With the MLS SuperDraft fast approaching, there's plenty of speculation about who the Seattle Sounders will choose with the 11th pick in the first round. At first, much of the attention was focused on Zac MacMath. There's chatter about Akron midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong, which must make those that charge per letter on kits very excited. And after John Rooney's goal at MLS Combine, his famous name is likely to emerge in the first round.
Don't worry too much about the inner workings of the MLS SuperDraft and the sometimes strange vocabulary surrounding it. Supplemental Draft? GA Contract? Combine? If you're not a hardcore MLS follower, you're bound to be lost, but turns out, it doesn't matter much. This is a draft, which most of us who follow sports in the States are quite familiar with. New teams pick first. Teams that finished outside the playoff structure pick next, with the worst through to the best. Then it's based on when teams exited the playoffs, with the teams with the lowest number of regular season points picking first. Thus, Seattle pick 11th because they exited in the first round of the playoffs and had a lesser point total than Columbus Crew, New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake. Oh, and you can trade away picks for players. See, nothing new here.
But while Sounders fans discuss and debate who might be the best pick up in 2011, it's also a good time to remember that what happens on Thursday will likely not define the season-at least, not in terms of winning either the Supporters Shield or the MLS Cup. Let's take a quick trip down memory lane. In 2010, Seattle picked up David Estrada, Mike Seamon, and Jamel Wallace (in that order). In 2009, when the Sounders entered MLS, they took Steve Zakuani, Evan Brown, Jared Karkas, and Mike Fucito (again, in that order). Neither Brown, Karkas, or Wallace appeared for the Sounders. Fucito did not appear in 2009. He, Estrada, and Seamon were all fringe players in 2010. Only Zakuani saw significant playing time in the year he was drafted. The former Zip had 29 appearances and scored 4 goals. But it's worth remembering that Zak was the first pick in 2009, and even he needed time to grow into the club, as was evidenced by the difference in his play between this season and last.
That's not to say draft picks have no value to the club. While Fucito, Seamon and Estrada rarely saw the starting XI in league play, it was the Seattle's depth that brought them the Open Cup. Remember the win against the LA Galaxy at Starfire? Los Angeles were the team at the moment, and had just defeated the Sounders 3-1 at the Home Depot Center. Just three days later, the Galaxy were in Tukwila, losing 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the USOC. Both teams sent out their reserves, but the skill of the Seattle team much more closely approximated an MLS starting XI.
It's essential that this sort of talent continue to extend down through the bench in 2011. The Sounders front office has given no indication that they intend to take the U.S. Open Cup less seriously this season. In addition, Seattle is back in the CONCACAF Champions League-via that Open Cup trophy--which means at least six additional matches. Between attempting to capture the USOC for the third straight year, hopping flights to Mexico and Central America, and going all out for the MLS Cup, having a bench that excels is not simply a want, but a need. That's the perspective to have during the MLS SuperDraft: finding reserves of talent that will both lead to shiny silverware and to a shiny future.