Last year at this time, we talked about how D.C. United's track record in the first round of MLS's SuperDraft is good, but that it mostly applies to picks inside the top 10. This year, United has the 13th overall selection; plenty of DC fans are headed up to Baltimore, but in all likelihood it's going to be an uneventful day. At least there are plenty of good bars, right?
Anyway, United's success in the draft over recent years has mostly come down to a good eye for evaluating the best player available. Ben Olsen, Dave Kasper, and the rest of the staff have occasionally picked for positional need, but most of the time it's just about finding a good soccer player. Depending on the position - left back, especially - the pool of players who will make it in MLS is sometimes one man deep. Figuring out what college players are capable of, and what they're made of, is an inexact science; United gets it right more than most teams.
With that in mind, and after consulting the rest of B&RU's staff because I am enough of a dork to create a mock draft war room, I selected Creighton forward Fabian Herbers in SB Nation's mock draft. It was not a decision I agonized over. In my analysis, Herbers is no worse than the 4th best player in this draft pool, and based purely on his NCAA play this past season I think he deserved the MAC Hermann Trophy more than the eventual winner (USMNT starlet Jordan Morris).
Grabbing Herbers was an absolute no-brainer at #13, but admittedly it involved gaming the system a bit. Herbers was reported to be ready to sign the Generation Adidas contract MLS had offered him the day before we drafted, but he only confirmed those rumors a couple of hours before representatives from each MLS blog on our network sat down to draft. In all likelihood, people were picking without that knowledge.
So why would United select Herbers? He's a GA player, as I mentioned, which means that he doesn't count against the salary cap. That's great news for a veteran-laden team that won't be getting extra allocation money for being in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage or from missing the playoffs. A native of Germany, Herbers would require an international roster spot. However, United currently has four such spots open, so even with signings from Argentina and Ligue 1 rumored, there's room for one more.
Herbers had a frankly absurd junior season with Creighton. In 23 games this past fall, he scored 15 goals and had 17 assists. The Bluejays were hardly a one-man show - midfielder Timo Pitter is also likely to be picked in the first two rounds on Thursday - and yet Herbers had the kind of numbers you rarely see in college soccer. He has played up top and as a midfielder, but in MLS he projects as a forward.
That would be great for United, who have only three true forwards on their roster at the moment. Herbers is more of a withdrawn forward than an out-and-out striker, but Olsen has repeatedly paired withdrawn types over the years. Fabian Espindola and Chris Rolfe have worked well together whenever both are available, and previously we've seen Espindola partner with Luis Silva, and Silva with Dwayne De Rosario. Since Herbers has experience as a goalscorer as well as a creator, he should fit right in with Espindola and Rolfe (not to mention as a more conventional partner for Alvaro Saborio).
For fans that want United to take more shots, Herbers would be a hugely popular pick. With Creighton this past year, he fired 94 shots (an average of over 4 per game), and one thing that any observer of the college game will tell you is that he shoots with power. While he isn't exactly fast, he's not slow either. His ability to play one- and two-touch soccer is a big factor in his assists, and he seems to have a good nose for when opposing defenses are going to make a mistake or are unaware of every threat involved in a given moment.
It is highly unlikely that Herbers, between his goalscoring, his reputation, and his GA status, will be available for United (barring a trade to move to an earlier draft slot). That's a shame, because he would fit right in and likely be able to contribute straight away. On paper he would appear to be a Jairo Arrieta replacement, but I think he'd get more time than Arrieta did over the back half of the season. However, with plenty of the teams drafting early in dire need of defensive help, there's a glimmer of hope.