MLS Draft headlined by No. 1 pick Cyle Larin and rumored return of U.S. stars
PHILADEPHIA -- Cyle Larin was the proverbial "Man Who Wasn't There" at Thursday's MLS SuperDraft.
The University of Connecticut forward was selected by expansion side Orlando City with the No. 1 overall pick. But rather than saunter on stage for his photo op with MLS commissioner Don Garber, Larin was 1500 miles away in Kingston, Jamaica, where he's helping Canada's qualifying effort for the U-20 World Cup. A recorded statement was soon displayed where Larin thanked those who had helped his career.
Larin's absence didn't diminish the day for Orlando City, however, with manager Adrian Heath clearly pleased to his man.
"If you put together an identikit down of a modern day striker, Cyle ticks a lot of the bills," said Heath. "He's 6-foot-2, really athletic, really good feet. And he scores all types of goals. He gets headers, shots outside the box, direct kicks; he's got a little bit of everything. We're just excited to get him in the building and just start working with him."
Such is Larin's talent that there was talk last year that had he declared for the draft, he would be the No. 1 pick then, but he opted to stay in school for one more year. He didn't have the greatest season with the Huskies, scoring only nine goals after tallying 14 times as a freshman.
"I don't think [Larin] ever got really in gear this year compared to his first year," said UConn head coach Ray Reid.
But in a draft where the top-level quality has been drained by teams signing players from their academies, Larin's physical tools made him too good to pass up. Orlando entertained offers from as many as five teams according to one source. Heath admitted Canadian teams were especially interested in acquiring the pick. But once OCSC made the decision to trade away expansion draft pick Jairo Arrieta, it hinted strongly that Orlando would hang onto the pick.
"If he can show what he's done in college and start to improve his game, we think we're going to have a really good player on our hands," said Heath.
Larin becomes the first Canadian to be selected No. 1 overall, and was first discovered by Reid when UConn played a series of games in Canada and happened to play against the young forward, who was just a junior in high school at the time.
"He's athletic, always up for the battle," said Reid.
Now it will be up to Heath to bring Larin's career along even further, but the OCSC manager insists that he has every intention of being patient with the 19-year-old.
"If we have to wait for him a little bit then we'll do that," said Heath. "We'll work with him. It's going to be a huge transition for him. They go from playing a three-month season in college, and then he's going to be training with Kaka next week. It's an incredible difference for him."
L.A. moves ahead in Kljestan sweepstakes
The biggest move of the day came after all of the selections had taken place, with the Los Angeles Galaxy shipping midfielder Marcelo Sarvas to Colorado in exchange for allocation money and the No. 3 spot in the allocation ranking.
"It's a deal that I believe is beneficial for Marcelo," said L.A. manager Bruce Arena by telephone. "It's something he wanted to do and puts him in a good position financially. And it allows us to have some flexibility in continuing to build our roster in 2015. So we'll have the ability to look into the possibility of bringing in some other players."
One of those players is believed to be RSC Anderlecht midfielder Sacha Kljestan. Kljestan was nearly brought in on loan to L.A. last season, only for the deal to be shot down by MLS. Kljestan is out of contract in 18 months, so now is the time to go after him.
The New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union were also known to be interested in Kljestan, but L.A. now has the inside track given that the No. 3 allocation ranking it acquired puts it ahead of both clubs. The Montreal Impact and the San Jose Earthquakes are currently ahead of L.A., but neither club is believed to be an impediment to the Galaxy acquiring Kljestan.
Toronto scores big -- and confounds a bit
With Jozy Altidore set to be introduced as a Toronto FC player as soon as Friday, it had already been a banner week for the club. And with three first round picks, the week got even better. Among the club's selections were a pair of Syracuse players in goalkeeper Alex Bono and defender Skylar Thomas, at No. 6 and No. 11 respectively.
But the move that had observers scratching their heads was the selection of N.C. State defender Clement Simonin at No. 9. Simonin played a mere seven games in an injury-hit season for the Wolfpack. He wasn't at the combine and wasn't listed in the draft guide compiled by MLS.
As it turns out, Simonin's selection was down to a bit of under the radar scouting by Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko. The club held a private combine in conjunction with the Seattle Sounders in Las Vegas earlier this month, and it was there that Simonin really impressed. He's a left-footed center back who Bezbatchenko feels is really good with the ball, and his positioning.
"It's the result of us doing our homework," said Bezbatchenko. "We had a feeling someone picking right after us might take him. He's just one of those players who fills a need and if you feel he's one of the best at the position, you take him."
TFC had continued problems at the back last season, but these moves, along with the expected signing of Poland international center back Damien, have seen Toronto at least attempt to resolve those problems.
Roldan falls, but lands on his feet
One of the early plot lines was the fate of University of Washington midfielder Cristian Roldan. He was widely expected to be taken with the second overall pick. Instead, he fell precipitously all the way to the No. 16 selection. According to one team executive, one knock against Roldan was a lack of versatility, in that the perception is he's only capable of playing an attacking midfield role, one that is usually occupied by more experienced players like Columbus Crew midfielder Federico Higuain.
But Roldan may ultimately have caught a break. He was chosen by the Seattle Sounders, a team with which he's very familiar given the proximity of his school. He should be given time to develop without the pressure of having to contribute right away.
"The [day] was hectic," said Roldan. "My heart was racing. I didn't know what to expect coming in. You kind of weigh out your options, and you realize the more you drop, the better teams you're going to be drafted to. Seattle Sounders has been there for two years now. They've been my home and I've practiced with them, and it's a great feeling to know that I can compete for a championship with the Seattle sounders. "
Marsch expects Cahill to remain, Stolz to arrive
It would be the height of understatement to say it's been a tumultuous week for the New York Red Bulls, given the firing of Mike Petke, and the club's ultimately failed bid to land Altidore. Manager Jesse Marsch stated the Red Bulls made a strong run at the U.S. international.
"Jozy was a big nut, for sure, and something we felt strongly about having him here in New York," said Marsch. "In the end, the challenges of how things fit with our league, and then resources, and then putting it all together to find a way for him to get here -- it was too much to overcome and too much to leverage. I think Toronto was able, on every level, to put more together. Thus, it looks as if, it's not finalized yet, it's going in that direction."
On Thursday, Marsch and sporting director Ali Curtis did what they could to generate some momentum. UCLA midfielder Leo Stolz was selected with the 18th pick, and despite the player's flirtations with overseas clubs, Marsch expects him to join up.
"[Stolz] is committed to being here, 100 percent," said Marsch. "We will see him in a New York Red Bulls jersey."
Even better, Marsch revealed that his early talks with Australia international Tim Cahill have been positive. Following a season where Cahill fell out of favor with Petke, there had been some question as to whether he wanted to stay with the Red Bulls, but Marsch insists he's encouraged.
"I do expect [Cahill] to be part of the team," he said. "He's also needed time to focus on the Asian Cup, because he wants to win that for his country. I've given him a little bit of space, but there's been some contact. I value him as a pro, and our initial conversations have all been very good."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.