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Earlybird Quakes SuperDraft Preview

It’s not for a month, and it’s rarely a particularly valuable talent-acquisition mechanism, but for a fanbase short on hope, I figured I’d give it a look for you.

AS Roma Training Session
Syracuse defender Miles Robinson shrugs off AS Roma’s Juan Iturbe
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Despite the miserable 2016 season, the Quakes only boast the 6th draft pick (out of 22) in the upcoming 2017 MLS SuperDraft due to two expansion teams and the presence of three clubs in even more dire straights than the men from San Jose. Unfortunately, these drafts tend to be exceptionally top-heavy with their talent distribution, offering top-5 teams difference makers then precipitously dropping off. It’s not too many slots between an elite pick (Fatai Alashe at number 4) and a middling one (JJ Koval at number 9).

I’ve denoted anyone who would be a Generation Adidas player (underclassmen who do not count against the salary cap) with an asterisk.

Overall Strategy

In an ideal world, you’re drafting for talent, not for need. The Quakes may in fact be in such a position not because their roster is so complete (after all, it only has 16 players under contract), but precisely because they could use help pretty much everywhere.

Either way, it’s usually a bit of a balance between the two. You have to look at the landscape and see what kind of talent is out there, look at your own roster to see where the gaps are, and see if there is an overlap that you value at or near your selection. This draft has plenty of strikers and central defenders who would be a good value at the sixth slot, which coincidentally happen to be two places the Quakes could really use a talented younger player to develop and bolster depth. If nothing changes, I’d imagine the Front Office looks in one of those two directions.

However, public scouting knowledge of college soccer is an infinitesimal fraction of, say, college football, so there’s always a possibility that the team rates a player in an unexpected way (much like Alashe in 2015), or pulls the trigger on an unexpected position (much like Andrew Tarbell in 2016). That would be fine, but it’s well beyond what I can assess from behind my keyboard without professional soccer-scouting skills. The combine, too, is an unusually important part of the process, because it allows evaluation against better competition within frameworks that are more translateable to the professional game. So a lot could change between now and draft day.

Number 6 Overall Pick

A few names will almost certainly be off the board already, including blue-chippers Jeremy Ebobisse, Abu Danladi, and Jackson Yueill (who may even qualify for a homegrown deal). Beyond those three is quite a lot more uncertainty, but it’s richly stocked with STs and CBs.

The center-back group around this pick is magnificent. Miles Robinson* (Syracuse), Thomas Hilliard-Arce* (Stanford), and Brandon Aubrey (Notre Dame) are all prospects I’d be delighted to see drafted to San Jose. Robinson has long been a scout’s darling, with prototype size (6’2”, 190), developed all-around game, athleticism, and several strong seasons at the top of college soccer. Hilliard-Arce, who is a touch smaller, been a pillar of granite in Stanford’s back line, helping lead the Cardinal to back-to-back National Championships and putting up some truly jaw-dropping defensive statistics along the way. Aubrey is a bit of an unusual prospect, possessing the desired size for a center back (6’3”, 193), but playing until this year as a midfielder at multiple positions. He even takes set pieces for the Irish. With that background, and several years spent training abroad, he’s a high soccer IQ prospect with good technique, and all that’s left to be seen is whether or not he’ll be able to become a commanding center-back specialist rather than a utility man. For what it’s worth, TopDrawerSoccer rated him as the best player in college soccer last season.

If the Quakes were to look for a striker, there are a few different options. Nick DePuy (UCSB) was long thought a top-10 prospect but his stock fell a bit after a lukewarm 2016. He’s 6’4” and well-built, however, so I could easily imagine Kinnear seeing him as a worthy developmental project. David Goldsmith (Butler via England), who came up in the West Bromwich Albion academy, has been getting some notice as a technically astute poacher, and will likely go in the top 10, but doesn’t seem to fit the Kinnear profile.

Beyond those are two more strikers who are both foreign-born underclassmen and represent two-thirds of the finalists for the soccer equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Gordon Wild* (Maryland via Germany) exploded onto the scene from seemingly nowhere to bang in 17 goals in the short NCAA season, but it’s always hard to tell with goalscorers whether their game will project upwards, and Gordon isn’t built to be a target man. Albert Ruiz* (Florida Gulf Coast via Spain), who would also need a GA offer, hit an incredible 22 goals in 2016 and may well draw some attention as well, but cuts a similar profile to Goldsmith and Wild.

The only player outside those positions who has a similar rating is fullback/defensive midfielder Tim Kubel* (Louisville via Germany), who would surprise me as the pick, although he’d definitely be a good value.

Later Rounds

Beyond that first round pick, it’s pure value. No one is expected to even necessarily make the roster from the later three rounds, and in fact just one has for the Quakes in the last two years. Therefore, expect the Quakes to focus on players they have particular familiarity with (Chimdum Mez, Kip Colvey, and Ty Thompson all fit this mold) or a raw, high-upside pick.

There are a few guys with second round grades (or later) that I think are worth keeping an eye on. Striker Brian Wright (Vermont via Canada) played for the Burlingame Dragons last summer but in many ways he was overshadowed on the Dragons by teammate Danny Musovski (UNLV), who is an underclassman unlikely to come out for this year’s draft. However, Wright has a low first-round grade, and would be an excellent value if he fell to the Quakes’s pick in the second round. Tanner Thompson (Indiana), Tommy’s other older brother, who plays a similar position to Tommy, is finally coming out for the draft this year and is a nice player who would be valued roughly at that second round slot. I could also imagine Brian Nana-Sinkham, Hilliard-Arce’s center back partner at Stanford the last two years, being picked around there, and he Quakes might feel like he was underrated by virtue of the defensive talent surrounding him. Certainly the familiarity level with his game is high. Finally, Christian Thierjung (Cal) is an attacking midfielder who ran the Golden Bears’ offense for the last two years and whom the coaching staff has seen quite a bit of. He isn’t likely to fall to the second round but if he does, he’d be a great choice.

Josh Smith (University of San Francisco), another center back, grew up in Germany but has played on both Dragons teams and spent his four years of college soccer in the Bay. I’m not sure where he comes off the board, but if he’s still around in the third or fourth round, I wouldn’t be surprised to see San Jose go local again. One more unorthodox pick for the second round would be Nazeem Bartman (South Florida), who has drawn comparisons to Dom Dwyer for both his career path and playing style, a pure goalscorer who may well have the upside for this to be a worthy gamble.