Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Top of the Classes

With the transfer window, end of a year, end of a decade and so on, work has been zany. But I did manage enough time to do a quick comb through MLS SuperDraft history to make my call on the best ever draft classes.

You'll note I said "SuperDraft" above, which means this ranking does not include the first four seasons of MLS ('96-'99). Back then, when the league was still starting up and figuring it out, all the various drafts spread the field so... like, what to count? Even if you just take the college drafts from those years, no class can measure up to these anyway.

There is no games played stat or career benchmarks used to objectively rank the classes. Just callin' it this time. T'was not easy. The nicely-packed 2006 class (Altidore, Kljestan, McCarty, Movsisyan, Wynne, Burch, Bornstein, etc.) just missed out on the list. They were a close #6, and frankly, there was much shuffling between slots two thru five. But not #1, that was my initial pick. And there it stayed.

The SuperDraft has gone up and down in size through the years, so I'll indicate the number of rounds for that particular year in parentheses. The difference didn't weigh a ton in my picks, but if all else seemed equal, I tended to eventually give the edge to a draft with 40 players selected over the one with 80.

Some guys did all their real damage in the home league, others spent many seasons abroad hunting for glory. It all counts, and being that this is based on a way to bring on-field benefits to MLS clubs, domestic contributions are definitely not shoved to the background. Naturally, those players who go on to great international success (club and country stylez with a Z) have legitimately boosted legacies.

Obviously, players from the most recent vintages haven't had as much time to prove themselves and pile up trophies, which makes it harder to judge. Again, no wacky time-bending formula. Just called it. None really looks like a major threat, other than the bountiful 2017 class (Gressel, Robinson, Abubukar, Yueill, Ebobisse, Lewis, Elliott, Danladi). Perhaps they'll crash this party one day.

Until then, here are my crème de la crème:

#5 - 2010 (4)

Modern defense for days was the theme of the recently passed decade's first SuperDraft. Ike Opara and Tim Ream in the middle, Steve Beitashour and Justin Morrow on opposite flanks, with Sean Johnson in goal. Need a sub? How about hearty soldiers Zach Loyd and Seth Sinovic. The attack duo of Teal Bunbury and Jack McInerney has rung up 100 goals and counting. Solid good stuff.

#4 - 2000 (6)

At the dawn of the previous decade, solidity and strength were the market items as the SuperDraft officially came to be. And again, defense was the headliner. Nick Rimando in goal, Carlos Bocanegra and Danny Califf at the heart of the back line, and Kerry Zavagnin guarding the gate in front of them = just try it. Adin Brown, Sasha Victorine, Peter Vagenas and Nick Garcia were also taken, along with another cohort of solid pros. Best attacker plucked this year? Bobby Convey.

#3 - 2009 (4)

Huh. Guess what. This year's draft contained a measurable volume of defensive proficiency. Who could imagine such a thing? Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and his longtime running mate Graham Zusi lead the way in front of keeper Stefan Frei. Adding in Chris Pontius, Sam Cronin and A.J. DeLaGarza certainly doesn't hurt. Steve Zakuani was good but unlucky, while even Quincy Amerikwa has had his moments.

#2 - 2002 (6)

They weren't all dominated by defense treasures. A memorable World Cup year started with MLS teams getting fat on big talent. Taylor Twellman, Brad Davis and Shalrie Joseph were the plummiest plums of all. But nobody would shake a stick at Davy Arnaud, Justin Mapp, Alejandro Moreno, Jon Busch, Kyle Martino and our old pal Cory Gibbs, either.

#1 - 2004 (6) 

Basically, it was a glam-tastic haul. Right off the bat, you get Clint Dempsey, Chad Marshall and Bradley, a top three that top all other top threes. A-ha, but this draft was deep, too. Strong pros like Clarence Goodson, Chris Wingert, Will Hesmer and Goonie-in-chief Alan Gordon (who was taken in the sixth round). We could go on. Jeff Parke (last pick), Ned Grabavoy, Olivier Occean, Andy Dorman (also a sixth rounder). Even one Freddy Adu. Not bad for a day's work.

- Greg Seltzer

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