Canadian teams expected to play big roles in MLS SuperDraft
Toronto FC fans sing the national anthem ahead of their MLS fixture against Montreal Impact in Toronto on Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (The Canadian Press/Chris Young)
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 14, 2015 3:37PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 14, 2015 5:53PM EST
PHILADELPHIA -- Canadian teenage forward Cyle Larin tops an intriguing crop of soccer talent available in an MLS SuperDraft that should see Canadian teams, with five of the first 13 picks, figure prominently.
Orlando City SC picks first Thursday at the Philadelphia Convention Center, followed by fellow expansion team New York City FC, Montreal, San Jose and Portland.
With three picks apiece in the first round, Toronto FC (six, nine and 11) and Sporting Kansas City (10, 12 and 20) will be busy whether they decide to trade selections or not.
The Vancouver Whitecaps go 13th.
The ball is now in Orlando's court. They have done their homework on Larin and seem more than comfortable with the young forward. It's a question of can anyone persuade them to part with the pick.
"It's a big day. We have the No. 1 spot," said Orlando assistant coach Mark Watson, who left more than a few marks as a hard-nosed Canadian international defender in his day. "You hope to get a player of real quality."
Having said that, he acknowledged it's harder these days for any young player to make an immediate impact in the league.
Midfielder Kyle Bekker is the highest Canadian pick in the MLS draft to date, going third overall in 2013 to Toronto. Like Larin, Bekker played for the Sigma FC academy in suburban Mississauga growing up.
The draft atmosphere ramped up considerably Wednesday as coaches and GMs arrived from the MLS Combine in Florida. Coaches like Seattle's Sigi Schmid and Chicago's Frank Yallop wandered through a downtown hotel lobby filled with delegates to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention.
While UConn's Larin and University of Washington midfielder Cristian Roldan have been singled out by many as the cream of the 2015 draft class, there are plenty of interesting prospects with players moving up and down as a result of the Combine.
UCLA midfielder Leo Stolz, winner of the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Award as the top NCAA men's player, will be an interesting risk-reward pick given the German-born Stolz is reportedly looking to start his career in Europe.
"There are a lot of players out there who can play in this league if you give them a chance," said Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko.
"I think there's a lot of talented players," added Toronto coach Greg Vanney. "I'm not sure if in this draft you have the one that really jumps out and says, 'I'm going to change a team in a year or in this current season."'
With all three Canadian teams looking to field USL Pro teams this season, there are more minutes to go around for drafted players.
Underclassmen Larin, Roldan, University of Central Florida forward Romario Williams, Syracuse University goalkeeper Alex Bono and North Carolina State defender Conor Donovan are especially attractive because their Generation Adidas contracts do not count against the salary cap.
Notre Dame midfielder Nick Besler, younger brother to Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler, is one of 12 college seniors to have signed MLS contracts ahead of the draft. Those deals offer one year of salary cap relief.
Coaches and GMs can be circumspect ahead of the draft, not wanting to tip their hand.
But count Canadian national team coach Benito Floro as a believer in Larin, having already given the teenage striker three caps.
The 19-year-old from Brampton, Ont., is fast, versatile, good on the ball and has a good head on his shoulders.
"He has some interesting qualities and a lot of desire to continue to grow as a player and serve the Canadian men's national team," Floro said in Florida at the Canadian team camp. "He could be a good forward and striker."
Larin will be busy on draft day. He's in Jamaica with the Canadian under-20 team, which is slated to play El Salvador on Thursday at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
"I feel excited," he said in Jamaica. "I'm just ready to start my career in Major League Soccer and hopefully one of the teams will pick me and I can start my career in a good environment and I can't wait to just start playing."
There is plenty of defensive help available with Bezbatchenko, for one, a believer that history has shown young defenders can make their mark quickly in the league.
Canadian Skylar Thomas (Syracuse) joins Donovan, U.S. under-23 international Ramon Martin Del Campo, Tim Parker (St. John's), Boyd Okwuonu (North Carolina), Oumar Ballo (UMBC), Aaron Simmons (California) and six-foot-seven Swede Axel Sjoberg (Marquette) as worthwhile options at centre back.
And there is some fullback talent available too with Canadian Jordan Murrell (Syracuse), Otis Earle (UC-Riverside) and Andy Thoma (Washington) among others.
Montreal has moved to bolster its defence with the additions of Bakary Soumare and Victor Cabrera after the departure of Matteo Ferrari and Heath Pearce. But Frank Klopas, head coach and director of player personnel, has shown a penchant in the past for drafting defenders and could do so again. A forward is also an Impact option.
With just veteran Steven Caldwell and sophomore Nick Hagglund left at centre back, Toronto needs depth on the backline. Help at right back is needed, although coach Greg Vanney seems content with Ashtone Morgan's ability behind Justin Morrow at left back.
And while TFC has options in midfield, it has yet to sort out its best alignment.
Bono, with his Generation Adidas deal, is also an attractive option in goal for a Toronto team looking to increase competition at every position.
Vancouver, with a well-balanced squad, is looking for depth. Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi believes the 13th pick can net a player who can help right away, "maybe not as a starter but certainly in the roster of 18."
Other midfielders to watch include Fatai Alashe (Michigan State) and Dan Metzger (Maryland) with Jaineil Hoilett, younger brother of QPR attacking midfielder Junior Hoilett, a Canadian option.
Forward talent includes Larin, Williams, Khiry Shelton (Oregon State), Andy Craven (North Carolina), Miguel Aguilar (San Francisco), Dzenan Catic (Davenport) and exciting Jamaican Akeil Barrett (Tulsa). There's also Sagi Lev-Ari (Cal State Northridge) who has served time in the Israeli military.
With Gilberto, Luke Moore, Robbie Findley, Jordan Hamilton, Bright Dike and possibly Jozy Altidore, Toronto already has an array of forwards.
"We've got a good forward crew," Vanney said. "So I think we need guys who can set them up and get them into good position to score goals."
That search continues outside the draft with Juventus attacking midfield/forward Sebastian Giovinco and Real Betis defender Damien Perquis identified as targets.
Toronto believes it is getting the equivalent of a top-five pick in Michigan State midfielder Jay Chapman, who is expected to get homegrown player status soon for TFC.
Toronto has eight picks in the four-round draft which will see Rounds 3 and 4 take place Jan. 20 by phone. Vancouver has seven selections and will be looking for some diamonds in the rough with five picks in the lower two rounds.
Other than its first-round pick, Montreal has a third- and fourth-round selection.
Notes: Orlando City has traded forward Jairo Arrieta to D.C. United for an international roster spot. That gives Orlando 11 such international spots. Arrieta came to Orlando from the Columbus Crew via the expansion draft. ... U.S international midfielder Maurice Edu, who started his MLS career in Toronto, has signed a new deal with the Philadelphia Union.