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Top Five: Lionel Messi fails

The Toe Poke 32 minutes ago
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Jan 19, 2005

Fire reap the richest haul

Ah, the old cat-who-ate-the-canary look. It's the same type of expression that every MLS head coach, assistant and G.M. seemed to have smeared across his face when walking out of the Baltimore Convention Center last Friday. Once the MLS SuperDraft was over, every team felt better about themselves than they did the day before.

Some had reason to. Others did not. It was clear after talking to representatives from nearly each of the 12 clubs later that afternoon as to who the winners and losers were.

Winners

  • Chicago Fire -- The smile that was firmly entrenched on Peter Wilt's face at the end of the five-hour draft was not a fake one for the media, or the scattering of Fire fans to see. It was one of pure joy. And for good reason. No team in the league helped itself the way Chicago did on this day. By getting Chad Barrett (UCLA) with the third overall selection and Jack Stewart (Notre Dame) at number 10, Wilt and his staff accomplished more than they ever expected too at the start of the day.

    "We came in here wanting two guys - Chad and Jack," said Wilt. "And somehow it worked out for us. Even if we were the only team drafting, those would have been the first two selections we made."

    On the night before the draft, coaches from each club whispered amongst themselves at the hotel bar at the Marriott Inner Harbor hotel. Several clubs knew that Wilt and head coach Dave Sarachan were enamored with Stewart, a hard-nosed centerback, and striker Will John. Wilt was smart enough to make mention of Barrett during the week, knowing that the San Jose Earthquakes were hot on his trail, and would look to move up to get him, which nearly happened.

    Once he took Barrett, a striker who was starting alongside Freddy Adu for the U.S. U-20 team in qualification for the World Youth Championships last week, Wilt set his sights on Stewart.

    "We kept working and trying to find ways to move up to get Stewart," he said. "But somehow he slipped to us at 10."

    Chicago even offered New England, selecting ninth, goalkeeper Henry Ring in order to flip-flop selections, since Wilt knew that the Revolution were deciding between Michael Parkhurst and Stewart. Once Steve Nicol went with the Wake Forest defender, Chicago wasted little time in taking its top-ranked defender.

    The club was also happy that U-20 national team standout and Generation adidas player, Will John, was available at No. 18. He won't count against the cap and can provide cover as a left midfielder for the yet-to-be-announced signing of Honduran international Ivan Guererro. However the Fire were even more thrilled with getting Chris Rolfe at No. 29.

    "We felt all along that Rolfe was the most valuable player on the Chicago reserves on several occasions last summer," said Wilt. "He's technically sound, does good things with the ball and is an attacking personality for our midfield."

    Chicago liked Rolfe enough to trade a second round selection in next year's draft and Ring for the 29th selection since they knew that San Jose rated him high and was going to draft him at 30.

    Both central defender Gonzalo Segares (Virginia Commonwealth) and midfielder Boyzzz Khumalo (Coastal Carolina) had strong combines and have a chance to make the roster, since the Fire need depth in the back and cover at right midfield for new signing John Thorrington.

    "On paper," said Sarachan, "we feel we really upgraded our team today. And that's the biggest goal."

    Well done.

  • F.C. Dallas -- It was an average draft, at best, in terms of the players F.C. Dallas selected on Friday. But the four selections Colin Clarke and his staff made at the SuperDraft didn't tell the story of their weekend. The real upgrades to the side came via a blockbuster trade with San Jose. The trade sent midfielder Brad Davis, an allocation, and the fourth selection to San Jose for veteran midfielder Richard Mulrooney, U-20 midfielder Arturo Alvarez and the sixth and 29th selections in the draft. They also added a solid goalkeeper in Henry Ring from Chicago, and exciting young forward Cornell Glen from the MetroStars. Glen may end up as Eddie Johnson's partner up top.

    Mulrooney made it clear to Dallas through his agent that he wanted to play there to be near his family in Tennessee. As a result last year's cellar dwellers of the Western Conference started working on a deal to bring him to the Longhorn State. Though they hadn't given up on a player like Davis and didn't want to deal the young midfielder, it was a trade they simply couldn't back away from.

    "There are probably only five or six guys in the league that you'd do whatever it takes to get him," said F.C. Dallas assistant coach John Trask at the time. "And Richard Mulrooney is one of those players. No matter how many picks or what the price tag was, it's impossible to calculate the value that a player like Mulrooney will bring us.

    One of the top holding midfielders in the league, Mulrooney gives F.C. Dallas a marquee player who has won two championships and was one of the main leaders on a San Jose team that was known for its team chemistry. Clarke envisions pairing him with Simo Valakari giving F.C. Dallas two players who win balls for a living and cover a lot of ground.

    The true value of this trade may come in Alvarez, who could blossom into one of the top young players in the league this season if he gets a chance to play. The 19-year-old spent the last two seasons with the Earthquakes, and had a hard time earning minutes behind Ramiro Corrales.

    Of its draft selections, Indiana product Drew Moor is the only player they got in the first two rounds. The former U-20 National Team defender might see extensive playing time as a rookie, although F.C. Dallas also added former youth international Alex Yi to its ever-growing stable of defenders. Moor's a player that the coaching staff knows well since he's trained with them during the summer the past few years and is close to Trask, who is a former Indiana University assistant coach.

  • Colorado -- Having a chance to draft a versatile outside back like Hunter Freeman with the 7th selection was a coup for the Rapids, as he's a player they thought would go much higher. The University of Virginia standout will have an immediate chance to compete for time and add an attacking personality out of the back for new head coach Fernando Clavijo.

    Marcelo Balboa, who is now in Colorado's front office as well as being an analyst for several networks, was able to watch Freeman for several weeks when he assisted Sigi Schmid with the U-20s last month.

    "Hunter was one of the players that after being there a few days I said, wow, this kid can play," said Balboa. "He has moved back and forth between playing right and left back for the 20s. He can do both, and likes to get forward and serve balls in. We also liked the fact that he has a hard shot and has a little size to him (5-foot-11, 170 pounds)."

    Where Colorado really made its mark during the weekend was in a trade that had been all but finalized a few days before the SuperDraft. The trade saw the Rapids send their first selection in next year's draft to Columbus for high-scoring forward Jeff Cunningham. Since Colorado had the necessary cap room, this was a no-brainer. It was a deal that started as soon as John Murphy was hired to be the team's first assistant. Familiar with Cunningham from his year spent in Columbus, he pushed for this deal, knowing that the sometimes-high maintenance striker would be the perfect player for Clavijo. Cunningham will take on the challenge of going to a new team and start over with added vigor.

  • New England -- Nicol needed defenders, and that's exactly what he got on Friday, selecting three backs that all could help his Revs side right away in 2005.

    In Wake Forest centerback Michael Parkhurst, the team's top selection at number nine, the Revs got the smartest player in the draft, and a versatile back who can play as a central defender, as a right back, and as a holding midfielder. His best asset is his smooth play in tight spaces, his calming effect on his teammates around him and his ball-winning, which is excellent despite the fact he's only listed at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds.

    New England also got a steal in getting a player like James Riley, Parkhurst's teammate in college, with the 21st pick. Riley can play on either side in the back or in the midfield, and will add a touch of speed and determination to a side that is known for it's hard-nosed, direct style of play.

    "Riley is a dynamic player," said Nicol. "He really gets up and down the line. He's also a good passer of the ball. He's just a slightly different kind of player than Michael Parkhurst. Obviously, he and Parkhurst played together at Wake Forest so they certainly complement one another."

    With their third selection, the Revs took a chance on UC-Santa Barbara left back Tony Lochhead, who did not have an outstanding combine after a standout season for the NCAA finalists. The size, ball-winning, and natural defensive instincts are there with Lochhead - the question is his speed. To get a player like this with, a full international with New Zealand, is quite a pickup with the 33rd selection of the draft. And if anyone can help bring a defender along, it's Nicol.

  • Kansas City -- Scott Sealy should pay immediate dividends to the Wizards, as he was the most polished forward available in the draft. His maturity around the box, strength and ability to play off the other front-runners will make him a valuable addition to a forward corps that includes Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud. Sealy could very well have the type of impact that Damani Ralph had in 2003 when he was the Rookie of the Year for the Chicago Fire after being selected in the second round, just as Sealy was.

    After Guzan, Notre Dame goalkeeper Chris Sawyer was the one that MLS coaches liked the best, so getting him at the end of the second round wasn't a bad move at all. To be able to trade the 15th selection to L.A. for a veteran midfielder like Sasha Victorine was a wise move, especially when you consider that Gansler had both Khari Stephenson and Jack Jewsbury playing as wide midfielders in the playoffs. Once Chris Klein returns, Victorine should provide a nice complement on the opposite side of the field and give the Wizards another good defensive-minded midfielder with size and experience.

    So-So

  • MetroStars -- Bob Bradley's side only picked up two players in the draft, but both are players who could see time this season under the right circumstances. Tim Ward, who is on the U-20 National Team, gives Bradley another defender to add to a group that now includes former national team starter Jeff Agoos and last year's rookie sensation Jeff Parke, which will make it even easier for the club to continue to shop centerback Eddie Pope around.

    Bradley had a nice little connection with Ward being that the soon-to-be 18-year-old has played on various youth national teams with his son, Michael.

    "I've watched Tim a lot with the U-17s and I just feel he's a solid, young player who can play a lot of positions for us," he said. "He's a smart player, who just has this nice way about him on and off the field."

    In other words, he's a Bradley-type, who is smart, calm and secure with himself on the field. Much in the same fashion that both Mike Magee and Eddie Gaven also were when he selected them in the 2003 SuperDraft. Ward will most likely get his first taste as either a right or left back, even though he's spent time as a holding player with the Under-20s lately.

    In Corcoran, Bradley got a midfielder from St. John's that several teams had quietly hoped would fall to them later in the third round. Corcoran probably slid a little since he was hurt for the combine. Of course, he played in Bradley's backyard, and was coached by Bradley's friend Dave Masur the past four years, so the Metrostars knew all about him.

    "He's just a real winner," said Bradley. "Chris is a guy who just always competes and made a difference there over his four years at school. Those are guys you always want to have in training and on your roster."

    Where the MetroStars might have hurt themselves is in a couple of trades. Letting striker Cornell Glen go to F.C. Dallas in a trade to move up to the 12th spot to select Ward, and the trade with San Jose that sent good-looking midfielder Ricardo Clark out west for a player allocation and a youth international slot.

    Bradley will likely use those slots wisely after spending time in South American scouting players. However he did have to give up two young players who had established themselves in the league already in their time with the MetroStars. As we know from last year's signings of Sergio Galvan Rey and Fabian Taylor, it's always a gamble when bringing in international players who have never played in MLS.

  • San Jose -- In one respect, the Earthquakes have to be thrilled since they're getting the Hermann Trophy winner in Danny O'Rourke, a proven young talent like Ricardo Clark, and a gifted midfielder like Brad Davis. At the same time, how does one replace a player like Richard Mulrooney?

    While Dom Kinnear and his staff made a wise selection in O'Rourke since he's polished enough as a player to step right in, they were not able to acquire a forward to help fill the enormous void left by Landon Donovan's move to the Bundesliga. Kinnear loved Chad Barrett and was prepared to take him with the fifth selection if he was available.The loss of Mulrooney hurts, but the team owed it to him to trade him to a location closer to his family. However the Earthquakes were fortunate enough to at least move up a spot to get a player in O'Rourke who plays the same position as him.

    "Danny was the player we rated the highest from the Combine," said Kinnear, "So it was an easy pick for us when he was still there at four."

    Losers

  • Los Angeles -- As one assistant coach said to me following the draft: "WHAT in the world was L.A. thinking?"

    That question mostly came on the heels of the Galaxy's selection of Southern Methodist right back Ugo Ihemelu with the fifth pick of the draft.

    "Everyone's eyes in the room darted around to each other," said the same coach. "They could have had him in the second or third round even, so why take him at number five with all that talent available?"

    Good question.

    Ihemelu didn't show well at the Combine and several coaches wonder if he'll ever play in this league since his biggest attribute is his athleticism, and not his playing ability.

    Unless Troy Roberts comes in and sparkles this season, Steve Sampson and Doug Hamilton may have to answer the same questions repeatedly about why they chose him with the eighth pick when a pair of central defenders like Michael Parkhurst and Jack Stewart were still available.

  • Real Salt Lake -- For a team that needs players to help them right away, it's hard to imagine a situation where either Nik Besagno, Jamie Watson or Jay Nolly - the side's first three selections - does just that. John Ellinger's side might have been better off trading the top pick to Los Angeles, who made a move for it, and taking Besagno later in the first round, since hardly any other teams viewed the young midfielder as a first-round player.

    The fact that Ellinger took Watson, his former player, over another Generation adidas player like Will John left one coach I spoke with shortly after the draft scratching his head.

    "Watson should have stayed in school, and John (Ellinger) goes and picks him over a talent like Will John," he said. "If you want to take a chance on a young player, take it on a scorer with athleticism. I just didn't get what Real Salt Lake were doing all day, to be honest."

    Ditto.

  • Chivas USA -- While some question the selection of Guzan at number two, he certainly has the potential to be the type of goalkeeper that one day plays for the national team. The size, strength, smarts and attitude are all there. Rongen could have done a lot worse with that selection.

    However, the expansion side didn't exactly add any other players who will help this season. Aaron Lopez and Steve Arias were good college soccer players, but they'll likely have trouble making a difference at the next level. Christian Jimenez - the team's selection with the 14th pick - probably went too early in this draft and is perhaps two or three years away from being a player that will help any club in the league.

  • Columbus Crew -- Losing Cunningham in a trade immediately hurt the side. Even if he wasn't the most well-liked player in the team's locker room, he's a player that is still a difference-maker in this league. To only receive a first round pick for him borders on the ridiculous, no matter how much cap room he cleared.

    The Crew took Marcus Storey out of North Carolina with its first selection at 20. At first glance, Storey has the same type of body and speed that Cunningham does. However he isn't nearly as well-rounded or as lethal of a scorer as Cunningham. His toughness has also been seriously questioned. Several coaches were turned off by his lack of physical play during his combine showing, even despite the fact that he scored three goals in three days.

    One comment overhead from a head coach in MLS at the Combine: "He has nothing between his legs."

    Ouch.

    If this is to be a solid draft for the Crew, it'll have to get third-round selection Knox Cameron on a good workout program and rehab his knee. To get a player with his size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and scoring ability with the 44th pick was a real plus. Had he not gone to Columbus there, Colorado was taking him with the 45th pick.

  • D.C. United -- Kevin Payne, Dave Kasper and Peter Nowak have a great track record evaluating talent, but they raised many an eyebrow when they took Nick Van Sicklen out of Wisconsin-Madison with the 19th selection. Van Sicklen is a hard-working midfielder/forward who has deceptive speed for his size (6-1) and showed his scoring touch by leading the Big Ten with 12 goals and 7 assists this past year, but may still be a reach to fill the team's needs at outside midfielder.

    Payne had spoken to Wake Forest head coach Jay Vidovich about James Riley at the Combine, but left him on the board when they chose Van Sicklen. Time will tell whether that was a wise move or not.

    Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: marc@oakwoodsoccer.com.