As much as Pablo Mastroeni’s mustache dominated the talk at the early photo ops of the 2015 Superdraft in Philadelphia, in a few weeks, the novelty of a Snidely Whiplash goatee will wear off and the Colorado Rapids will launch into the first exhibition matches of 2015. Mustache aside, was the Rapids SuperDraft in 2015 a success or a failure?
In short, during the 2015 Superdraft, the Rapids swapped the 3rd spot in the Allocation Order and allocation money to LA for Marcelo Sarvas; traded Chris Klute to Columbus to move up in the 1st round and take the man they had their eye on, 6’7" central defender Axel Sjoberg (it’s pronounced HOO-berg, according to Extra Time Radio’s Andrew Wiebe); and grabbed the US Naval Academy’s Joseph Greenspan in the early 2nd round.
Did the draft ultimately result in a better team for 2015? Let’s break it down.
Three Points for ‘Yes, the Draft was a success’
1) Getting Sarvas is worth the loss of Klute
The Rapids held the 3rd spot in the allocation order before the draft, below only Montreal and San Jose. The Galaxy needed a better spot in order to make a play for Sasha Klejstan and their acquisition of Steven Gerrard made Marcelo Sarvas expendable. The Rapids were also said to give undisclosed allocation money to LA for the spot. Sarvas certainly makes the Rapids better, and brings veteran stability to a midfield that wasn’t able to generate chances in the final third last year. The Rapids recouped some cap space and also were rumored to get allocation cash as well. Because MLS clubs keeps all these numbers a secret, we don’t know whether the Rapids had room to work with or whether they needed to unload a player to get under the cap, which last year was $3.1 million. But if the addition of Sarvas necessitated the subtraction of a player then maybe Klute was the best player to let go.
2) Klute didn’t fit Pablo’s system
Both Chris Klute and Marvell Wynne are attacking fullbacks that play best when allowed to roam forward, overlap, and cause havok. With a shaky defense both in midfield and at CB, pushing up the fullbacks exposed the Rapids on the counter. Both Wynne and Klute’s proclivity to sally forth left the team vulnerable on occasion, especially early in the season. Later on, they seemed more tied to the back line, but by August and September, wing defense was no longer the concern, as the Rapids lackluster possession and depleted CBs were letting attackers go right up the gut for goals.
Last year Mastroeni stuck doggedly to a 4-4-2 well into our winless spell. The strength of the 4-4-2 is its width; it allows your midfield to lead the attack without needing your defenders to move up and take risks. Rapids fans often screamed about being unclear about Pablo’s system, or what he’s trying to do, and I agree that last year it was tough to discern a system from Mastroeni. But now, given a full year to tinker and his first offseason to partner with the front office on constructing a team with the personnel he wants, Pablo might be building the team exactly to the system he wants to play.
On draft day, Rapids fan @captied96 said this:
Big, tall, strong guys in the back. Short, speedy South American guys in the middle. I see you working, Pablo.— @CapTied96 (@CapTied96) January 16, 2015
I think that’s dead-on right. Pablo wants strong, defense-minded fullbacks along with giant CBs to be a stalwart backline defense. He wants to leave the defenders protecting the castle while the midfield creates width on attack and releases the strikers to score. Pablo Mastroeni was a defender as a player; as such, I expect his #1 goal for 2015 is to give up fewer goals. This system hopefully won’t be San Jose’s ‘bunker-and-pray’, and maybe more Southampton’s ‘defend-to-win’. Attacking fullbacks in the mold of DeAndre Yedlin are not what Pablo wants here. If I’m right about Klute not fitting the system, then trading him was probably everyone’s best interests.
3) Draft picks are always a crapshoot, so take your risks and get your guys
In the 2010 draft, NYRB took Tim Ream in the second round. He has 11 USMNT caps. The KC Wiz took Teal Bunbury with the 4th pick; he’s played 119 MLS games and scored 23 goals. The Philadelphia Union took a can’t-miss target forward with strength and speed named Danny Mwanga with the #1 pick, and he's… Danny Mwanga. He isn’t a bust yet, but it’ll take a miracle to salvage his career.
For every Marlon Hairston there’s a Tolani Ibikinle, and for every Dillon Powers there’s a Kory Kindle. In 2012 the Rapids took Tony Cascio, three spots behind recent USMNT January camp call-up Matt Hedges but two ahead of surprise goal scorer Dom Dwyer. Injuries, lack of development, or just plain bad luck can happen to anyone.
Axel Sjoberg and Joseph Greenspan might turn out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, or they might turn out to be duds. We’ll know in a few years. But the draft is always a guessing game. Teams still need to scout and plan and do all the legwork going into a draft, but at the top level, even with all our advanced metrics and our combines, the differences between success and failure in the draft in EVERY sport are still illusory. Thankfully, most MLS clubs are at the stage of churning out at least as many first-team players from their academies as draftees. If the team finds a Deshorn Brown in the draft every few years and produces a Dillon Serna or two in between, we’ll be okay.
Three Points for ‘No, the Draft was a Failure’
1) We gave up a talented young LB to move up five spots in the draft?
Multiple media outlets deemed the Rapids 2015 draft a failure. Sjoberg might be a talented CB. But other highly touted CBs like Otis Earle and Connor Donovan were also available. Did the Rapids even need to give up a valuable defender to move up a few slots, when another talented defender was probably easy to grab? Shouldn’t the front office have received a lot more for Chris Klute, who just a year ago was being discussed as a USMNT prospect? Were Berner, Neeskens and Elondou offered first? I think Rapids fans would have at least expected a 2016 draft pick as well for a talent like Klute.
2) Now the Rapids are thin at FB
After trading Klute and drafting exclusively at CB, the Rapids have just Michael Harrington and Marc Burch at FB. (Ed: Don't forget John Neeskens.) When Drew Moor and Shane O’Neill went down injured last year, the Rapids looked desperate at CB, trotting out Jared Watts, Marvell Wynne, Thomas Piermayr, Grant Van De Casteele and Zat Knight. So we’ve swapped lacking depth in 2014 in central defense to lacking depth in 2015 in the corners. Without a few savvy signings in the next few weeks, we might be one blown hamstring away from a repeat of last year’s MLS-worst defense that gave up 62 goals in 34 matches.
3) Why take a guy tied to two-years at sea with the 26th pick? Will Joseph Greenspan ever play soccer again?
David Goss reported on the ExtraTime Radio podcast that the Rapids believe Greenspan will serve in the Navy two years and emerge as a top talent in 2017. That’s a long way away and a lot of time at sea not playing soccer to suddenly become MLS ready. Considering the huge question mark that hangs over him, I can’t imagine he couldn’t have been had lower, or even signed at a later point in his career. This is a reach pick at best, and a total waste of a good pick at worst.