The Major League Soccer SuperDraft has, in the past several years, become somewhat of a punchline for supporters of the New York Red Bulls. In all fairness to RBNY fans, the club is at least partially responsible for this. It wasn't that long ago that the Red Bulls couldn't be bothered to send a head coach to a SuperDraft, and the team is currently without a manager/coach as the 2013 draft approaches. Is the perception that the Red Bulls see the MLS SuperDraft as a nuisance and nothing more actually true?
Before evaluating how any MLS club has performed in previous SuperDrafts, it's important to remember that the college system in this country isn't spitting out a plethora of stars year in and year out. The chances of there being a soccer equivalent to RG3 or Andrew Luck in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft are between slim and "you're joking, right?" Fans may expect better from their clubs each January, but the fact is that a team has done well if it acquires a single lineup mainstay on draft day.
Both the 2010 and 2011 drafts offered proof that there is no guarantee of a team getting a future cornerstone via this selection process. Andy Najar, the 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year, joined DC United straight from that club's youth academy. Najar, for what it's worth, notched four assists and zero goals in 25 regular season appearances during the 2012 campaign. 2011 ROTY C.J. Sapong, chosen tenth overall by Sporting KC, finished off what was a pretty good 2012 season with nine goals and one assist. Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry had himself a great year en route to earning 2012 ROTY honors, but it's hardly a knock to suggest that the jury is still out on how good he will get moving forward.
One must also realize that it's foolish to evaluate any past New York draft that occurred before 2007. The Red Bulls were literally a completely different franchise during the first decade of its existence, one with a different name and different structure, not to mention one that played in a league that wasn't nearly as good as is MLS heading into the upcoming spring. Longtime fans may not want to admit it, but Metro are gone, and they don't warrant a mention here.
Below is a breakdown of the six MLS SuperDrafts that have thus far occurred during the Red Bulls era. Included are the players chosen by RBNY each year, marquee guys the team missed out on, and an overall team grade.
New York picks: Dane Richards (19th overall), Sinisa Ubiparipovic (33rd overall)
Marquee players missed: Maurice Edu, Brad Evans, Robbie Findley (all taken before Richards), Omar Cummings (31st overall), Tally Hall (44th overall), Luis Robles (joined RBNY last August).
Evaluation: Richards will forever go down as one of the most popular players of the second decade of this franchise's existence. The speedy winger and play-maker scored 21 goals and picked up 26 assists in his four and a half years with the club, and he was New York's most consistent player during the "winless summer" of 2011. Richards couldn't find his form in 2012 following the best campaign of his pro career, however, and he was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps last July. That deal didn't work out well for all parties involved, and Richards is now with English Championship side Burnley.
Ubiparipovic has his fans in the MLS community, but I couldn't see him in the current New York starting XI. He spent four seasons with the club before signing with then NASL side Montreal Impact in 2011. Ubiparipovic remained with Montreal when the Impact officially joined MLS last year, and he made 12 regular season appearances with the Canadian side in 2012.
Grade: Don't sell what Dane Richards meant to this team and this fan base short. B+
Marquee players missed: Brek Shea, Sean Franklin, Patrick Nyarko, Roger Espinoza (all chosen before Brunner), Eric Avila (19th overall), Geoff Cameron (42nd overall).
Evaluation: Brunner never played a single match for RBNY. Sassano has made just 12 total MLS appearances in the last three years. Roth now works for Sports Made Personal.
Grade: Ugh. F.
New York picks: Jeremy Hall (11th overall), Babajide Ogunbiyi (18th overall), Jack Traynor (29th overall), Nick Zimmerman (44th overall)
Marquee players missed: Steve Zakuani, Omar Gonzalez, Chris Pontius, Matt Besler (all taken before Hall), Stefan Frei (13th overall), George John (14th overall), Graham Zusi (23rd overall), Quincy Amarikwa (32nd overall).
Evaluation: Hall made 37 total regular season appearances with New York in two years. He has since spent time with Portland Timbers, FC Dallas and Toronto FC. Ogunbiyi was an experiment that was a two-time failure for the Red Bulls. Traynor never found a home in MLS.
Grade: George John and Graham Zusi. Ouch. F.
New York picks: Tony Tchani (2nd overall), Austin da Luz (14th overall), Tim Ream (18th overall), Conor Chinn (34th overall), Irving Garcia (50th overall)
Marquee players missed: Danny Mwanga (1st overall), everybody from third to eighth overall, Sean Johnson (51st overall).
Evaluation: Quite the up-and-down draft. Tchani went on to be an RBNY bust, and da Luz spent 2012 with NASL side Carolina RailHawks. Ream was a steal at 18, the league's best young defender two years ago and also, in the eyes of many, the unnamed 2010 MLS ROTY. He went through a sophomore slump the following season before being sold to Bolton Wanderers in January 2012, and his struggles have continued overseas. That doesn't affect the money that the Red Bulls earned in that deal, though, and thus the pick has to be considered a success. Neither Chinn nor Garcia are currently with a MLS club.
Grade: All indications as of the typing of this piece are that the Red Bulls dumped Ream at the right time, which is why I give the club a B- for 2010.
New York picks: Corey Hertzog (13th overall), John Rooney (25th overall), Tyler Lassiter (30th overall).
Marquee players missed: Omar Salgado, Darlington Nagbe, Zac MacMath, C.J. Sapong, Will Bruin (all taken before Hertzog), Jeb Brovsky (19th overall), Michael Farfan (23rd overall), Joao Plata (49th overall).
Evaluation: This could be the most frustrating draft in RBNY history to date. John Rooney, younger brother of Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, made little impact with New York in his single MLS season, and he is now back overseas. Neither Lassiter nor Hertzog were ever given a real chance by now former head coach Hans Backe. Hertzog, rated highly by scouts two winters ago, showed what he could do when on loan with USL Pro side Wilmington Hammerheads in 2012. That didn't matter in the long run, however, and none of the three are now with any MLS club.
Grade: Nothing to show for it two years later. F-.
2012 MLS SuperDraft
New York picks: You can't talk about the 2012 draft without first mentioning Connor Lade, a homegrown player signed by New York in December of 2011. Lade surprised many, myself included, when he became a starter for Backe when half of the coach's first-choice lineup went down to injury last spring. Lade went on to be a ROTY candidate, and he has since earned a call-up to train with the US Men's National Team.
New York had a busy 2012 SuperDraft day, but not in the way anybody predicted. They first traded for Portland Timbers forward Kenny Cooper, a move that was questioned and even criticized by multiple journalists. That swap ended up being a steal for New York, as Cooper led the team in scoring in 2012 with 18 league goals.
The Red Bulls then drafted goalkeeper Ryan Meara with the 31st overall selection. Meara earned the starting gig before the beginning of the regular season, and he was well on his way to ROTY honors before a hip injury ended his season in the summer.
Marquee players missed: Darren Mattocks (2nd overall), Nick DeLeon (7th overall), Austin Berry (9th overall)
Grade: It's impossible to grade this draft without knowing if Meara will be able to make a 100 percent recovery. Assuming that he can and does, though, not even the most jaded RBNY supporter can be upset with the job done by the franchise last winter. A-.
Overall: The Red Bulls have been more New York Jets than New York Giants in the past six years when it comes to draft selections. With that said, two of their picks from the past three drafts received national team call-ups (Ream to USMNT and Meara to the Ireland U-21, the second of which was blocked by New York). Those who would point out that the former administration didn't care enough about grooming young talent must not forget that it's a new day at RBNY, with a new front office and, eventually, a new head coach. The moves made by New York last winter showed me that this franchise is headed in the right direction regarding the draft and the roster's youth.
It may have been a slow start, but you have to learn to crawl before you can learn to run.
Zac is a lifelong soccer fanatic, a diehard Red Bulls fan and one of the only American A-League fans you'll meet. He has been covering Major League Soccer, RBNY and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.