2021 MLS SuperDraft Preview
When? January 21, 11 a.m. PT, 2 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. GMT.
Where? Virtually, from an undisclosed location.
How can I catch the action? The Draft can be viewed online via MLS's Twitch /MLS and Twitter @MLS
Ahhh, doesn't this feel good? After what feels like an eternity we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. A way out of this sorry mess. Sorry? You thought I was talking about the Covid vaccine? My bad. I thought it was pretty obvious I was talking about the MLS off-season. This is always an exciting time of year in my book, a time where you feel you can really start to look forward to the season ahead. Hopes. Dreams. Aspirations. Glory. Awaits every MLS fan at this time of year. At least, they think it does. Usually Orlando City dash all of the above by June. Not so with this current crop of Lions. Success and, dare I say it, silverware is a very real possibility for this team. As such, I see the draft looking a little different this year. At least as far as Orlando City are concerned.
This 2021 MLS SuperDraft is certainly an intriguing one, but I don't see it being as profitable as the 2020 draft. That might seem like something of a premature judgment, but let me preface this gloomy prediction with a little bit of context. Our success in 2020 means we are picking much further down the order than we have in the past. To anyone who isn't overtly familiar with the nuances of the nonpareil event that is the American Drafting process, what I am about to say may seem like something of an oxymoron. You don't want to be picking towards the start of the draft. It tends to mean you're rubbish. Hi, Fort Lauderdale fans.
Simply put, we're not likely to be picking the cream of the crop. Now I realise that was a huge generalisation, but it's one that's not to far wide of the mark in terms of Orlando City's 2021 Draft. That's not to say Orlando can't benefit from this draft process at all. No, no, no. Orlando are just going to have to be a little cuter. Orlando have 2 picks in the first round of the Draft, at 19th and 22nd overall. The 22nd pick is our natural pick. Woop! I'm sorry, it still excites me that we aren't picking in the top 3. As for the the 19th pick, this was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Union last summer which lead to us sending them the rights to Nathan Harriel.
Our final pick of the draft comes in the third round, 49th overall. You have to cast your mind all the way back to 2018 to find the origins of this pick. It was gained via a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps, in which the Canadian club registered Jose Aja, and also sent Orlando $125,000 in targeted allocation money (TAM). The Lions also sent the 76th overall pick to Dallas in an undisclosed trade in February of 2020.
So, you can probably see why the 2021 MLS SuperDraft will look different to 2020's version. We're not likely to have a Daryl Dike on the board at 19th, and I honestly don't see Luiz Muzzi and Oscar Pareja wanting to trade up so drastically for this draft. Especially when you consider the disruption to the 2020 college soccer season, brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. There doesn't seem to be, at least in my opinion, anyone on the board who would be worth trading up for. Given the cards in our hand, in terms of picks, we would have to trade players, future draft picks and more to get higher up the board. I just don't see that happening.
What are the areas of need, that Orlando could address during the draft?
As I've already alluded to, this isn't necessarily going to be as profitable a draft class as that we saw in 2020. Orlando do have a fairly settled squad. I wrote, recently, about the levels of need Orlando had in their squad. I spoke about, how competition and cover in defence was vital. I also think we need to strengthen in the forward areas, particularly out wide and in the 10. With that in mind, If I'm being honest, I don't see enough in this draft class to provide significant offensive cover. There is, however, tremendous quality in the defensive third. Considering how this draft is shaping up for Orlando City, this is the area of the team I see Pareja addressing in this draft.
That being said, let's take a look at a select few potential draftees. I have poured over video and statistics to compile a list of potentially interesting names in this draft class. I have picked one or two, who are likely to go early doors (it's fun too see who is likely to go first), so let's call them 'unlikely to be picked by Orlando picks', namely Calvin Harris and Philip Mayaka). And then there's also a few who might still be on the board come Orlando's turn (assuming they don't trade up). These picks, in my opinion, are much more realistic targets for Oscar Pareja's team. I am not acting on any inside knowledge. I'm not that cool. Or un-cool. Meh.
Matt Di Rosa, CM/LM/LB, University of Maryland
Ranked 18 on SBI Soccer's Big Board, Di Rosa is someone who could interest Pareja; mainly due to his versatility. Regular readers might've seen me speak about the need for more versatility in the squad. And Di Rosa is a youngster who could certainly fit that bill. The Washington D.C. native emerged as one of the best full-backs in the NCAA during the 2019 season, simultaneously earning Big 10 honours. He started 21 games in 2019, registering 2 assists from the left-back slot.
He's as good offensively as he is defensively, and has also been utilised in the centre of Maryland's midfield, as well as on the left. He memorably scored the winning goal in a 2018 College Cup Semi-Final from that position. The Lions could do much worse, especially considering Joao Moutinho's injury woes. Oscar Pareja will want to acquire experience in that position, but Di Rosa has the potential to be a great understudy for the time being.
Matt Constant, CB, University of North Carolina
Ranked at 37 on SBI's Big Board, it's likely the centre-back could still be available when Orlando are called. A Canadian U-20 international that has also represented the United States at U-17 level, the defender has a lot of potential. Had limited minutes in 2020, owing largely to the pandemic, but still featured in 4 games for the Tar Heels, amassing 410 minutes. In 2019 he played 12 games, making 1 further substitute appearance. Achieved Team Of The Week honours that September.
He's perhaps not the most appealing pick in his position for this draft class, but that doesn't mean he has no potential. He's a physical presence at 6-6, is good in the air and has sound positional instincts. With Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson and Rodrigo Schlegel set to battle it out for the 2 starting centre-back positions (not to mention Michael Halliday), centre-back isn't an area of desperate need. But if Pareja were to draft a centre-back, they could do a lot worse than Constant.
Philip Mayaka, CM, Clemson
A Hermann trophy semi-finalist in 2019 and coming off the back of a season where he won ACC All Tournament honours, I would be stunned if he was still on the board at 19th. The combative midfielder is one of the most exciting prospects in this year's draft class. A box-to-box midfielder in the classic sense of the phrase, he looks to be a real talent. He's athletic, diminutive and quick as well as being comfortable with both feet. He's the sort of player that can create and score, as you will see in the clip below (no. 20). Orlando will be very fortunate to even stand a chance of getting him. That being said, if they do, you'd be a fool to bet against Oscar Pareja turning him into a top MLS talent. EDIT: Mayaka was also a member of the Orlando City DA, 2018-19 at U-18/19 level. He scored 9 goals from 16 games.
Calvin Harris, CF, Wake Forest
Another top talent, who's likely to be picked up early. The Englishman (Middlesbrough) has had a stellar college career, to date. The dangerous frontman notched 4 goals and 2 assists from 9 appearances in 2020, which was preceded by 6 goals and 3 assists from 16 games in 2019. Has already had experience of training in a pro environment, having been on the books at Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand.
An intelligent forward, with fantastic finesse and movement, he would be an asset to any team in MLS. Another one that's unlikely to be on the board when Orlando pick. But hey, it's fun to know what's available if they do decide to move up the board.
Logan Panchot, RB, Stanford University
A defender who can also operate in the centre of midfield. He has featured 59 times for Stanford during his collegiate career, scoring 3 times and assisting 8. In 2019 he tied for the lead in PAC with 8 assists. The big defender has multiple PAC-12 honours, and even captained Stanford to the PAC-12 Championship in in 2018. The defender, who operates primarily as a right-back, also has USMNT honours at U-17 level. Ranked at19th on SBI's Big Board, there is every chance that Panchot will still be on the board when Orlando pick at19. Panchot has the ability to cover at centre-back too, so would be a smart pick-up, considering Orlando's needs. He also has a heck of a strike on him, note Stanford's second goal in the following clip.
What are your thoughts on the draft, as far as the Lions are concerned? Let us know via the usual channels.