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. Red Bulls’ season could rest on the shoulders of Tim Cahill

    Nov 28, 2014, 9:05 PM EST

    New England Revolution v New York Red Bulls - Eastern Conference Final - Leg 1 Getty Images

    With Bradley Wright-Phillips out due to yellow card accumulation, it could be up to Tim Cahill to produce for New York.

  2. Real Madrid release statement criticizing Platini’s comments

    Nov 28, 2014, 8:10 PM EST

    FBL-EURO-2016-POR-ARM Getty Images

    Cristiano Ronaldo’s club was upset after the UEFA president said he believed a world champion should win the Ballon d’Or.

  3. Can Thibaut Courtois surpass Manuel Neuer as the world’s best?

    Nov 28, 2014, 7:04 PM EST

    Chelsea v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League Getty Images

    According to Gary Neville, there may soon be a changing of the guards for best goalkeeper in the world.

  4. Arsene Wenger: Gunners to buy during transfer window

    Nov 28, 2014, 6:13 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-ARSENAL-MAN UTD Getty Images

    No team has been hit harder by injuries than Arsenal, who will look to bolster their squad during the January transfer window.

  5. UEFA schedules disciplinary hearing after pitch invasions at Spurs match

    Nov 28, 2014, 5:20 PM EST

    FBL-EUR-C3-TOTTENHAM-PARTIZAN Getty Images

    Tottenham’s Europa League match against Partizan Belgrade was briefly suspended after multiple fans stormed the pitch.

  6. Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Chelsea

    Nov 28, 2014, 4:30 PM EST

    FC Schalke 04 v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    Sunderland face a daunting task as they host a Chelsea side that hasn’t lost since a friendly on August 3rd.

  7. Geoff Cameron talks Thanksgiving, Stoke City vs. Liverpool and more

    Nov 28, 2014, 3:50 PM EST

    USA Training & Press Conference - 2014 FIFA World Cup Getty Images

    Cameron talks turkey, playing at one of his favorite stadiums, sickness bugs and more in his first piece for PST.

  8. Liverpool’s Rodgers calls himself the bettor’s choice to get fired

    Nov 28, 2014, 2:13 PM EST

    Bulgaria Soccer Champions League AP

    It’s no surprise that the Liverpool manager is feeling the heat after the Reds 12th place start.

  9. Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Manchester United, Chelsea, QPR

    Nov 28, 2014, 2:00 PM EST

    Rooney bagged what turned out to be the game-winner as United go fourth. Getty Images

    Here’s how PST’s lead writer and editor sees things panning out this weekend.

  10. VIDEO: Seattle Sounders supporters, culture getting just recognition

    Nov 28, 2014, 1:20 PM EST

    MLS Galaxy Sounders Soccer AP

    It’s a vibrant and informative take on the big following in Seattle, one that even Sounders haters can respect for its size, dedication and creativity.

  11. Top Five storylines for Week 13 of the Premier League

    Nov 28, 2014, 12:35 PM EST

    Manchester City v Southampton - Premier League Getty Images

    Top Four and Bottom Three match-ups take the battle for Premier League places to a different level this weekend.

  12. WATCH: Premier League TV schedule – Week 13

    Nov 28, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    PremierLeagueNBC

    Where and how to watch all the PL games during Week 13.

  13. Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Hull City

    Nov 28, 2014, 11:52 AM EST

    Manchester United v Hull City - Premier League Getty Images

    Hull City is looking for a historic win when they visit surging Manchester United on Saturday.

  14. Sure there’s “interest throughout Europe”, but where is the best spot for Jozy Altidore?

    Nov 28, 2014, 11:01 AM EST

    Altidore Getty Images

    We pick three clubs in three countries that could be a landing spot for the out-of-favor Sunderland striker in the January transfer window.

  15. Premier League Preview: West Bromwich Albion vs. Arsenal

    Nov 28, 2014, 10:10 AM EST

    West Bromwich Albion's Reid shouts at Arsenal's Cazorla during their English Premier League soccer match in London Reuters

    The Baggies are coming off losses to Chelsea and Newcastle, and are four points back of eighth place Arsenal. The NBCSN match kicks at 745am ET.

  16. Pick just three?!? FIFPro World XI midfielder shortlist is Juve-heavy, really good

    Nov 28, 2014, 9:37 AM EST

    FC Internazionale Milano v Juventus - Serie A Getty Images

    Spain (4) and Germany (3) are the only nations with multiple members.

  17. Roy Keane’s time with Aston Villa has come to an end

    Nov 28, 2014, 8:35 AM EST

    Aston Villa v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

    Manchester United’s legendary midfielder will stay in his assistant coach role for Ireland, spend more time with his family.

  18. Feature on Kevin Alston details Revolution defender’s battle with leukemia

    Nov 28, 2014, 7:58 AM EST

    New England Revolution v New York Red Bulls - Eastern Conference Final - Leg 1 Getty Images

    Vice Sports writer Kevin Koczwara has the story of Alston’s fight with chronic myelogenous leukemia.

  19. New England Revolution, 90 minutes from MLS Cup, must simply avoid second-leg disaster vs. Red Bulls

    Nov 27, 2014, 11:15 PM EST

    Steve Clark, Lee Nguyen, Charlie Davies Steve Clark, Lee Nguyen, Charlie Davies

    It’s been a long time since the New England Revolution lost by mulitple goals, which the New York Red Bulls must achieve to reach MLS Cup 2014.

Featured video

PST Extra: Top 4 showdowns on Sunday