Skip to content

MLS Draft warnings, caveats and context: Looking at those 2010 top selections

Jan 14, 2013, 12:45 PM EST

Portland Timbers v San Jose Earthquakes Getty Images

Denizens of the American sports scene recognize the imprecise nature of drafting college talent. Clearly it’s more art than science – otherwise, we would not have the notorious Jordan Oversight to consider:

Michael Jordan was selected No. 3 in the 1984 draft, but went on to more or less rule the kingdom with Chicago, claiming six NBA championships and 10 scoring titles as perhaps the game’s all-time all-timer. Ahem … No. 3.

So if elements as studied, filtered and fretted over as the NBA draft or the NFL draft cannot be folded into something more predictable, does the lesser known world of domestic soccer draft eligibles really stand a chance?

We don’t have to go much further than 2010, exactly three years ago, to see the imperfection at work. (Today is the exact anniversary of the 2010 MLS draft, so it seemed handy to start here.)

The top three picks were Danny Mwanga (pictured),Tony Tchani and Ike Opara. If you built a team around those three today – a forward, a midfielder and a defender now ostensibly be growing into their veteran leadership years – you might have something that looked like Toronto FC last year.

Note, if you will, that Toronto FC is picking first in 2013. There’s a reason: TFC was awful in 2012.

This is not to pick on Mwanga, Tchani and Opara, each of whom has struggled for reasons not entirely of their own creation. None of them are bad players – but they are walking, talking illustrations of the difficulty inherent in this process. Because they simply have not been what we might have reasonably expected of the top draft trio; shouldn’t one of the top three draft picks be strutting into star territory?

Rather, the trio’s combined average starts over three MLS seasons stands at an underwhelming 12.

Tchani launched his pro career in New York before moving to Toronto and then Columbus; all totaled he has 45 starts in three seasons.

New York was a tough place to start, as then-manager Hans Backe quickly assessed that products of the American system “are just missing something,” he once told me, unable to place exactly what, but probably referring to that extra little sixth sense of the game. It is probably the same something that Jurgen Klinsmann famously assessed was missing when Ghana dismissed the United States from World Cup 2010.

(MORE: a quickie MLS draft primer)

Backe once, somewhat infamously, I suppose, imposed a temporary rule in practice demanding that Tchani passed balls forward rather than backward or laterally. Clearly, the manager was something this side of impressed.

Tchani was traded to Toronto, where almost no one succeeds. Since then he’s moved to Columbus, where the central midfielder is a polarizing figure for fans around Crew Stadium. Again, he’s not a bad player – he’s just not storming the castles of success, either.

Opara has started even few games over three years (22), although some of that is down to injury misfortune. Either way, San Jose just let him go, and Opara – once seen as a shoe-in as the next great U.S. center back – now hopes to provide depth along Sporting Kansas City’s back line.

The circumstances around Mwanga, who has 42 starts, are even more muddy and tangled.  He was the Union’s original draft pick, taken No. 1 by the expansion club that day in Philadelphia – coincidentally, the draft was held right there in Philly. And he looked like a “can’t miss” type.

Well, he missed. Or the system missed. Or his deteriorating relationship with former Union manager Peter Nowak missed. Or something.

Bottom line here:  when a “can’t miss” No. 1 overall draft pick moves to Portland for Jorge Perlaza and allocation money, something has gone badly wrong.

Or, maybe we just say it again: it’s all more art than science.

By the way, the Nos. 4 and 5 draft picks that day in 2010, Teal Bunbury and Zach Loyd, have combined for seven full international appearances. That’s seven more than the combined number for the three men chosen above them with far greater acclaim on draft day exactly three years ago.

Latest Posts
  1. Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Tunisia, DR Congo draw in group finale, advance to QF

    Jan 26, 2015, 7:10 PM EST

    Ahmed Akaichi, Tunisia Ahmed Akaichi, Tunisia

    After two more places in the knockout rounds were booked on Tuesday, half the quarterfinal matchups are set.

  2. Chile vs. USA preview: Who’s here to stay as USMNT kicks off 2015?

    Jan 26, 2015, 6:15 PM EST

    Wil Trapp (left), Columbus Crew Wil Trapp (left), Columbus Crew

    Half the current USMNT roster was built with the Gold Cup in mind, while the other half is about next year’s Olympics. So, who’s who, then?

  3. Report: Juan Agudelo close to signing with his former MLS team, New England Revolution

    Jan 26, 2015, 4:05 PM EST

    Juan Agudelo, FC Utrecht Juan Agudelo, FC Utrecht

    After eight months without a club, Juan Agudelo is reportedly returning to the place he should have been all along: MLS.

  4. VIDEO: Legendary Argentine playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme retires

    Jan 26, 2015, 2:59 PM EST

    Juan Roman Riquelme Juan Roman Riquelme

    As the soccer world will no longer see the maverick skills of the Argentine playmaker, here’s a look at some of his best moments.

  5. FA Cup fifth-round draw: Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough, Midlands derby, minnows at home

    Jan 26, 2015, 2:38 PM EST

    Here’s the draw for the last 16 of the FA Cup, as PL big boys get more tough tests.

  6. Head of Dutch FA, Michael van Praag, will challenge Blatter for FIFA presidency

    Jan 26, 2015, 1:57 PM EST

    UEFA Europa League Handover In Amsterdam Getty Images

    Van Praag announces his intentions to run against Blatter, says he has the backing of five federations.

  7. Drinks on her! Lady wins $24,000 after $3 bet predicted huge FA Cup upsets

    Jan 26, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    Hartlepool United v Blyth Spartans - FA Cup Second Round Getty Images

    Betting on five underdogs away from home in the FA Cup will win you serious cash.

  8. Diego Fagundez says he was “tired of waiting for the U.S.” after choosing to play for Uruguay

    Jan 26, 2015, 12:32 PM EST

    FBL-U20-SOUTHAM-URU-COL FBL-U20-SOUTHAM-URU-COL

    Fagundez explains why he couldn’t wait any longer to select his national team.

  9. Chelsea’s Andre Schurrle rumored to want Wolfsburg move. Should he move on?

    Jan 26, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    Swansea City v Chelsea - Premier League Getty Images

    If Wolfsburg can agree a fee for Schurrle, should he leave Stamford Bridge?

  10. Transfer ban for Real Madrid? Probe launched after signing of Venezuelan kids

    Jan 26, 2015, 9:20 AM EST

    Official logo of the spanish football team, Real Madrid. Official logo of the spanish football team, Real Madrid.

    The signing of two Venezuelan youngsters could put Real in plenty of trouble with FIFA, as Barcelona-esque transfer ban could be on the cards.

  11. VIDEO: South Korea beat Iraq to reach first Asian Cup final since 1998

    Jan 26, 2015, 8:34 AM EST

    FBL-ASIA2015-KOR-IRQ FBL-ASIA2015-KOR-IRQ

    The Koreans will face either Australia or the UAE in Saturday’s final in Sydney.

  12. City’s Pellegrini concerned at home form after Arsenal, Middlesbrough losses

    Jan 25, 2015, 11:33 PM EST

    Britain Soccer FA Cup AP

    “I am concerned, not because of Chelsea but because we didn’t score in our last two home games,” Pellegrini said.

  13. Eto’o passes physical at Sampdoria, move from Everton all but official

    Jan 25, 2015, 10:50 PM EST

    twitter.com/sampdoria twitter.com/sampdoria

    The 33-year-old Cameroonian striker joins a Sampdoria side currently tied for third in the table with 34 points.

  14. Rodgers: Sturridge could face Chelsea in League Cup, certain to be back for Saturday vs. West Ham

    Jan 25, 2015, 10:13 PM EST

    Liverpool FC Training Session Getty Images

    “If he’s not ready for Tuesday then he’ll be back, for sure, against West Ham next weekend,” Rodgers said.

  15. Scotland, Wigan mid joins Chicago Fire as third Designated Player

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:22 PM EST

    twitter.com/chicagofire twitter.com/chicagofire

    Maloney turned 32 on Saturday and will be unveiled by Chicago on Monday.

  16. Sepp Blatter keeps talking trash at UEFA regarding FIFA election

    Jan 25, 2015, 8:31 PM EST

    FBL-FIFA-BALLONDOR-AWARD Getty Images

    Sepp Blatter: Kind of like “The Godfather”. But let’s be clear, we’re talking “The Godfather: Part III”.

Featured video

Top five Premier League goals: Week 22