Photo: Earl Gardner
Well, that was interesting — for once.
The MLS Re-Entry Draft’s first stage is usually a snoozer, but nearly every pick in today’s edition flapped some eyelids. Here are some quick thoughts on this draft, naturally beginning with the hometown team.
The Union buy low
When I started thinking of players Philadelphia Union might take, there was a long list. The big names stood out.
Then there was Chicago midfielder Corben Bone. He briefly jumped out because he was a former high draft pick who never got an extended shot in the pros and played for the same college (Wake Forest) and PDL team (Carolina Dynamo) as Union manager John Hackworth. Bone was on a minimum salary. He wasn’t risky at all.
Naturally, I forgot to include Bone in my list. (It was a long list. It was late. I was tired. Insert additional excuses here.)
PSP’s Adam Cann shared these insights on the 25-year-old midfielder:
“At Wake Forest, Bone was a dominant creative force playing in the same role Jared Jeffrey likes to take up for DC United. Preferring to remain central rather than drift to the wings to find space, Bone was a prototypical No. 10 at the collegiate level, and he was expected to move the ball with speed so Chicago could pair him with the stay-at-home Logan Pause in the middle. But a combination of coaching changes, moving Marco Pappa inside, and Bone’s hesitant, conservative play colluded to keep the much-hyped midfielder from getting a regular run in the side.
“It should be noted that when he did get four starts in a row in 2011, Bone was involved and active in an odd 4-5-1 formation that placed him next to the positionally unsound Pappa. Bone completed 30 of 32 passes against Colorado, 60 of 66 against Vancouver, 50 of 58 against Toronto, and 32 of 36 against Philly (video highlights of that game, a 2-1 Union win, here), with at least one key pass in each contest. There was, however, little creativity or incisiveness to Bone’s displays, and the more pessimistic observer will see shades of 2013 Keon Daniel in these numbers.
“At this point in his career, Bone’s ceiling is no longer a box-to-box playmaker, but instead a metronomic presence that won’t give up possession and keeps good defensive shape. At worst, the Union just acquired another Kyle Nakazawa.”
There’s nothing wrong with the Bone pick. In fact, Bone is exactly the type of player you should take in this first stage, because the drafting team is bound to the player’s prior contract, which in this case is a very favorable one for the Union. (Most of the action typically comes in the draft’s second stage, because teams can negotiate new contracts with players.) It’s a Moneyball pick. Buy low, hope to sell high. Bone was widely projected to be a top 5 pick going into the 2010 MLS amateur draft, but he slipped to No. 13 — where Ives Galarcep called him the “steal of the first round” — and then Chicago rarely played him. He is potentially the sort of undervalued asset that teams have to identify in a financially conscious league like MLS. If Bone makes the team in training camp, he adds some depth at worst, and at best he could show that Chicago should have given him more of a chance.
The pick may not be as sexy as other picks in the first stage. Bone played just 3 regular season minutes this year and 29 minutes combined the last two years.
But those sexy picks come with major question marks, because of the nature of the Re-Entry Draft’s first stage.
D.C. United spends big on defense
D.C. United just committed at least (and likely more than) $445,000 in base salary to two defenders. They now employ the league’s best paid right back in Sean Franklin.
Yes, Franklin and Bobby Boswell are two solid defenders who instantly upgrade United’s back line.
But those are big contracts in a league with a salary cap. Does United never learn?
Last year, they committed over $500,000 to center backs Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic. McDonald promptly forgot how to play soccer, and Jakovic wasn’t much better and still sits on a $280,000 base salary.
Why draft Franklin in the draft’s first stage when he would likely be available in the second stage, thereby allowing United to negotiate a new contract at a lower salary? Do they really like so many guys in the draft’s second stage that they were unwilling to delay the Franklin pick?
Instead, the first stage pick means they will likely have to pay him nearly $250,000. For that price, you could employ both Sheanon Williams and Chance Myers and maybe have enough money left over to pay Ray Gaddis.
Boswell is a slightly different story. Houston also made Boswell available in last year’s Re-Entry Draft before pulling him back and resigning him to a new contract. It’s possible they were trying the same thing again this year, letting Boswell test the market before pulling him back at a value more favorable to the club. If so, United blew up that strategy by grabbing him in the first stage. It wouldn’t be the first time this tactic backfired on Houston. They exposed Brian Ching in the expansion draft two years ago, thinking Montreal wouldn’t pick him, only to have to reacquire the Houston icon after Montreal drafted him.
Is Boswell worth a salary likely over $220,000? Probably not. He only ranked among the league’s top 20 in one defensive stat: Blocked shots. He’ll be one of the league’s best paid center backs in 2014, but he’s not one of the league’s best center backs on the field.
United look like they have no clue how to manage a salary cap, which means their stay in the league cellar may not be a one-year visit. (That’s not even factoring in how much United might be paying Davy Arnaud, who was acquired in a trade from Montreal, made $275,000 in 2013, and signed a new contract with United.) This is the first time a team ever chose two players in the Re-Entry Draft’s first stage. It might be the last time United general manager Dave Kaspar gets to pick anyone in this draft. They might be flush with allocation money,* but even that needs to be budgeted.
Steve Zakuani and Caleb Porter, together again
Everyone knew Portland coach Caleb Porter would try to grab Zakuani, who he coached in college at Akron. But few expected him to snatch Zakuani in the draft’s first stage and commit Portland to Zakuani’s existing contract, which has a $135,000 base value and was valued at $233,000 total this past season. That total depends on the bonuses which boost the contract value above the base salary. If Zakuani collected the bonus money on the front end, then his salary is closer to the $135,000 base. If not, that salary is inflated above the base and constitutes a significant chunk of Portland’s salary cap for a player who hasn’t stayed healthy in more than two years.
Many teams were probably eying Zakuani. Porter had the stones to take a shot on his current contract and trade away a highly rated but apparently combustible young center back (Andrew Jean-Baptiste) to get the chance to pick Zakuani. The Seattle-Portland rivalry just got a bit more interesting.
Marc Burch to Colorado?
Don’t care. Really. He was an ordinary left back on bad back line this season, and now the journeyman will be a backup to Chris Klute in Colorado and play some midfield. Yawn.