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MLS Draft warnings, caveats and context: Looking at those 2010 top selections

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Denizens of the American sports scene recognize the imprecise nature of drafting college talent. Clearly it’s more art than science – otherwise, we would not have the notorious Jordan Oversight to consider:

Michael Jordan was selected No. 3 in the 1984 draft, but went on to more or less rule the kingdom with Chicago, claiming six NBA championships and 10 scoring titles as perhaps the game’s all-time all-timer. Ahem … No. 3.

So if elements as studied, filtered and fretted over as the NBA draft or the NFL draft cannot be folded into something more predictable, does the lesser known world of domestic soccer draft eligibles really stand a chance?

We don’t have to go much further than 2010, exactly three years ago, to see the imperfection at work. (Today is the exact anniversary of the 2010 MLS draft, so it seemed handy to start here.)

The top three picks were Danny Mwanga (pictured),Tony Tchani and Ike Opara. If you built a team around those three today – a forward, a midfielder and a defender now ostensibly be growing into their veteran leadership years – you might have something that looked like Toronto FC last year.

Note, if you will, that Toronto FC is picking first in 2013. There’s a reason: TFC was awful in 2012.

This is not to pick on Mwanga, Tchani and Opara, each of whom has struggled for reasons not entirely of their own creation. None of them are bad players – but they are walking, talking illustrations of the difficulty inherent in this process. Because they simply have not been what we might have reasonably expected of the top draft trio; shouldn’t one of the top three draft picks be strutting into star territory?

Rather, the trio’s combined average starts over three MLS seasons stands at an underwhelming 12.

Tchani launched his pro career in New York before moving to Toronto and then Columbus; all totaled he has 45 starts in three seasons.

New York was a tough place to start, as then-manager Hans Backe quickly assessed that products of the American system “are just missing something,” he once told me, unable to place exactly what, but probably referring to that extra little sixth sense of the game. It is probably the same something that Jurgen Klinsmann famously assessed was missing when Ghana dismissed the United States from World Cup 2010.

(MORE: a quickie MLS draft primer)

Backe once, somewhat infamously, I suppose, imposed a temporary rule in practice demanding that Tchani passed balls forward rather than backward or laterally. Clearly, the manager was something this side of impressed.

Tchani was traded to Toronto, where almost no one succeeds. Since then he’s moved to Columbus, where the central midfielder is a polarizing figure for fans around Crew Stadium. Again, he’s not a bad player – he’s just not storming the castles of success, either.

Opara has started even few games over three years (22), although some of that is down to injury misfortune. Either way, San Jose just let him go, and Opara – once seen as a shoe-in as the next great U.S. center back – now hopes to provide depth along Sporting Kansas City’s back line.

The circumstances around Mwanga, who has 42 starts, are even more muddy and tangled.  He was the Union’s original draft pick, taken No. 1 by the expansion club that day in Philadelphia – coincidentally, the draft was held right there in Philly. And he looked like a “can’t miss” type.

Well, he missed. Or the system missed. Or his deteriorating relationship with former Union manager Peter Nowak missed. Or something.

Bottom line here:  when a “can’t miss” No. 1 overall draft pick moves to Portland for Jorge Perlaza and allocation money, something has gone badly wrong.

Or, maybe we just say it again: it’s all more art than science.

By the way, the Nos. 4 and 5 draft picks that day in 2010, Teal Bunbury and Zach Loyd, have combined for seven full international appearances. That’s seven more than the combined number for the three men chosen above them with far greater acclaim on draft day exactly three years ago.

Burnley sign Hendrick in club-record deal; Adama to Middlesbrough

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 13:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic (C) of Sweden competes for the ball against Wes Hoolahan (L) and Jeff Hendrick of Republic (R) of Ireland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Sweden at Stade de France on June 13, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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Burnley have signed Republic of Ireland international Jeff Hendrick on a three-year deal.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

Hendrick, 24, shone for Ireland at EURO 2016 this summer and that persuaded Burnley to pay over $13.7 million to Derby County for the energetic central midfielder.

That means the Clarets have now spent nearly $30 million on new players this summer and have smashed their transfer record twice in the last two weeks after Belgian international Steven Defour arrived from Anderlecht.

Speaking to the club website, Hendrick revealed Burnley’s summer-long interest in him was a big factor in him signing.

“The Premier League was a big draw for me and it’s where I aspire to be after the summer I’ve had,” Hendrick said. “Burnley did so well last year going unbeaten for five months and how much they wanted me this summer was a real positive for me. I know there have been a number of bids and I was sitting there waiting for one to be accepted. I would have preferred it to happen earlier to and get to know your team mates and coaching staff a bit more, but I am just thankful it’s done now and I can go away with Ireland known my future is settled.”

Hendrick will add plenty of power to Burnley’s midfield as the Clarets aim to do something they’ve never done in their previous two seasons in the PL: stay up.


There was another Deadline Day deal for a newly-promoted team in the PL as Middlsebrough signed 20-year-old winger Adama Traore from Aston Villa.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

Traore was signed by Tim Sherwood from Barcelona for $9.1 million but failed to break through in Villa’s woeful campaign last season which ended in their relegation from the Premier League.

Now the pacey winger has another chance in the top-flight as he becomes Boro’s 11th signing of the summer and Albert Adomah heads in the opposite direction.

Aitor Karanka isn’t messing around and Middlesbrough’s unbeaten start to life back in the PL is testament to that.

Sunderland sign Didier Ndong for club-record fee

Didier Ndong
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Sunderland have made their first signing of what is expected to be a busy Transfer Deadline Day at the Stadium of Light.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

Gabon international midfielder Didier Ndong has signed for a club-record fee of $17.8 million and has a five-year contract at Sunderland.

The 22-year-old defensive midfielder joins the Black Cats from Ligue 1 side Lorient and David Moyes could add as many as five new players on Deadline Day.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ]  

Speaking to Sunderland’s website Ndong revealed his delighted at moving to the Premier League.

“It will be an honor to wear the Sunderland shirt and I will wear it with a true understanding of what it means,” Ndong said. “I am excited to meet everyone at the club, to see the stadium and of course the fans. Today is the most beautiful day of my life.”

Ndong will add to an injury-hit Sunderland midfield and it could free up U.S. U-20 international Lynden Gooch to play in a more attacking central role.

Moyes will be hoping he can add some more defenders between now and the summer transfer window shutting at 6 p.m. ET today, with rumors persisting that Lamine Kone could be on his way out.

Report: Roma lead chase for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere

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Early on Transfer Deadline Day it seemed like Premier League duo Crystal Palace and Bournemouth were the two options for Jack Wilshere.

Not so fast.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

According to multiple reports Arsenal’s 24-year-old central midfielder is reportedly being chased hard by AS Roma with regards to a season-long loan deal.

Wilshere has expressed his desire to leave Arsenal for regular action this season and over 22 clubs have reportedly expressed interest in taking him on loan.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

That list had been whittle down to three main contenders and it is believed the England international met with Palace boss Alan Pardew and Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe on Tuesday as he decided where he should go.

Now, though, it appears a Serie A giant is pushing hard to get Wilshere.

His good friend Wojciech Szczesny is already on loan from Arsenal to Roma and with the Italian side able to offer UEFA Europa League action, plus challenge for the top four in Italy’s top-flight, Wilshere may see it as more worthwhile than going on loan to Palace or Bournemouth who will both be challenging to finish in the upper reaches of midtable in the PL.

The transfer window in Italy shuts at 5 p.m. ET, an hour earlier than in England, so Wilshere will have to get a move on if he fancies spending the next year in the Italian capital.

Report: David Luiz to Chelsea edging closer; Fabregas staying

Luiz scored on his return to the Bridge and celebrated like a mad man.
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A deal between Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea for “the geezer” David Luiz appears to be back on.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

On Tuesday reports emerged that Antonio Conte‘s side had offered $39 million for 29-year-old Luiz. Bearing in mind he signed for PSG in 2014 from Chelsea for $65 million, that would be decent business for Chelsea.

PSG were said to want close to $50 million for Luiz and the deal seemed dead.

However, the Daily Mail is now reporting that the deal for Luiz is edging ever closer with the player said to be keen on a return to Stamford Bridge and the clubs are working towards and agreement.

A flashy central defender, Luiz has many question marks against his name when it comes to his defensive capabilities but he is a fans favorite at Chelsea after winning the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and Europa League with the Blues. He can also take a wicked free kick and his impressive range of passing sees him take risks out of the back.

Chelsea do need cover in central defense with Gary Cahill and John Terry their only options, plus Branislav Ivanovic able to slot over from right back to center back. Conte does have Kurt Zouma at the club but the French international defender is likely to go out on loan to Bundesliga side Schalke to step up his recovery following a horrendous injury last February against Manchester United.

Is Luiz heading back to west London?


In other Chelsea-related news Sky Sports is reporting that Spanish international playmaker Cesc Fabregas is staying at the Bridge.

Fabregas, 29, has been linked with a move away from Chelsea this summer after starting the first three Premier League games of the season on the bench. Conte has preferred N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in central midfielder and it was reported that Fabregas had fallen out with Chelsea’s new Italian manager.

The former Arsenal and Barcelona rejected speculation that he and Conte had a bust up but on Deadline Day rumors have arrived that AC Milan want to sign Fabregas.

However it appears Fabregas will be staying at Chelsea at least until January to fight for his place in the team.