Ah, the SuperDraft. Major League Soccer’s antiquated, slightly bizarre version of the amateur player draft is back, once again promising far more excitement and potential than will likely ever be fulfilled. The 2019 MLS Player Combine is in full swing, with coaches and executives (including the newly-arrived Frank De Boer) enjoying a classic showdown between “Team Nemeziz” and “Team X” under the steamy central Florida sun.
In the league’s infant years, the draft was a crucial part of building a winning roster. Missing on a high pick was catastrophic, while unearthing a gem in the later rounds was like hitting the lottery. Look no further than the draft class of 2005, where Brad Guzan (2nd overall) and Michael Parkhurst (9th) lived up to their hype, while Jeff Larentowicz (45th overall in the Supplemental Draft, which doesn’t even exist anymore) far out-did anyone’s expectations. Nowadays, in the era of $15 million DP’s and 15-year old homegrown signings, the SuperDraft clearly doesn’t carry the same importance. There have been many, many hot takes about its relevancy, with some wanting to fix the process and others wanting to fire it into the sun. Year after year, lots of very accomplished players hear Don Garber call their name in January, only to practically fade into obscurity by July.
And yet, despite all of that, there’s still very clearly talent to be found here, even talent that can change the fortunes of a team. You don’t have to tell Atlanta United fans about how important Julian Gressel was to their title-winning campaign, or Toronto fans about Alex Bono, or Seattle fans about Cristian Roldan. As long as MLS has a salary cap, getting this right will be extremely important to achieving that kind of success.
So, how do you get it right? More to the point, how does Atlanta United get it right this year, particularly when, by virtue of their champion-status, 23 other teams get to pick before they do? And, with maybe the strongest, most balanced roster in the league, does it really matter?
The easiest and likely most-popular answer to these questions is simply “take the best player available when it’s your turn, you don’t really need any of these guys anyway.” But I’d venture that this is the wrong way to go about the SuperDraft process. Every year, a few of the top picks do become contributing players, but so do a few of the late-round selections, the guys everyone overlooked. Montreal’s Ken Krolicki (53rd overall in 2018), the Crew’s Luis Argudo (67th) and Colorado’s Niki Jackson (73rd) all contributed a lot to their teams as rookies. Were these guys better players than all the already washed-out selections before them? Or were they guys who just landed in the right place and clicked?
This isn’t the NBA. If you’re looking for a Luka Doncic or a Zion Williamson in this year’s Combine, you won’t find them. What you will find, however, are guys who would be good fits for Atlanta’s style, would work well with Frank De Boer’s staff, or could fill a need in this roster. Ultimately, it’s up to Darren, Carlos and the gang to pick them out, but for the sake of this piece I tried to pick some out as well. Here goes nothing.
Abdi Mohamed - Right Back, Akron
Abdi Mohamed, an Ohio native of Somalian heritage, enters the SuperDraft after a stellar four-year college career. Beginning in Columbus with Ohio State, Mohamed racked up 11 goals and 11 assists in 3 years, as well as all-Big Ten honors each season. For his senior year, Mohamed took his talents to Akron, where he transitioned to fullback and was a standout talent for the national-runners up.
Moving to right back hasn’t dimmed Mohamed’s attacking mindset or his aggressiveness going forward. His speed and dribbling ability set him apart on the wing, and he can cover ground from one end-line to the other. He’s also a surprisingly good passer and can use his pace to contort the defense before hitting a well-weighted cross or through-ball. He is a bit suspect as a 1v1 defender and would likely need time to continue learning the position, especially before playing in a back four.
How He Fits
Atlanta United’s high-octane style requires fullbacks who aren’t afraid to let it fly a bit going forward, and Mohamed can certainly do that. Right back is also a bit thin after Sal Zizzo’s departure, leaving another converted attacker, Jon Gallagher, as the only real cover for Franco Escobar or Julian Gressel (neither of whom are truly right backs). Mohamed would be able to compete for a role in the squad from day one, or use ATLUTD 2 to get up to speed.
Brad Dunwell - Central Midfielder, Wake Forest
Over the last four years, Wake Forest men’s soccer is 73-10-8, has won four straight ACC regular season titles and three straight tournament titles. The constant throughout this era of dominance over the NCAA’s best conference: Brad Dunwell in defensive midfield. Dunwell started every single game in his four years in Winston-Salem, earning all-ACC honors in three of them. Oh, and he led his PDL team, Michigan Bucks, to 3 straight division titles and a national championship in 2016. Basically, this guy wins a ton of games everywhere he plays, and that’s not a coincidence.
Dunwell is a midfield mastermind, always racking up great passing statistics and stabilizing Wake’s high-powered attack. He reads the game better than most and relies on his positioning and movement to control the center of the park. That positioning translates on defense as well, making up for his lack of size or standout athleticism. At the next level, though, there are concerns over whether he’ll be able to play as a lone #6 without those characteristics.
How He Fits
Dunwell’s experience directing Wake’s possession-based offense would make Atlanta a great destination for him. Just on the eye test, he’s probably one of the best players in the draft, but he also fits the mold of a guy who, with one or two mistakes at the combine, could plummet down draft boards. Atlanta United has shown that, if they think a guy can play, they’ll find a way to fit them in, and if Dunwell does drop a bit, they could snag the steal of the draft.
Alex Comsia - Center Back, North Carolina
British Columbian center back Alex Comsia enters the draft following the best season of his collegiate career, in which he was named ACC Defender of the Year for North Carolina. Comsia was a regular all four years in Chapel Hill, starting 75 matches and playing in multiple College Cups. Before UNC, Comsia starred for the Vancouver Whitecaps academy and was vice-captain for his country at the 2013 U17 World Cup.
At a school like North Carolina, minutes do not come easily, and it was Comsia’s consistency and steadiness as a central defender that kept him in the lineup. Leading UNC’s 3-man back line, Comsia has a knack for reading the game and anticipating attacks before they happen. He’s also excellent with hitting accurate and dangerous long balls from the back. At 6’0”, he’s slightly undersized for a professional center back, and with zero goals to his name in college, he’s never been a threat on set-pieces. He’s also a bit prone to mistakes under pressure and will probably need time to adjust to the speed of play at the next level.
How He Fits
MLS will be Comsia’s biggest challenge to this point, but he’s shown he’s capable of adapting and excelling at higher levels throughout his career. Atlanta has depth at CB, but Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz aren’t getting any younger. Comsia’s Canadian status might be a hang-up, but a year with the 2’s would give Atlanta United a good idea if they have a player who can contribute to their squad when he’d be needed in the future.
Joey Piatczyc - Midfielder, West Virginia
A knee injury in summer practice ended what would have been Joey Piatczyc’s senior season before it started. Despite concerns about whether he’d be the player he was before, Piatczyc took a medical redshirt, came back in 2018 and lit up the Mid-American conference, scoring 8 goals, bagging 10 assists, and earning player of the year honors. The former Sporting Kansas City standout leaves West Virginia with all-time records in career assists, assists per match, and multi-assist matches.
Piatczyc is a do-everything midfielder who played as an eight, a ten, and out wide at varying times in his college career. He has a spark of creativity about him when he’s on the ball, and his service both from open play and from dead balls helps explain his record-breaking assist numbers. His versatility is one of his biggest strengths, but it’s also a bit of a red flag for some, as no one really knows what his best position is. His health is also a concern, as with any player who’s suffered a knee injury like Piatczyc has.
How He Fits
Some clubs might struggle to figure out what to do with a player like Piatczyc, but Atlanta United has shown they prioritize versatility when signing players. Piatczyc does a lot of things well, and in Frank De Boer’s system, his skill and creativity on the ball could be a major selling point. Like Julian Gressel did with Tata Martino, if Piatczyc could prove his worth in multiple positions to his new manager, he’d have every chance to play in Atlanta in 2019.