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The Relativity of "Value" in the MLS SuperDraft: Need vs. "Best Available"

In the battle of drafting for need versus drafting the "best available" player, the latter usually wins out in the MLS SuperDraft. But I don't think that it should. In fact, I believe that a player's value is directly relative to the needs of a team. Here's why.

Jim Rogash

It’s just about that time of year when the same old conversation starts up again. I’m not talking about just the MLS SuperDraft discussion in general, but the disagreement over how a team should select a player. It seems to me that people always fall into one of two categories: those who believe a team should draft "the best available player" and those that believe a team should draft a player based off positional necessity. I am of the latter group, and here’s why.

My argument is simple, and it is this: I believe that a college player’s "value" in the MLS SuperDraft is directly related to 1) their availability within the draft (obviously) and 2) a team’s need for that type of player. I believe this for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I disagree with the notion that all soccer players, regardless of position, can be objectively lined up and sorted from best to worst. This is why I believe things such as "big boards" are pretty innocuous. To me, a soccer player is both qualified and quantified on a subjective basis. Not every MLS coaching staff is going to have an identical list of players—they’re going to have players ranked higher or lower based on what they’ve seen of them in their collegiate careers, the NCAA tournament, and the MLS combine.

But part of their decision-making, I believe, is necessarily predicated on where they see a player fitting in with their team. If a team, oh let’s say the New England Revolution, already has a WEALTH of players at a particular position, oh let’s say midfielders, then where is the value in a player who will likely (but not necessarily) contribute mainly to a team’s reserve league campaign? Does it not make more logical sense to draft a player who will be able to contribute more effectively (namely by providing depth) at a position where the team is weaker?

This was my argument last year as well and why I was a proponent of drafting Chandler Hoffman or Casey Townsend over Kelyn Rowe with the Revolution’s third overall pick.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved a lot of what I saw from Rowe this season and I am glad, in the big picture, that we drafted him. But you also can’t deny that, at the time, the Revolution’s corps of forwards consisted of basically just Zack Schilawski and Diego Fagundez. That’s the very definition of thin right there. And coupled with the talent that both Townsend and Hoffman showed off at the combine, it made the most sense, to me, to select one of them instead of another midfielder. In my eyes, I can’t see how Rowe was objectively determined to be a better player than these two forwards, which brings me to the crux of my argument: if a team needs a player at a certain position over another, is that player not more "valuable" to that team?

I hear the counter-arguments of course, such as college defenders or forwards not integrating as effectively into MLS as midfielders. And, sure, yeah, I get that. And, yes, I agree to an extent. But look at what Austin Berry did for the Chicago Fire this year. Or even someone like Andrew Jean-Baptiste for the Timbers who stepped up and filled in at center-back during their time of need. Or for forwards, take Townsend, who made 10 starts for Chivas USA this year. I would cite Darren Mattocks as well, but he was a known commodity heading into the 2012 SuperDraft--let's not go there.

All I’m saying is that the Revs have even more midfielders than they did last year, so why burn a pick on one with our first round selection this year? Unless they have the most amazing pre-season imaginable, how is a rookie midfielder ever going to contribute to a team that boasts the likes of (at the very least) Lee Nguyen, Juan Toja, Ryan Guy, Blair Gavin, Clyde Simms, Kelyn Rowe, Kalifa Cisse, Andy Dorman, and probably Scott Caldwell, too? With barely a fighting chance at breaking into the first team, how will that player ever adjust to MLS and find their footing? Reserve League? I guess, maybe; but to what extent? If they cannot contribute, then how can they justify their perceived "value" coming into the draft?

My intention is not to change your mind if you are on the other side of the argument, but merely to elaborate on my opinion in the matter and why I think the way I do. But I’m sure you've got your own thoughts on the matter, so let me hear ‘em.