Jack Maher photo courtesy Indiana University Athletics
Yesterday, Major League Soccer announced two graduating college seniors pre-signed to the league in advance of the Jan. 9 SuperDraft, along with four members of the Generation Adidas class*. Nashville SC currently has the second overall pick in the draft, along with the No. 2 pick in the three subsequent rounds.
The players who have exhausted their college eligibility and signed with the league are Stanford centerback Tanner Beason and Georgetown right back Dylan Nealis. The four underclassmen who make up the Generation Adidas class (so far, at least) are Virginia junior centerback Henry Kessler, Indiana sophomore defender Jack Maher, Syracuse junior defender Ryan Raposo, and Clemson junior forward Robbie Robinson.
*Ah yes, can’t talk MLS offseason without a brief explainer of some rules. A Cliff’s Notes version for what you just read, with more thorough explanation of some of it here:
- Since MLS is a single-entity league, players technically sign contracts with that single entity, rather than individual teams. The franchises drafting these players get them at the budget that Major League Soccer has negotiated.
- Generation Adidas is a program (formerly Nike’s Project 40 when the league had a different apparel sponsor) designed to convince promising underclassmen to leave NCAA eligibility on the table and sign professional deals. Adidas pays for the remainder of their college degrees.
- There are two roster-building mechanism quirks that are important with these distinctions:
- Players aged 24 and younger as of tomorrow – all of the above, along with basically every other college player – are eligible to be off-budget on the Reserve Roster if they make a low enough salary number.
- Generation Adidas players are automatically off-budget on the Supplemental Roster – and MLS pays their salaries, rather than the club using money out of its operating budget.
- There are four rounds of the draft. It’s likely that more players will be pre-signed before next Thursday, potentially including more Generation Adidas players. Many draftees will not be pre-signed, however.
So, who among those might be a good fit for Nashville SC at the No. 2 overall pick?
First of all, it makes little sense for a club in Nashville SC’s position to sign one of the senior prospects. Salary demands likely mean NSC would have either include them on the senior roster, or spend General Allocation Money to decrease the budget charge to fit them off-budget. More established clubs can justify that for older players in a way the Boys in Gold likely cannot. Unless Nashville SC truly believes that either Beason or Nealis would be a regular contributor (possible!), it doesn’t make a ton of sense.
It does make a lot of sense for NSC to get a Generation Adidas player in the first round. Not only are you getting a player who is younger and still developing, he is automatically off-budget. Last year’s Generation Adidas rookies made between $74,750 (Minnesota United keeper Dayne St. Clair) and $172,000 (FC Cincinnati midfielder Frankie Amaya), with an average of $149,750 – at no cost to their clubs. Four of the seven (Amaya, New England striker Tajon Buchanan, FC Dallas defender John Nelson, and Columbus Crew striker JJ Williams) earned over 300 minutes last year, with Amaya over 1200.
Among the four GA signees so far, Raposo doesn’t make sense for Nashville SC: he’s Canadian, and would thus require an international slot. The Boys in Gold have already traded away two international slots, and probably don’t want to allocate any of that remaining scarce resource to a rookie.
The remaining three players come at positions that make sense for Nashville SC: they could easily justify signing a younger centerback to develop behind the unit they’ve already assembled. They could also use a goal-getting forward to continue to fill out a position group that still seems to be seeking its headliner. Spoiler alert: Robinson is good, but I don’t think he’s that player.
So should we expect NSC to draft a CB in the first round? It looks like it so far… UNLESS…
The big fish out there for Adidas and MLS is Virginia sophomore striker Daryl Dike. The younger brother of former MLS striker Bright Dike, he’s one of very few instant-impact types to come out of college soccer. A big, strong, technical forward, he’s stylistically reminiscent of Jozy Altidore or Karim Benzema, but all signs point toward a return to UVa for his junior year. If he enters the Draft, he’s probably target No. 1 for a lot of teams, though possibly not top-pick-holding Inter Miami CF. The Herons have some promising players at the position group, and have been linked to a number of big-named aging stars from European leagues. If Dike were to come out, would they pick him? And if not, would they take someone else with the top pick, or deal it for more assets?
Either way, it seems Nashville either gets Dike or takes a CB the No. 2 overall.
With its second-through-fourth-round picks, NSC likely targets young men with potential, but low salary budgets. At spots where NSC’s starters seem set, the club can develop them to either unearth gems long-term or move them when the time is right (i.e. they age out of the Reserve Roster). A third goalkeeper seems all-but guaranteed, and other spots that make sense include holding midfield, attacking midfield, and even dealing a pick or two for allocation money, if the right piece isn’t there.