To the outside observer, the 2012 MLS SuperDraft seemed to be breaking almost perfectly for the Seattle Sounders. Despite holding the No. 15 pick in the first round, three Generation Adidas players were available to them when their turn finally came around.
Forward Dom Dwyer, who many seemed to think was high on the Sounders' list, was one of those players. Enzo Martinez, a player that would have seemed to be a nice fit if the Sounders wanted more of an attack-minded central midfielder, was also there. Tyler Polak, a leftback who played in the Creighton defense that had allowed just five goals all season, was, too, available.
The Sounders, it would seem anyway, had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose.
Instead, they picked none of the above. Rather than make a pick that would have been universally praised, they selected Andrew Duran, a player only the hardest core of hard core college soccer observers knew anything about.
At first blush, the pick seemed odd on numerous levels. They had passed on an opportunity to take any one of three players who would not count against the cap. They had opted against picking players league scouts had apparently thought highly enough of to entice them to leave school early. Even worse, Duran's MLS-distributed biography showed just one full season and noted that he suffered a serious knee injury in 2010.
Judging the pick just on those criteria, though, would be folly. Clearly, the Sounders saw something different in Duran than what shows up on a stat sheet. Just as importantly, the Sounders also saw something that doesn't seem so obvious to many draft observers: Generation Adidas players are a bigger risk than they often seem.
Among the more well-known benefits of drafting a Generation Adidas player is that they do not count against the salary cap. (The other big benefit in previous years has been that they don't have to be protected in the expansion draft. With no 20th team yet secured, there won't be an expansion draft for at least a year, so we can ignore that aspect for these purposes.) That part of the GA deal, though, is highly overblown.
While it's definitely nice that teams don't have to worry about fitting GA players into their salary structure, the vast majority of the other drafted players don't count against the salary cap either. Other than in a few exceptional cases, seniors sign deals that are either the league minimum or lower (so-called apprentice salaries) and can occupy one of the up to 10 off-budget roster spots. Duran will surely fill one of those spots if he makes the team.
Unlike the contract most seniors sign, though, GA players make considerably more than the league minimum. While that's a non-issue as long as they remain part of the GA program, they don't take a pay cut after they graduate and start counting against the salary cap. An example of how problematic this can be was showcased recently when Chivas USA elected not to protect Zarek Valentin in the expansion draft after he graduated from GA. Valentin's total compensation last year was reportedly $132,000, a figure that is higher than all but a handful of MLS fullbacks.
Although Chivas USA expressed frustration over being put in that situation -- and ultimately losing Valentin -- they shouldn't have been. Valentin played in about 69 percent of Chivas USA's minutes last year and, traditionally, that's roughly the point at which outfield players are deemed worthy of graduation. In fact, every outfield GA player who had played such a high percentage of minutes since 2000 (via Climbing the Ladder) has graduated after their rookie season.
Non-GA players pose no such risk. Most seniors sign standardized deals that usually include an option year that rarely guarantees a huge raise. Generally speaking, most drafted players must wait a good four years before seeing a significant bump in pay and that's usually only after playing particularly well.
Money issues aside, though, the Sounders seem to feel they got the player they wanted. What Duran lacks in statistical prowess, he apparently more than made up for in his performances in front of Sounders coaches. Duran trained with the Sounders last year while at college, was one of the players invited to their Las Vegas combine and several observers told me they agreed with coach Sigi Schmid's assessment that Duran was the best defensive ball-handler at last weeks' combine.
While Polak seemed to get the plaudits for Creighton's defense, there were plenty of people who thought Duran was just as important, if not more so. Duran is also a bit more versatile than his college career might suggest, as Sounders officials are convinced he's capable of playing fullback as well as his more natural centerback.
It obviously remains to be seen just how good of a pro Duran can be, and I'm not going to sit here and sing his praises being as I have literally never seen him play. But if you were one of those people scratching their heads and throwing their hands up in disgust when Duran's name was called, I'd simply ask that you maybe reconsider that rush to judgement and consider these other factors. Maybe the Sounders are mad, but you can rest assured their is a method.