Editorial (January 17, 2018) – The evaluation process ahead of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft is well underway. A number of top collegiate prospects are currently in Orlando, FL for the five-day Combine which began on Saturday and concludes Wednesday. Two days later, rounds one and two of the draft take place in Philadelphia, PA as part of the annual United Soccer Coaches Convention.
With the league continuing to bring in younger talent as designated players and via targeted allocation money, players taken via the SuperDraft are finding it harder to make an immediate impact on MLS rosters. Of the 88 players drafted in 2017, only four logged at least 1,000 minutes during the regular season. And just 24 of those 88 saw regular season first team minutes of any kind.
But that’s not to say you can’t find players who can become instant contributors. Columbus Crew SC did just that with both of their first round picks in 2017. Lalas Abubakar, whom the team took fifth overall, provided a reliable presence at center back. Head coach Gregg Berhalter trusted him so much that he started him in the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals last year at Toronto FC. Ninth overall pick Niko Hansen appeared in 14 games and scored the game-winner against the Portland Timbers on March 25th.
Columbus picks third from last in the first round this year. It’s a function of their impressive 2017 campaign which nearly saw them clinch their second MLS Cup appearance in the last three seasons. That could leave them with slim pickings among the prospects who upped their draft stock with an impressive showing at the Combine. Either way, here are a few players they could go after in round one.
2018 MLS SuperDraft: Potential Columbus Crew SC First Round Targets
Alan Winn – forward/attacking midfielder, North Carolina
If Justin Meram does indeed move elsewhere as has been reported, it leaves a gaping hole on the left hand side of the attack. After all, this is a player coming off his best year as a pro, notching a career high 13 goals and adding seven assists. Though Berhalter will likely scour the transfer market for a replacement, Winn would be a solid get if he’s still available at this point in the draft.
A versatile attacker able to play out wide or up top, Winn tallied a team leading 11 goals for the Tar Heels last year. Berhalter himself played at UNC in the early 1990s so this could be an ideal fit in a variety of ways.
Justin Fiddes – left back, Washington
With the team losing Jukka Raitala in the Expansion Draft (LAFC later flipped him to Montreal), this is suddenly one of the bigger team needs this off-season. That’s even more apparent after the club parted ways with Waylon Francis, leaving Hector Jimenez as the only player on the roster with experience at left back.
Though Crew SC showed interest in 19-year-old Argentinian Milton Valenzuela, his current club Newell’s Old Boys turned down multiple bids for his services since November. Fiddes is arguably the best player at the position in this year’s draft. As such, he projects to go much earlier than where Crew SC picks. So this may only be viable if he somehow drops or if Columbus is willing to trade up.
Chris Lema – defensive midfielder, Georgetown
A product of the New York Red Bulls academy with U.S. youth national team experience, Lema boasts great vision, passing ability and a high soccer I.Q. Those are all requisite qualities to effectively operate in the number six role. In that respect, the 21-year-old would make a great understudy to Wil Trapp while providing depth at defensive midfield. Lema’s penchant for pinpoint distribution is evident in the fact that he totaled 12 assists for the Hoyas. His junior and senior seasons saw him earn first-team All-Big East honors.
Alvaro Navarro – forward/attacking midfielder, Dayton
Last season, Columbus stayed in-state with their first pick of the draft in taking Abubakar out of Dayton. As mentioned above, that worked out pretty well considering his effectiveness as a rookie center back. One year later, another Flyer is reportedly drawing interest from the club. That’s according to Crewture.net which cited an article out of Spain indicating that Berhalter had his eye on Navarro.
The Pamplona native tallied eight goals in 2017 while adding seven assists. Those totals ranked tied for second and first on the team respectively. For his efforts, he made Atlantic 10 First Team All-Conference and won team MVP. What stands out about Navarro’s game is his off-ball movement and clinical finishing ability.
Mamadou Guirassy – forward, NJIT
Much like Meram, another player whose future with Crew SC is uncertain is Ola Kamara. The Norwegian number nine was linked with a move to the Colorado Rapids last week. Then on Monday, Kristian Dyer reported that a mid-table La Liga club also had interest. Kamara registered 35 goals across all competitions during his two seasons with the club. And so his departure combined with Meram’s would leave the club bereft of a lot of attacking production from previous seasons.
Guirassy is unlikely to be a like-for-like replacement with the club almost certain to reinvest whatever they get from a Kamara trade/transfer in a relatively big name player. But he could add depth and competition for the backup role up top between him and Adam Jahn. The NJIT product led all of Division I with 16 goals in 2017. And that scoring acumen showed up during the Combine.
The Paris native who has international experience with Guinea is much more of a traditional target man than Kamara. He’s a physical presence in the box with a great understanding of space and when to time his runs at goal. Though he’s the biggest flyer of the bunch here, he has a high ceiling with great potential to develop in Berhalter’s system.