The MLS SuperDraft is a vestige of a bygone era of Major League Soccer. A remnant of a prehistoric time in American player development, professional soccer and youth scouting. But even in an era where the draft is less relevant than ever, it's found a new role as an auxilary, market ineficiency for smart front offices to exploit.
Orlando City and general manager Luiz Muzzi showed in December that they still value this niche in the talent acquisition process. And based on the track record of Orlando City and this administration in the draft, it's a potentially smart move for all involved.
In 2020, the front office selected a striker from the University of Virginia with the fifth overall pick. That player: Daryl Dike, who scored a goal for West Bromwich Albion in the English Championship Monday.
Dike was a force of nature during his brief reign in MLS. While he wasn't a consistent beast in front of goal, he possessed immense physical tools and had incredible spurts of dominance during his Orlando City career.
With its first top-five pick since Dike, Orlando selected another forward from the Atlantic Coast Conference: Shakur Mohammed from Duke. While these are not comparable players in terms of profile --- nor is it fair to expect Mohammed to produce like Dike --- he's a player that Muzzi and the front office desperately wanted to add to the fold, trading established starter Ruan for the second overall pick.
The Lions also added another forward with a top ten selection, picking forward Duncan McGuire from Creighton with the sixth overall pick after the Omaha, Nebraska, native led college soccer in goals this past season.
These additions come a year after Orlando drafted striker Jack Lynn out of Notre Dame who scored 15 goals in 18 games in the MLS NEXT Pro season.
There's no guarantee any of these players hit, or that even if they do 'hit,' that level is high enough to compete amongst MLS's elite teams. The league is run by $10 million attackers like Hany Mukhtar, Lucas Zelarayan and Raul Ruidiaz. Even the best modern draft picks struggle to sniff that tier.
But with Orlando's scouting network and a coach known for developing talent in Oscar Pareja, there's potential to build quality attacking depth at a fraction of the opportunity cost (cap space).
With the academy still slow to develop first-team caliber players, the draft is the best way to fill out depth and find quality prospects. Mohammed was seen as the best offensive player available and starred for Duke the last two seasons, while McGuire is a finalist for the Hermann Trophy, given to the best player in college soccer.
As far as college prospects go, these are about as good as it gets.
The Lions also added two more potential future players on the defensive end. Orlando selected Syracuse defender Abdi Salim, fresh off of a national championship with the Orange, with the No. 17 overall pick and Kentucky defender Luis Grassow in the second round.
While later SuperDraft picks rarely turn into productive MLS players --- though many go on to have strong careers in the USL --- Orlando has had some success in later picks, including Kamal Miller, who was decent in Orlando before blossoming in Montreal, and Joey Dezart, who while never particulalry great has found a roster spot for many years.
We don't really need the SuperDraft. Elite players rarely come from college soccer. And yet, there's talent to be found and players to be discovered. Orlando City is a club that has found a niche in player development from the college ranks, and this latest draft is just another example that this team lives through the draft.