People say that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. I say that’s a load of bull. Nothing is certain in life. Not death: Prince is dead and Keith Richards is just fine, thank you. Not taxes: Donald Trump is a multi-milionaire and he didn’t pay a dime in taxes for 18 years. And not football: Everton just thumped the bloody hell out of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.
Take all of that uncertainty. Multiply it by a thousand. That, my friends, is the MLS SuperDraft.
The SuperDraft is like a proverbial box of chocolates: sometimes it’s filled with those really great caramel turtles with the flaked chocolate ganache on top. Other times, it’s that cheap waxy chocolate shell with that groady nougat in the middle.
The Rapids added to that notion of surprise and uncertainty a bit by zigging when the rest of MLS zagged. At least three of their four picks were something of a surprise to MLS writers and pundits.
Their first round pick, Sam Hamilton of the University of Denver, wasn’t tabbed as a first-rounder by any of the websites that follows MLS; not by MLS Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle, not by Will Parchman and Top Drawer Soccer, not by the folks at Soccer By Ives, and not by anyone in the SBNation MLS world. SBI thought maybe Sam would be a third round pick. Nobody else was bold enough (or fool-hearty enough) to try and forecast beyond round two.
Hamilton, and fellow DU Pioneer Reagan Dunk, happen to be the only SuperDraft players I actually had seen in person*, having attended a Pios game earlier this year. I also kept tabs on Hamilton in the MLS Scouting combine.
What I saw jived with what other pundits saw: strong kid, confident on the ball, makes short passes well. But he didn’t make much of an impression on me. The Rapids front office clearly sees something we’ve been missing.
Hamilton’s highlight video reveals some of those qualities. Hamilton is extremely tidy on the ball, makes quick decisions, and can strike an excellent diagonal ball. You can check the highlight reel below, but I will warn you: d-mid highlight tape isn’t quite as scintillating as watching a young striker meg three defenders and put a roulette on the goalie for a game winner.
Second round pick Liam Callahan is a little more conventional, in that folks who knew college soccer had him in and around the third round of the SuperDraft. Callahan went with the 30th pick in SBNation’s draft, but the Rapids picked him with the 24th selection. Callahan is naturally left-footed and played left back for Syracuse, and a good left back is hard to find. Just ask the USMNT.
Here’s tape on Liam:
He also has this adorable video. Liam is the dude in the middle.
Wasn't real familiar with Liam Callahan. But now I'm a fan. https://t.co/nSLZWPNcjG— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) January 13, 2017
The Rapids early picks were surprising not only in the ‘who’, but additionally in the ‘what’. The club is currently pretty well stocked at at d-mid and on the defensive backline, but lacks wingers. So when they bypassed several highly-regarded wingers to take Hamilton and Callahan, a defensive midfielder and fullback, it was a bit of surprise. The Rapids clearly knew what they wanted, and took it.
The third and fourth rounds of the MLS draft are notoriously spotty for turning up impact players, with a few notable exceptions, such as Chris Wondolowski and Michael Bradley. Of the 40 players drafted in the third and fourth round in 2016, only three played in MLS this past season. Looking back to players that have had more time to develop doesn’t significantly increase the odds of making MLS either; you’ve never heard of any of these players from the third and fourth round in 2014. These rounds are zero risk, all reward.
So it didn’t at all surprise me that the Rapids picked two forwards, Jaime Siaj and Peguy Ngatcha, that were fairly unknown. To some degree, everyone selected after the first round of the SuperDraft is relatively unknown to those of us outside of MLS team offices. Top Drawer Soccer made no mention of either of them in their first two editions of their draft big board, but in their final version, Ngatcha was ranked 81st and Siaj was ranked 92nd. For perspective on how much of a surprise pick Sam Hamilton was, TDS had him at 78th. For the basics on both player, Daniel Boniface at the Denver Post has you covered. In short, Siaj is a 6’2” forward from Spain, and just won the D2 NCAA Championship with tiny Pfeiffer University. From this highlight video, he’s clearly dribbly. His other talents, however, are hard to assess.
Fourth-round pick Ngatcha is originally from Cameroon, and was in the New England Revolution DA squad as a kid. At 5’11”, 200 pounds, he’s a physical presence, but he adds to that impressive speed and some pretty filthy dribbling. The really nasty stuff starts around the 2 minute mark:
To think a little bit more about what the odds are on Hamilton, Callahan, Siaj or Ngatcha suiting up for the Rapids in 2017, here’s Colorado’s recent draft history and the disposition of all of our picks today.
Recent Rapids Super Draft History (2014-2017)
|Year||Round (pick #)||Player||Position||Result|
|Year||Round (pick #)||Player||Position||Result|
|2017||1 (15th)||Sam Hamilton||CM||?|
|2017||2 (24th)||Liam Callahan||D||?|
|2017||3 (45th)||Jaime Siaj||F||?|
|2017||4 (86th)||Peguy Ngatcha||F||?|
|2016||1 (15th)||Emmanuel Appiah||CM||Released by COL midseason after playing 6 games on loan to '16 Charlotte Independence; Played 6 games for Swope Park Rangers (USL) and 1 game Sporting Kansas City|
|2016||2 (37th)||Dennis Castillo||RB||Appeared in 4 games for COL; 0 goals, 1 assist|
|2016||3 (43rd)||Chris Froschauer||GK||Released by COL midseason|
|2016||3 (56th)||Javon Torre||F||Cut preseason|
|2016||3 (58th)||Bradley Kamdem||CM||Cut preseason|
|2016||4 (63rd)||John Manga||F||Cut preseason|
|2015||1 (14th)||Axel Sjöberg||CB||Played 49 games for COL; 2 goals, 2 assists, finished third in voting for MLS 'Defender of the Year'|
|2015||2 (26th)||Joseph Greenspan||CB||Appeared in 4 games for COL, traded to Minnesota United for 2017 3rd rnd SuperDraft pick|
|2015||4 (67th)||Dominique Badji||F||Played 46 games for COL; 8 goals, 4 assists, started 17 games in '16|
|2015||4 (78th)||Matt Jeffrey||D||Cut preseason|
|2015||4 (83rd)||Brandon Fricke||D||Cut preseason; Appeared in 1 game for '15 Charlotte Independence (USL)|
|2014||1 (12th)||Marlon Hairston||RM||Played 50 games for COL; 4 goals, 7 assists, started 14 games in '16|
|2014||1 (19th)||Grant Van De Casteele||CB||Appeared in 1 game in '14 for COL, Waived after season, played for Rochester Rhinos in '15|
|2014||2 (33rd)||Jared Watts||CM||Played in 55 games for COL; 1 goal, 2 assists, started 18 games in '16|
|2014||2 (35th)||John Berner||GK||Started 5 games in '14 for COL; 2 Shutouts, 1-3-1 record; Started 21 games for USL Charlotte Independence in '16|
|2014||3 (49th)||Tolani Ibikunle||D||Cut preseason; played in '14 for Charlotte Eagles (USL), Currently playing for Ekenas in the Finnish 3rd division|
|2014||4 (68th)||Albert Edward||D||Cut preseason; played in '14 for Wilmington Hammerheads (USL)|
In short, four players drafted in the past four years have made a significant impact on the club: Axel Sjoberg, Dominique Badji, Marlon Hairston, and Jared Watts. Two players are still in the ‘wait and see’ phase of their careers: John Berner and Dennis Castillo. Joseph Greenspan was traded for a draft pick that became Jaime Siaj. The other ten players didn’t pan out. That’s roughly a 33% success rate. Granted, the sample size is small. But I didn’t think it particularly relevant to look at previous drafts, since they were conducted by Gary Smith or Oscar Pareja, and not the current Rapids technical staff which includes Pablo Mastroeni and Padraig Smith.
So if only one of the four draftees the Rapids picked goes on to have a significant MLS career, it approaches the expectations. If two or more have careers, it was a bumper crop. But before Siaj or Hamilton start asking MLS human resources staff convoluted questions about the MLS pension plan, they’ve got to make the roster. As you can see from the chart, 7 out of 17 players the Rapids have drafted were sent home before the season ever started.
The four draftees will need to prove themselves in the MLS February pre-season in order to claim a roster spot with the Colorado Rapids. The Rapids currently have 22 of their 28 allotted roster spots filled; and that’s before they potentially add rumored signings Bismark Adjei-Boateng and Gilbert Koomson. The Rapids generally keep 26 or fewer players on their roster, although there is still the additional possibility, of course, that some players currently on the roster could be traded or sold before the season opens on March 4.
I’m pulling for all these kids to make the club and have long and successful careers in MLS. And if they don’t? Well, hey, I thought the team should have drafted someone else anyways.
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* The player that did stand out in that DU game I attended was Kortne Ford, who the Rapids of course signed as a Homegrown several weeks ago. You should be excited about the future, ‘Pids fans.