picked center back Lalas Abubakar (5th overall) and attacking winger Niko Hansen (9th overall) in the first round. Fullback Connor Maloney came in the third (the club didn’t pick in round two) while Columbus finished their draft selecting goalkeeper Logan Ketterer in the fourth and final round.
Of those four, three (Abubakar, Hansen and Maloney) have already seen first team minutes with the Black and Gold. Taking it a step further, manager Gregg Berhalter has inserted all three into the starting XI on at least one occasion. It’s an impressive feat considering how many draftees make minimal contributions or don’t even see the field for their MLS side altogether.
Adding Alex Crognale to the mix further reinforces the importance of the young guns to the Black and Gold’s fortunes in 2017. Though a Crew SC academy product, Crognale honed his craft at Maryland before signing a Homegrown contract ahead of this season. His exclusion from the MLS Homegrown Game earlier this month came as a disappointment considering the center back’s stoutness in defense for the club up to this point.
Crew SC Rookie Minutes in Relation to Other Teams
When comparing the playing time Crew SC rookies are receiving relative to those from other teams, it’s pretty clear Berhalter is at the forefront of “play your kids.” That becomes glaringly clear upon perusal of the following chart. It lists the minutes thus far of all players who either joined each team via the 2017 SuperDraft or played their first ever professional minutes this season after signing a Homegrown contract no longer than a year ago.
What’s interesting to note is that only seven players went later in the SuperDraft than the Union’s Jack Elliott. Despite that, he’s almost played as many minutes (1,722) than all the Crew SC rookies. San Jose’s Nick Lima and DC’s Ian Harkes are also first-year pros seeing quite a bit of time on the field for their respective teams. But the Black and Gold’s draft picks along with Crognale are clearly seeing plenty of action in comparison to most MLS rookies this year.
2017 Rookie Class Among Most Used in Team History
Not only are the Crew SC rookies getting a great deal of playing time relative to fellow first-year players from other teams. Their minutes will inevitably rank as among the highest for a rookie class in club history. Heading into Saturday’s game against Orlando City SC, they’ve logged a total of 1,931 minutes. That currently ranks fifth all-time.
The four rookie classes currently ahead of them are chock full of players who became household names in MLS. 2011 (fourth, 2,782 minutes) saw Justin Meram join the team, a player who’s slowly emerging into a club legend. In 2002 (third, 3,694 minutes), Crew SC drafted Kyle Martino who made over 100 appearances for the club over the next five seasons. Two years later (second, 3,694 minutes) they picked Chad Marshall second overall, a move which paid off big-time when he won MLS Defender of the Year during the Black and Gold’s 2008 title-winning year. Finally, in 2006 (first, 4,250 minutes), Kei Kamara came to the team. Nine years later, his career-best campaign nearly led to a second MLS Cup for Columbus.
With nine games left in the 2017 campaign, this year’s rookie class will certainly distinguish itself in terms of usage. Both Abubakar and Crognale have become key cogs on the back line. Though Hansen is dealing with recovery from sports hernia surgery, he certainly has the opportunity to become a super sub of sorts late in the year. Maloney registered an assist in his first MLS start and is transitioning well to right back after playing as more of an attacking player in college.
All in all, the future looks bright for the 2017 Crew SC rookie class. And it shows that you can still find serviceable players in the most American of the MLS player acquisition mechanisms, the SuperDraft. Though many continue to predict its eroding relevance and ultimate demise, it’s still possible to discover hidden gems who make a difference at MLS level. And seeing those kind of players blossom into high quality professionals certainly has to feel satisfying to the front office and coaching staff.
Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC Communications