Major League Soccer will conduct its SuperDraft this Thursday, and the San Jose Earthquakes are slated to make 5 picks in the draft’s four rounds. The team’s first round pick, at No. 9 overall, possibly provides the best opportunity to select a player ready to make an impact from the get-go, but even one of its lower round picks could garner the proverbial “diamond in the rough.”
The Earthquakes roster counted 21 players in total heading into draft week, and that number is expected to increase to almost 30 before the new season kicks off. The SuperDraft should provide general manager John Doyle and head coach Mark Watson the chance to fill in some of holes in the current roster, but where to begin when it appears that the team is set at only forward and goalkeeper?
The recently concluded MLS Combine in Florida revealed just how deep this draft class is at centerback and midfielder — two positions that the Earthquakes could look to shore up Thursday via the draft in Philadelphia. Add in that MLS signed seven players to Generation Adidas contracts, one or more of whom should be available when the Quakes select at #9, and San Jose will hope to make good on the chance of bringing home a proven collegiate talent.
The Earthquakes were active in last month’s Re-Entry Draft, selecting MLS defenders Brandon Barklage and Shaun Francis, but neither has officially been added to the roster. Both players could add depth at fullback for Watson’s squad but that shouldn’t stop the Quakes from reserving their No. 9 pick for a versatile defender.
And so it is very possible that MLS Commissioner Don Garber will step to the podium Thursday morning and announce that the San Jose Earthquakes have selected, from Creighton University, a member of the 2014 Generation Adidas class, defender Eric Miller.
Miller has played across the back line for the Bluejays in his three years in Omaha, but it is expected that he will find his footing as a professional at outside back. A speedy defender, but with good size at 6’1”, Miller can also step into an outside midfielder role as well — a trait that will have Watson prizing the former U.S. men’s national team U20 player’s versatility.
Should Miller already be off the board by the time the Quakes select at No. 9, another option will be to bolster the midfield with a playmaker or winger. To that end, San Jose could see the likes of Louisville’s Marlon Hairston, a raw but technically gifted central midfielder, or Stanford’s JJ Koval, a strong distributor of the ball from the center of the pitch, available. The former comes with a GA contract in hand while the latter is familiar to the coaching staff, but either one would be a welcome pick. Coastal Carolina’s Pedro Ribeiro would be a steal if he was still on the board, but the likelihood is that the athletic 6’4” central midfielder will be draped in another team’s scarf by that time.
As noted earlier, the 2014 draft class is loaded with top prospects at centerback. And while this might not seem like a position of need for the Earthquakes, depth in central defense in a year when projected starters Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez will miss stretches of games around this summer’s World Cup must be considered. Solid selections like Hartford’s Damion Lowe, enticing as a GA signing, and New Mexico’s Kyle Venter, as steady as they come, could provide service as rookies in San Jose. Both have displayed dominance in the air at the college level and are expected to be solid as professionals.
And finally, a fourth option for Doyle and Watson may be to trade the No. 9 pick in exchange for already established MLS player. Not as far-fetched as it might seem — the Earthquakes have traded away their first round pick in three of the past six years. Most notably, the Quakes brought Steven Lenhart to San Jose in 2011 at the cost of the #15 overall pick, a move that paid major dividends during the 2012 Supporters’ Shield winning season. Instead of drafting for a promise, the Earthquakes could make a move for a proven.
No matter what choices the Earthquakes make in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, the team will certainly return from Philly with some promising young talent that will make for an exciting preseason camp. Perhaps a surprise will emerge from a lower round selection, like forward Adam Jahn did a year ago, and go on to make an important contribution as a rookie. The possible outcomes of Thursday’s draft seem endless, as does the future impact these players may provide. The Earthquakes are on the clock.