Role: Central Midfielder
Squad Status: Departed
Season in a Sentence: Despite being heralded by some as one of the most “MLS-ready” prospects in the 2021 SuperDraft, Mayaka never saw the field for the Rapids first team in his two seasons with the club.
While some MLS clubs have begun eschewing the league’s annual SuperDraft, the Colorado Rapids have continued to look for value in the process. The club has incorporated draft-day trades to move up in the order during three of the last four iterations of the event, and has traded away or traded for a pick every year in SuperDraft history.
The 2021 season was no different, as the Rapids sent $200,000 in General Allocation Money to swap first round picks with the Houston Dynamo at the onset of the event. Colorado used the third overall selection to bring in box-to-box midfielder Philip Mayaka—a highly-touted youngster from Clemson University who signed a Generation Adidas contract ahead of the draft. Billed by some as one of the most “MLS-ready” prospects in the pool, plenty of fans were eager to see what the young Kenyan could offer to the side.
Mayaka spent the entire 2021 season on loan to with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, but couldn’t earn consistent minutes under manager Brendan Burke. While the youngster started less than half of Switchbacks’ league matches, he still managed to show well enough to earn a call-up to the Kenyan National Team late in the year.
The call-up gave supporters—and Mayaka himself—a confidence boost heading into the 2022 season. However, while the club’s off-season off-loading of Kellyn Acosta and Cole Bassett also opened up more minutes in the midfield, Colorado quickly made it clear that Mayaka wasn’t part of the team’s long term plans. The youngster was sent down to Rapids 2 during preseason and became a mainstay for the B team during the MLS Next Pro season. He appeared in 18 of R2’s 24 matches and totaled more than 1,495 minutes with the team, but never looked significantly above the standard of play in the nascent league.
Despite being billed as a hard-nosed midfielder with a good eye for a crunching tackle, Mayaka failed to stand out in the lower leagues. He won slightly less than 50% of his 166 attempted ground duels during the regular season, and didn’t offer much in the way of winning aerial battles (40%). His pass accuracy of 84.8% was acceptable, but not above the standard of his younger peers. While the Kenyan did add three goals for the reserve squad during the season, he wasn’t a consistent threat in the final third and never recorded an assist during his 2,641 career minutes as a professional. He made the bench for Colorado’s first team four times in two years, but never saw the field in a competitive match.
Colorado declined to exercise their team-held contract on Mayaka’s cap-free contract at the end of his second year in Burgundy, and the club bid farewell to the midfielder on social media shortly after the season. As a result, the Kenyan became the second consecutive SuperDraft first round “bust” for the club after Jeremy Kelly left the team in similar fashion following the 2021 season.
It’s easy to blame the Rapids for failing to get the most out of their third overall selection, but the SuperDraft’s relevance has been slowly fading thanks to the league’s increased investment in youth development. Daniel Pereira, who was drafted first overall by Austin FC, is currently the only notable member of the 2021 draft class to earn significant MLS playing time. The vast majority of the group has ended up carving out their early professional careers in the lower divisions.
While it’s possible that the Rapids could gain some value from the draft in the future, it’s unlikely that the team returns to spending significantly to move up in the order like they did in 2021. It’s probably not worth splashing a couple hundred thousand in allocation money just to take a flyer on a player like Mayaka in the future, especially as the nation’s soccer infrastructure continues to identify top talent earlier in their careers.
Given how important MLS funny money has become in Colorado’s transfer strategy, the price the club paid to acquire Mayaka seems like it was too steep in hindsight. If he’s the best the club can get for a consensus top pick in the draft, the Rapids would be better off allocating those funds elsewhere.
Stats via MLS Next Pro.