The offseason calendar rolls along this Thursday, with the most SUPER of occasions: The 2021 MLS SuperDraft. While it has diminished in size and grandeur in years past, breakout stars from recent MLS seasons — such as Portland’s very own Jeremy Ebobisse — have shown that there is still value to be found in the draft, even if it doesn’t feel quite as “super” anymore.
The question of finding that value is complicated even more this year by the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of college soccer. The entire college season calendar has been thrown off, with many conferences canceling their regular fall seasons and opting instead to play a condensed schedule in the spring, leading up to the rescheduled College Cup set to commence in May. Adding another wrinkle is the fact that players drafted this week can either choose to report to their MLS teams immediately, or stay in school and play in the spring season before joining up with their pro sides in the summer.
All of that makes the task facing the Portland Timbers on Thursday a more complicated one than in years past. They hold the eighth pick in the draft, acquired thanks to the trade with the LA Galaxy for Jorge Villafana. Portland’s history of drafting and developing players has been … middling, to say the least, but having a pick in the top ten affords them the opportunity to potentially find talent that can add to the quality of the squad. And Portland still has areas of need (hello, left back) that need to be addressed this offseason. So the pressure is on Gavin Wilkinson, Giovannie Savarese, Ned Grabavoy, and the rest of the front office to make accurate talent evaluations and find players that fit into their vision for the 2021 season.
So, who might those players be? Using the evaluations and mock drafts of people smarter than me (the ones by Top Drawer Soccer and Soccer by Ives, to be exact) as a starting point, here are some of the prospects Portland could take with the eighth pick in Thursday’s draft:
(Portland also holds picks 43 and 70 in the second and third rounds, but it’s hard to predict anything past the first round if you’re not a college soccer junkie, which I decidedly am not, so we’re looking solely at Portland’s number eight pick.)
Matt Di Rosa, LB, Maryland
Based on projections, talent evaluation, and areas of need, this looks to be the likeliest pick Portland will make in the first round. After winning the College Cup in 2018 with the Terps, Di Rosa emerged as one of the best left backs in the NCAA during the 2019 season. He projects as a solid if unspectacular left back at the pro level, with his biggest strengths being his dangerous crossing and good reading of the game. Viewed by many as among the top ten players in this draft, he could fill a big need for the Timbers, as they are badly in need of left back depth after trading away Villafana and Marco Farfan. It would make sense to use the pick acquired in the Villafana trade to take one of the top talents in the draft, especially one that projects as a steady presence for the backline.
Joshua Drack, F/LB, Denver
Another popular name that has popped up in many mock drafts, Drack played as a left winger in college and projects as a converted left back at the pro level (a very common evaluation for college players). He’s left footed and would have the natural inclination to drive forward and join in the attack, an attribute that Savaraese looks for in his fullbacks. Would provide a similar skillset to Claudio Bravo, so he carries the risk of being redundant, but if the Timbers staff are looking for consistency on the left side, then he fits the bill. Drack played at the combine held by Sporting Kansas City back in the fall, so there’s a chance he is better scouted than other players on this list too.
Rio Hope-Gund, CB, Georgetown
If Portland chooses to go the center back route, they could do worse than Hope-Gund. He was a key figure in the defense of Georgetown’s 2019 title winning team (who defeated now Orlando City star Daryl Dike’s Virginia side), and he comes from a college program that has a pedigree for producing top-level players. A slightly-shorter-than-ideal center back at six feet tall, Hope-Gund still projects as a strong and mobile defender who could matchup well against MLS attackers. The Timbers could still use another center back on their roster, so if the team feels that Hope-Gund projects better than 2020 draft selection Zac McGraw, they could pick him up here.
Bret Halsey, M/RB, Virginia
Another player that played in the midfield but projects as a right back, Halsey has recently shot up some big boards. He has a high work rate and the kind of passing versatility that could make him a flexible and useful right back. He also comes with the reputation of being a very coachable player. Portland is still in need of right back depth, but they may be answering it with a loan move for Josecarlos Van Rankin. Halsey could be a good option if the loan move doesn’t pan out, or Portland wants additional depth at multiple positions.
Luther Archimede, F, Syracuse
More of a wildcard pick, as forward isn’t as pressing of a need for Portland as the backline. But with Ebobisse and Felipe Mora as the only two projected forwards on the depth chart until Jaroslaw Niezgoda recovers, Archimede could be an option if the team is looking to pick up forward depth. A player who projects as a fringe top-ten pick, Archimede didn’t have the greatest of 2019 seasons with the Orange. Still, he posseses the size and technical abilities to develop into an impact player at the pro level. He would take up an international slot, however, and Portland has bigger needs elsewhere, so while in the realm of possibility, Portland picking Archimede at eight isn’t likely.
So what do you think, Rose City? Who of the above should the Timbers pick? Anyone not mentioned here that they should draft instead? Think they should do something crazy, like trade the pick for a chest full of TAM? Leave your thoughts below!