Anyone can pick a Darlington Nagbe, an Andrew Wenger or a Perry Kitchen, some of the no-brainers of recent Major League Soccer drafts. But who can kick over the rocks and reach into the dark, lint-covered nooks and crannies to find that lanky midfielder from Rhode Island – who just might one day suit up at center back for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team?
From the last five MLS drafts, here are the best finds found after 30 picks.
(Ranked in order, based on my own highly subjective, completely non-scientific assessments):
1. Geoff Cameron, No. 42 in 2008 to Houston: A little-known midfielder out of Rhode Island became a serviceable midfielder for Houston – then got to be an elite-level center back almost by accident. Now Cameron is walking the fringes of Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team pool, not so far from busting his way into solid top-18 status.
2. Joao Plata, No. 49 in 2011 to Toronto: Not much has gone right around BMO Field over the years, but Aron Winter and staff nailed this one, picking the diminutive Ecuadorian near the end of the third round. He had 3 goals and 5 assists as a rookie last year.
3. Sean Johnson, No. 51 in 2010 to Chicago: Came out of nowhere in 2010 but quickly opened eyes with quality starts at Toyota Park. Johnson soon became a member of the national team brat pack as Bob Bradley, and then Klinsmann, began long-range planning for Tim Howard’s eventual retirement.
4. Joe Willis, No. 50 in 2011 to D.C. United: It took an injury to Bill Hamid to put a spotlight on the St. Louis native, but he’s sure exploiting the opportunity with a series of skillful, composed starts in goal at RFK.
5. Danny Cruz, No. 41 in 2009 to Houston: Never quite made himself a fixture for Dominic Kinnear at Houston, but he’s making people take notice this year with lots of hustle and bustle up and down the right side for D.C. United.
6. Eric Alexander, No. 44 in 2010, Dallas: Was a valuable part of Dallas’ 2010 MLS runner-up squad and still apparently a wanted-man around the league, as Portland has recently fended off trade inquiries.
7. Ben Zemanski, No. 47 in 2010 to Chivas USA: A part-time starter as a rookie, the University of Akron product (one of many lately) has been a part-time starter, at least, since then his late 2010 selection.
8. Ryan Meara, No. 31 in 2012 to New York: It may be a little early yet to proclaim this a big draft-day steal, but the early returns in Meara’s rookie season at Red Bull Arena look promising enough.
9. Darrius Barnes, No. 40 in 2009 to New England: Started 72 games over his first three MLS seasons – not bad at all, even if the team around him wasn’t very good.
10. Chris Schuler, No. 39 in 2010 to RSL: It’s hard to get games when Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are in the way, but Schuler never looks out of his element when asked to fill in. He’s already made 21 starts for Jason Kreis.
11. Shaun Francis, No. 63 in 2010 to Columbus: A part-time starter for two years at Crew Stadium who has become the first choice at left back in 2012.
12. Kyle Nagazawa, No. 33 in 2010 to Philadelphia: Played valuable minutes last year for Peter Nowak’s side but then went to Los Angeles in a winter trade. Probably would have logged more minutes there already but for Juninho’s surprise return to the HDC just before 2012 season kickoff.