Last week we saw the Portland Timbers trade their #3 overall SuperDraft pick to Toronto FC in exchange for Milos Kocic and Ryan Johnson. We'll have more on both of those players later this week, but right now we want to focus on what we gave away: a very high pick in what was once considered to be the most important day in a typical MLS year. But Timbers fans shouldn't worry about being left out this year because as MLS matures the draft actually doesn't produce the best young players in MLS anymore.
Since joining the league in 2011, the Portland Timbers have drafted a number of players from the SuperDraft, but only two of which are still on the team: Darlington Nagbe and Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Both of these players are decent, for their age, but certainly not what anybody would consider to be the best, even in their age group. Nagbe, for his part, is extremely talented, but his inconsistencies get in the way of a great career. The problem isn't only contained within the Timbers FO. Let's take a look at the top 5 players picked in the 2011 SuperDraft as well:
1. Omar Salgado
The highest profile player of the 2011 SuperDraft, Salgado was considered to be a prolific striker despite only being 17 years old. Despite this, Salgado has scored only once in 21 appearances with the team. There are obviously more factors involved in this, but as a #1 pick he's certainly not lived up to the expectations that many Whitecaps fans had.
2. Darlington Nagbe
A serviceable career so far, but nothing world breaking as I already pointed out above.
3. Perry Kitchen
Probably the most successful of this bunch, Kitchen was able to join a beleaguered DC United side as a defensive midfielder and create the biggest impact. With over 60 games under his belt, he's the most played of this bunch. He also played a prominent role in United's resurgence in 2012.
4. Zarek Valentin
Another Akron defender, Valentin was drafted by Chivas USA and then traded to the Montreal Impact earlier this year. While he saw meaningful minutes with Chivas USA, he's seen less time with the Impact. Considering neither side was a particular good side in 2012, it would appear than Valentine's defensive abilities were not on par with better defensive MLS sides.
5. Zac MacMath
As a goalkeeper, MacMath started 32 games and logged over 2800 minutes in 2012. Unfortunately, it was during Philly's worst season ever, and MacMath allowed 43 goals total. Overall, not a great start for the young keeper, though admittedly keepers do take longer to mature.
As you can see, there's really only been a single success story out of the top five picks in Portland's inaugural MLS season. If we look at the top 5 picks from 2012, we see a similar trend. While Darren Mattocks and Andrew Wenger had serviceable seasons, they were still used sporadically and neither commanded serious starting XI experience.
Really, the best part of being in the top five position of SuperDraft is being able to draft a Generation Adidas player who won't hit your cap. In that scenario, you can at least acquire a player who you can develop for a year or two and see if he pans out before hitting your cap. However, the days of getting a guaranteed league-beating player through the SuperDraft are gone.
So while the Portland Timbers currently have no picks in this year's draft -- though they can still trade for one -- it really isn't the end of the world. Players drafted during the event rarely have the kind of impact that they used to, especially within the first couple of years.
This is also why many MLS teams are beginning to focus their developmental efforts on their own academies rather than leave it to the NCAA. We already saw the Timbers trade for the homegrown rights of a New York Red Bulls product and, according the the Columbus Crew, Caleb Porter made a pretty aggressive offer for Crew HGP Wil Trapp. Clearly home-grown players are the future of youth in this league and Porter and the Timbers have shown that by bowing out of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
What do you think of the Timbers not having a pick in the 2013 SuperDraft?