The MLS SuperDraft is a bit of crapshoot, almost no matter where you are picking. If you happened to catch my article at SB Nation Soccer (link here), I tried to illustrate just how it is to find top talent. The later you get in the draft, predictably, it tends to go from playing craps to something more like roulette.
As it turns out, the Seattle Sounders are picking right about the point where the odds of striking gold start to get particularly long. Picking at No. 15 on Thursday -- barring any trades of course -- the Sounders are essentially hoping to find someone who can compete for minutes, and not much more.
I was curious, though, just how long the shots are of the Sounders finding a useful player at that point in the draft. What I did was cut my previous research into two parts, throwing out the players picked between 1-14 and focusing on players picked between 15-38 (the end of the second round this year) over the past four seasons.
Of all 96 players chosen between picks 15-38, just 19 of them have managed to appear in at least half of the games played since they were drafted. As it turns out, though, 12 of those 19 players were picked between 15 and 20. To me that suggests MLS talent evaluators are at least spotting the talent that's available. But it also suggests there's not much talent left at that point in the draft.
One other thing really jumped out at me: This is not where MLS teams find dependable scorers. I'll get into more detail later, but I couldn't find one reliable goal-scorer in the entire bunch.
After the jump I'll look at some of the kinds of players who have proved useful during this portion of recent drafts.
Tim Ream: If there's a poster boy for players who fell through the cracks, the New York Red Bulls centerback is it. Ream was the 18th pick in the 2010 draft, meaning he was skipped over by almost every team. (Fun fact: the Philadelphia Union passed on Ream three times.) No matter what you think of Ream, you have to admit that finding a player who has appeared in more than 90 percent of the games since he was drafted is definitely punching above your weight at this point in the draft.
Michael Stephens: The 2010 draft, it turns out, had a fair amount of value right around Pick No. 15. The LA Galaxy grabbed Stephens at No. 16 and have made good use of the midfielder. He hasn't posted flashy numbers, especially since cooling off after a fast start that saw him post six assists in his first 12 matches as a pro, but he has proven to be a solid contributor.
A.J. DeLaGarza: The No. 19 pick in the 2009 draft has managed to turn himself into one of the more interesting players in MLS during his three seasons. Despite being just 5-foot-9, DeLaGarza has managed to be a solid centerback and has appeared in 72 percent of games since being drafted. He's also seen time at full back, which has helped get him onto the field.
Shea Salinas: It might come as a bit of surprise being as he's moved around so much, but Salinas has made 89 appearances since being the No. 15 pick in the 2008 SuperDraft. Of course, those haven't always been the most productive appearances. Salinas has just four goals and eight assists despite seeing most of his time at attacking positions.
Graham Zusi: After a bit of a slow start, Zusi broke out in 2011. After starting just nine times during his first two seasons, Zusi made 25 starts and appeared in 32 games last year. He responded with five goals and seven assists. Tellingly, his six career goals are the most of any player picked between 15-38 during the past four drafts.
Michael Farfan: Never seemed entirely comfortable as a fullback, he did manage to get into 21 games and start 13 of them as rookie last year. Considering he was a No. 23 pick, that's really not bad. He showed some passing ability out of the back and there's talk of moving him to the midfield this year, where he'd likely be more comfortable.
There are definitely some more examples of quality players that were picked reasonably late in recent drafts, but I feel like I've painted a pretty decent picture for you. Keep in mind that this is really the best of the best and other than maybe Zusi, Ream and DeLaGarza they aren't even guys you can comfortably call entrenched starters.
There's also a conspicuous lack of scorers in this group. As I stated earlier, Zusi's six career goals are the best of the best of the bunch. The only player you'd even call a forward that is getting regular minutes out of this group of players is Quincy Amarikwa, who has three career goals in 53 appearances. Even if you look at every player taken in the last four SuperDrafts, which expands the pool from my previous research, it's no better. You can make a pretty compelling argument that Mike Fucito, who has three goals in 23 MLS appearances, is the best forward taken the past four SuperDrafts after the 14th pick.
It's not that coaches don't try to find forwards this late. By my count 18 players who were listed solely as forwards on the day of the draft were picked. None of them have turned into reliable scorers.
If the Sounders are going to get anything out of their 15th and 34th overall picks on Thursday, history would suggest they have a couple of options: 1. Use them to trade up; 2. Target a lunch-pail style midfielder/defender and hope for the best.