As the Montreal Impact have recently learned, it’s good to have options.
By virtue of being the league’s newest expansion franchise, the Impact hold the first overall pick in next Thursday’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft in Kansas City.
With only 23 players under contract, Montreal needs to fill out its roster ahead of its MLS debut on March 10 against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Selecting a top NCAA prospect with the No. 1 pick would help them add some roster depth. Sending the pick to another team as part of a player trade is another option.
Not surprisingly, several MLS clubs have reached out to the Impact and inquired if they’d be willing to trade the pick. Thus far, Montreal hasn’t been blown away by any offers.
“We’re not planning on trading the first pick at this point,” Matt Jordan, the Impact’s director of soccer operations, told sportsnet.ca.
“But we have been contacted by a lot of different teams about different situations, and we have to listen. At the same time, we also have to stick to our plans as well.”
What exactly are those plans? Jordan wouldn’t reveal any names, but did say the Impact have their sights set on one player at the draft.
“We have a good idea of how we want to use that first pick,” Jordan stated.
History shows that not all No. 1 picks turn out to be like Maurice Edu, the Toronto FC star who immediately established himself as a regular starter for the Reds in 2007 and went on to win the league’s rookie of the year award before being sold off to Glasgow Rangers the next year.
Some players needed time to blossom (Marvell Wynne, draft class of 2006) while others never really panned out (Steve Shak, 2000).
While the Impact would like it if the player they pick first overall is able to contribute this season, Jordan maintains the club is more interested in selecting someone who will be a good long-term fit with the organization.
“There’s a lot of very good players available out there right now and this particular draft has a lot of interesting options,” Jordan said. “But it’s hard to say with all of these players (if) they’re ready to contribute right away. So I think in all of these situations it’s important to look at it in a long-term perspective.”
As a former first-round selection himself (10th overall in 1998), Jordan knows all about how teams sometimes create unreasonable expectations for these young draftees. It’s a trap, he assures, the Impact won’t fall into.
“You want to get guys that can come along and develop in the right away,” Jordan explained. “You don’t want to draft a guy with the number one pick and then put the pressure or the onus on him to carry the team, because it’s just not realistic for these kids considering where they’ve coming from.”
Needing to bolster their attacking options, Montreal could wind up using the first overall pick on a forward such as Darren Mattocks from the University of Akron. Or if they want the best player available, they might opt for Duke defender Andrew Wenger or Louisville midfielder Nick DeLeon.
Athletic attributes are just one consideration, though. Just as important to the Impact are the player’s mental tools and how the coaching staff sees him fitting in with the team.
“You have to look at it from a lot of different angles,” Jordan said. “First, what player’s personality fits into the philosophy of our coaching staff and our club. And second, you evaluate the type of team you want to be and look for those type of characteristics in the players available.”
Before heading to Kansas City, Jordan and the rest of the Impact’s management team will journey to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, home of this year’s MLS Combine from Jan. 6-10. The combine offers MLS teams one last chance to evaluate players in a somewhat competitive setting before the draft.
“I think the combine is good, but if you’re going there without prior knowledge of these guys, it’s a big problem,” Jordan warned.
“The combine is not necessarily an environment that is (ideal). It’s a bit odd in some respects because the players have never played together, some of them are playing out of position, and it’s a lot for these young guys to take in during a four- or five-day period.”