Editorial (May 11, 2018) — Are rumors of the MLS SuperDraft’s demise greatly exaggerated?
While that may be hyperbole considering how few draftees become regular starters nowadays, there remain opportunities to pick up potential impact players. The current Columbus Crew SC roster is a crystalline example of that.
Columbus Crew SC Draft Picks Continue to Impress
Look no further than the club’s starting XI in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union. Three players drafted over the past two years got the nod from manager Gregg Berhalter. It included 2018 rookie Luis Argudo who made his first career start.
Luis Argudo: Filling in for Pipa More Than Admirably
Argudo seeing the field in such a role this early in his career is hugely impressive for a variety of reasons. The pressure was certainly on considering he was filling in for club legend Federico Higuain, the brother of one of the world’s top strikers in Gonzalo Higuain. He did so as the third from last pick in the third round of the 2018 draft.
And to say he came through with flying colors might be an understatement. The Queens, NY native was a force all over the field. Not only did he shine in the number 10 role with four chances created, three successful dribbles, and two shots. He tracked back and won second balls with regularity as evidenced by his seven recoveries. Only Zack Steffen, Milton Valenzuela, and Wil Trapp finished the game with more.
It all drew high marks from Berhalter who compared him to one of the club’s most reliable veterans.
“He reminds me a lot of Hector (Jimenez) in terms of his versatility, his understanding of the game, (and) his technical ability,” the Crew SC boss told Patrick Murphy of Massive Report. “He has a lot of similar traits to Hector. As a coach, it’s very good to have players like that.”
Niko Hansen: Growing Into Crew SC’s Wing Play
Competition tends to bring out the best in players. Though having a group of regular starters is good for on-field chemistry, you want those players to earn their spots in training and on gameday. Some places in the Crew SC starting XI are more set in stone than others. But one of the winger roles is there for the taking when it comes to hammering down a long-term starter spot. Niko Hansen and Cristian Martinez are both vying for it.
While it’s true that both started on Wednesday, that can be attributed to Pedro Santos’ one-game suspension for incurring a red card in Columbus’ 0-0 draw with the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. Generally, the two operate on the opposite side of Santos with Martinez receiving the majority of the starting action thus far. But Hansen did supplant Martinez in the starting XI twice during this current four-game winning streak. Perhaps the biggest key to him doing it on a more consistent basis revolves around his finishing.
The former New Mexico Lobo remains goalless in 2018 but that’s not due to lack of legitimate opportunities. Take Crew SC’s 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution on April 21. Not only did a Jonathan Mensah header off a corner bang off the crossbar just after halftime. But Hansen missed what can only be described as a sitter just before the break.
Lalas Abubakar: A Resolute Presence in Central Defense
Berhalter’s possession-oriented system requires a unique skill set from his center backs, particularly as it relates to distribution. It necessitates good vision to find downfield passing lanes as part of his “build out of the back” style. Lalas Abubakar, now in his second year with the Black and Gold, is as good of an example as there is in MLS of a defender who possesses the incisive passing skills to fully leverage what this tactical philosophy is capable of.
Look no further than Abubakar’s pass accuracy numbers which currently stand at 91.3 percent. That ranks best in MLS among players who’ve logged a minimum of 500 minutes to this point. What makes that mark all the more impressive is how seldom even the top passers at the highest level of the game eclipse 91 percent passing accuracy. Only 33 players in the big five European leagues (La Liga, English Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1) have done so.
Abubakar’s exploits just further underscore the eye for talent that Berhalter and his scouting network possess. That becomes even more evident when looking at the recently released salary information of MLS players (courtesy of the MLS Players’ Union). According to the data, Abubakar’s total compensation for 2018 is $78,750.04. That ranks 163rd among the 225 players listed as defenders in the league. Advanced stats site Whoscored currently ranks Abubakar as the sixth best center back in MLS this season. Now that’s what we call value. And the young Ghanaian is certainly in line for a significant raise with his next contract should he continue his strong play.
Bottom Line? The Draft Isn’t Dead Yet
Major League Soccer continues to evolve from the standpoint of player acquisition. The implementation of targeted allocation money (TAM) is just the latest mechanism that’s made the talent pool as strong as it’s ever been. Spending on players continues to skyrocket which has the potential to make it harder for smaller market clubs like Crew SC to remain competitive.
But the Black and Gold made it to conference finals last year and look primed to contend once more in 2018. If they upend the Chicago Fire on Saturday, they could vault up to second in the Eastern Conference if results elsewhere fall in their favor. Part of the club’s success has been making the most out of its limited payroll. That’s included the SuperDraft despite continued predictions regarding its looming demise. All in all, Berhalter continues to demonstrate that instead of breaking the bank, you can still get bang for your buck while staying relevant in the chase for championship glory in MLS.