In a pre-Superdraft tradition around these parts, we join the other MLS blogs on SB Nation to conduct a mock draft. Every year, we’ve pretended to be in charge of D.C. United for a moment, and every year we’ve tried our best to mimic what Dave Kasper, Ben Olsen, and the rest of United’s staff would do on draft day provided that they were not allowed to trade their picks.
What does that mean, exactly? United seriously scouts the college ranks, and has a strong track record in finding players who are good enough to stick in MLS. In recent years, they’ve turned first round picks into starters nearly every time. United’s current projected starting lineup would feature three such players (Nick DeLeon, Taylor Kemp, and Steve Birnbaum).
From the outside looking in, United’s thought process when it comes to picks in the first half of the first round is not very concerned with position at all. It’s a far more simple idea: figure out who the best player is, full stop, and pick that player. Birnbaum, for example, was picked by a team that already had two veteran starting center backs in place. Perry Kitchen spent a year at right back because United had starting defensive midfielders. The priority, first and foremost is to not miss out on what is a diminishing pool of legitimate coming out of the NCAA ranks just because you have a couple of capable players at that spot.
That’s how we ended up selecting Chris Mueller, a forward/midfielder who helped lead the Wisconsin Badgers to the 3rd round of this year’s NCAA tournament. Mueller, the 2017 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a Second Team All-American (he also made the Third Team in 2016), lead the entire country in assists this past year, posting 9 goals and 20 assists in 21 appearances (all starts). As a junior, Mueller was also prolific, producing 8 goals and 11 assists for the Badgers.
Obviously the numbers tell a compelling story, but that’s not the reason we chose to take Mueller. It’s not all that common to find attacking players out of the NCAA pool that are primarily known for their technical ability; this is a cohort that generally ends up being about speed, strength, and other athletic qualities. There’s no doubt that those things are useful, and Mueller more than meets expectations in that department. For example, he ended up posting the best agility test score at the MLS combine, which is a promising thing for a shifty attacker who does a lot of his work on the dribble.
Mueller combines that with creativity, invention, and a knack for providing great service from set pieces. Last season he played as a withdrawn forward in a 442 formation, but realistically he has the positional versatility to adapt to United generally playing with just one center forward. Most of the draft talk has hinted that he projects as a winger, but Mueller’s close control and knack for making plays opens up the possibility of him playing in the middle as well. While they don’t play exactly the same sort of game, there is a little Chris Rolfe in Mueller’s game in terms of how he roves around to find pockets of space, and then makes good use of them.
Another reason we went for Mueller is the simple reality of United’s roster construction. At the moment, the Black-and-Red are waiting on green card approval for some internationals just to be able to meet up with MLS roster rules, and have said they’re still in the hunt for a new striker (which, most likely, means someone from abroad). That means the international players available in this draft are pretty much a non-starter for United.
If D.C. follows our lead and ends up picking the #4 player on Top Drawer Soccer’s “Big Board,” they’d be filling out their midfield. Most likely, Mueller would be competing with Darren Mattocks, Ulises Segura, and Bruno Miranda to be a regularly-used sub for starting wingers Paul Arriola and Zoltan Stieber. However, with Mattocks also likely to see a lot of time as a striker, and Segura apparently being looked at as a central midfielder first, one more addition to a seemingly crowded group would actually give Olsen some significant flexibility.
Finally, adding Mueller would also address the fact that United appears unlikely to land Homegrown prospect Eryk Williamson. The Maryland midfielder has competing contract offers from European clubs, and it seems probable that the roster is being built with the assumption that he isn’t going to sign. Mueller would plug right into the mix where Williamson would have for United, and to be frank the Wisconsin player is a more consistently productive attacking player right now.
That’s how we saw it, anyway. Let us know in the comments which players you want to see suiting up for United!
The full 2018 MLS Mock draft results are as follows:
1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce (Stanford)
2. LA Galaxy – Mason Toye (Indiana)
3. D.C. United – Chris Mueller (Wisconsin)
4. Montreal Impact – Francis Atuahene (Michigan)
5. Minnesota United – Jon Bakero (Wake Forest)
6. Orlando City – Wyatt Omsberg (Dartmouth)
7. Montreal Impact – Tristan Blackmon (Pacific)
8. New England Revolution – Joao Moutinho (Akron)
9. New England Revolution – Ema Twumasi (Wake Forest)
10. Real Salt Lake – Mo Thiaw (Louisville)
11. FC Dallas – Eddie Opoku (Virginia)
12. San Jose Earthquakes – Drew Skundrich (Stanford)
13. Sporting KC – Rafael Andrade Santos (VCU)
14. Atlanta United – Tim Kubel (Louisville)
15. Chicago Fire – Ken Krolicki (Michigan State)
16. New York Red Bulls – Brian White (Duke)
17. Vancouver Whitecaps – Mo Adams (Syracuse)
18. Sporting KC - Chris Lema (Georgetown)
19. NYCFC – Alan Winn (UNC)
20. Houston Dynamo – Ben Lundgaard (VA Tech)
21. Columbus Crew SC – Jon Gallagher (Notre Dame)
22. Seattle Sounders – Alex Roldan (Seattle)
23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon (Clemson)
24. LAFC – Justin Fiddes (Washington)
25. Colorado Rapids – Daniel Musovski (UNLV)
26. Vancouver Whitecaps – Gordon Wild (Maryland)
27. Colorado Rapids – Manuel Cordeiro (Akron)
28. Minnesota United – Brandon Bye (Western Michigan)
29. FC Dallas – Mauro Cichero (SMU)
30. San Jose Earthquakes – Ricky Lopez-Espin (Creighton)
31. New York Red Bulls – Markus Fjortoft (Duke)
32. Columbus Crew SC – Frantzdy Pierrot (Coastal Carolina)
33. Real Salt Lake – Jefferson Caldwell (Virginia)
34. FC Dallas – Cory Brown (Xavier)
35. San Jose Earthquakes – Jose Carrera-Garcia (Cal)
36. Atlanta United – Diego Campos (Clemson)
37. Atlanta United – Carter Manley (Duke)
38. Chicago Fire – Marcelo Acuna (VA Tech)
39. New York Red Bulls – Afonso Pinheiro (Albany)
40. LA Galaxy – Eric Dick (Butler)
41. Minnesota United – Mark Segbers (Wisconsin)
42. NYCFC – Arthur Bosua (Columbia)
43. Houston Dynamo – Ben White (Gonzaga)
44. Columbus Crew SC – Stu Holthusen (Akron)
45. Seattle Sounders – Paul Christensen (Portland)
46. Toronto FC – Albert Ruiz (FGCU)