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Colorado Rapids choose Philip Mayaka as the 3rd overall pick in the 2021 SuperDraft

Many expected the Clemson midfielder to go first in the draft.

Through a series of trades, the Colorado Rapids have acquired Clemson midfielder Philip Mayaka in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft. The 20-year-old from Nairobi, Kenya, was selected third overall in the first round.

He fits in with the Rapids’ overall strategy of signing exciting young players coming from a healthy mix of other teams in the league, homegrown signings, and targeted high-profile draft picks. In 2019, the Rapids traded up to get Andre Shinyashiki, who was named the Rookie of the Year that season. If Mayaka works out the same way, the team looks to be in a great position going forward into the 2021 season.

Needless to say, Mayaka was entering the draft with massive hype. Clemson Head Coach Mike Noonan described him as the “most MLS-ready player I have coached since being at Clemson.”

Several mock drafts had Mayaka going first overall, and on the live cast for the draft, Andrew Wiebe, Matt Doyle, and Charlie Davies all had him going at #1 to Austin.

In the Armchair Analysis Mock Draft, Doyle called Mayaka “... the most obvious No. 1 overall pick since Cyle Larin in 2015, or maybe even all the way back to Steve Zakuani in 2009. It’ll be a shock if anyone else hears their name called first.” Once Austin FC had chosen midfielder Daniel Pereira and FC Cincinnati had taken forward Calvin Harris, it became pretty clear that the Rapids had their eye on the player and somehow managed to get him without needing to trade for an even higher spot.

The Rapids describe his skill set as a “small center midfielder who is effective with the ball at his feet. He played an attacking center mid role in 2019 and transitioned to a more defensive role in 2020, helping lead Clemson to an ACC championship. Mayaka was touted as the top player in the draft and one of the players most likely to make an immediate impact by MLS.”

Mayaka was named 2019 ACC Freshman of the Year, a 2019 MAC Hermann Semifinalist — the only freshman or sophomore ever named a finalist for the award — and named to the 2020 ACC All-Tournament Team.

Crucially, Mayaka had signed on to a Generation Adidas contract. Players signed to a GA contract do not count towards the annual salary budget until that player graduates from GA and moves up to a senior player contract. This year, there were five GA players available among the 174 players available for selection. All five players were selected by the end of the seventh pick. This GA contract also works sort of like a homegrown contract in that they aren’t available for selection in expansion drafts.

After drafting Mayaka, the Rapids traded the #21 pick to Austin for $50,000 GAM. Since there have been a series of trades for these draft picks going back months, here is the full list of trades:

  • Rapids acquire the #6 pick from Chicago for $125,000 in GAM
  • Rapids acquire Michael Barrios and the #21 pick from FC Dallas for the #15 pick as well as an international roster slot
  • Rapids acquire the #3 pick from Houston in exchange for the #6 pick and $200,000 GAM
  • Rapids acquire $50,000 in GAM from Austin in exchange for the #21 pick

So, net result, we’ve gotten Mayaka and Barrios in exchange for $275,000 in GAM and an international roster slot. While on paper, $325,000 in GAM is a lot to ask for a draft player who will take up an international roster slot, $275,000 plus an international slot in exchange for Michael Barrios as well as arguably the top-rated player in the draft sounds like some pretty smart dealings from Colorado Rapids Executive VP & General Manager Padraig Smith.

“Philip is an explosive midfield talent who’s demonstrated great ability on both sides of the ball,” said Smith. “We’ve shown our commitment to developing young players and believe Philip has the qualities to thrive in this league.”

Given that midfielders Cole Bassett and Kellyn Acosta are expected to be missing some time this year due to international call-ups, it is expected that Mayaka will be getting some fairly significant playtime.