Let's start with the good news: D.C. United's record in recent editions of the MLS Superdraft has been stellar. Since 2011, Steve Birnbaum, Nick DeLeon, and Perry Kitchen all ended up becoming starters as rookies, and all three were nominated for the Rookie of the Year award. Back in 2009, United picked up Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace. If there's one thing this team almost always gets right, it's first-round picks.
However, this brings us to the bad news: Those five players don't really apply to United's 2015 draft position. Unless we see a trade to move up in the order, the Black-and-Red will be picking 17th overall. The guys in the previous paragraph were taken when United had a pick in the top seven. The draft is still important, but we have to be honest with ourselves: In a league where more and more top college players will be getting Homegrown contracts, picks in the back half of the first round are progressively losing value.
However, United does have a recent draft pick that should give us some reason to hope for something with our first rounder: Taylor Kemp was picked 17th overall, and he ended the season as Ben Olsen's preferred left back. There's no way we can pretend that Kemp has been as much of a success as someone like Kitchen - a starter for United from the moment he arrived - but that's OK. Any MLS team that can turn a draft pick after #10 overall into a starter within 2-3 years has succeeded. That's the mindset United should have with the #17 and #42 overall picks this year.
Strategically, my focus in the SB Nation mock draft was to stick with another United Superdraft tradition: Stick firmly to a "best player available" approach, and let positional concerns serve more as a tiebreaker than anything else. United has done well by looking for good soccer players rather than looking for a guy to fill a specific role. It's easier to make something of a good player than it is to succeed with a guy who fits your positional needs but isn't actually good enough to play.
With the #17 pick, I opted for Washington Huskies left back Andy Thoma. I'll be honest: I was shocked that he fell to me. It's not that my peers made bad picks or anything - the full results are at the bottom of this post - but I just expected someone to pounce fairly early. On my priority list, Thoma was listed 5th overall. Getting him late in the first round would count as a big win for United if that's how things pan out up in Philly on draft day.
So who is Thoma? He's a speedy left back capable of filling in as a left midfielder. Thoma capped three straight years as a starter for the Huskies by being named a third team All-American, and is known for his one-on-one defending and his toughness. When I say "speedy," I'm not kidding around: Thoma was a New Mexico state champion in high school track, and he had the fifth-best 30-meter dash time at the MLS Combine. He's not really a huge offensive threat - one goal and seven assists in 80 college appearances - but he's still willing and able to get up the line and support the attack. He's already signed with MLS, so there's no need to worry about European clubs coming in and snatching him away.
For United, selecting Thoma would fill the void left when Christian returned back to Spain last July. While DC didn't truly pay for that fullback shortage in 2014, there were times where United was one red card or injury away from having a real problem. It's nice that Thoma was, in my view, the best player available. It's doubly nice that he's probably good enough to step in as Kemp's back-up right away. Fullback is a demanding position, and United will face a congested schedule, so he'd be someone we could expect to see making a not-insignificant number of starts across multiple competitions. There's also the prospect of using him as a late-game defensive sub, with Kemp moving to left midfield.
With the last pick in the second round, I went for Tulsa's winger/forward Akeil Barrett. Make no mistake: This is a far riskier pick than Thoma. However, Barrett's footwork, creativity, and bravery on the ball are raw gifts that deserve a real shot at honing in MLS. Teams may look at his penchant for taking risks, his residency status - he'll require an international roster spot - or his size (5'7", 130 lbs) and decide he's not worth bothering with, but Barrett's potential is worth the gamble. The Jamaican has respectable speed, but more importantly has the acceleration needed to separate from defenders after making a move 1v1.
For United, Barrett would probably struggle to make many appearances in 2015 - especially if David Estrada re-signs - but that's alright. The idea here would be to refine Barrett's decision-making mostly through appearances with the Richmond Kickers this year with an eye towards the future. A player with his gifts on the ball is worth taking a risk on, especially since the top three goalkeepers (Alex Bono, Andrew Wolverton, and Spencer Richey) in the draft field were no longer on the board.
Here are the full results of the mock draft:
|1||Orlando City SC||Cyle Larin|
|2||New York City FC||Cristian Roldan|
|3||Montreal Impact||Khiry Shelton|
|4||San Jose Earthquakes||Ramon Martin del Campo|
|5||Portland Timbers||Conor Donovan|
|6||Toronto FC||Leo Stolz|
|7||Chicago Fire SC||Fatai Alashe|
|8||Houston Dynamo||Oumar Ballo|
|9||Toronto FC||Alex Bono|
|10||Sporting Kansas City||Nick Besler|
|11||Toronto FC||Romario Williams|
|12||Sporting Kansas City||Otis Earle|
|13||Vancouver Whitecaps||Skylar Thomas|
|14||Columbus Crew SC||Aaron Simmons|
|15||FC Dallas||Dan Metzger|
|16||Real Salt Lake||Eric Bird|
|17||D.C. United||Andy Thoma|
|18||NY Red Bulls||Tim Parker|
|19||Colorado Rapids||Boyd Okwuonu|
|20||Sporting Kansas City||Andy Craven|
|21||LA Galaxy||Tyler Miller|
|22||Orlando City SC||Andrew Wolverton|
|23||New York City FC||Ricky Garbanzo|
|24||Portland Timbers||Seth Casiple|
|25||Orlando City SC||Jose Ribas|
|26||Colorado Rapids||Jordan Murrell|
|27||Seattle Sounders||Dzenan Catic|
|28||Chicago Fire SC||Saad Abdul-Salaam|
|29||Toronto FC||Adam Montague|
|30||Sporting Kansas City||Luke Mishu|
|31||Philadelphia Union||Manolo Sanchez|
|32||Portland Timbers||Andy Bevin|
|33||New England Revolution||Sergio Campbell|
|34||Portland Timbers||Anthony Manning|
|35||Columbus Crew SC||Axel Sjoberg|
|36||Houston Dynamo||Kyler Sullivan|
|37||Toronto FC||Dennis Castillo|
|38||Vancouver Whitecaps||Tyler Arnone|
|39||NY Red Bulls||Connor Hallisey|
|40||Seattle Sounders||Spencer Richey|
|41||Philadelphia Union||Alex Shinsky|
|42||D.C. United||Akeil Barrett|