Three Things Kekuta Manneh Brings to FC Cincinnati

FC Cincinnati signed Kekuta Manneh on a free transfer from FC St. Gallen 1869. “Scooter” brings pace, connections, and American ambitions to FCC.


Age: 24
Position: Left Winger
From: Madiba Kunda, Gambia (U.S. citizen)
Former team: FC St. Gallen (SUI)
Value: $900K
Deal: Free transfer from St. Gallen and a trade with Columbus Crew for his MLS rights, including $250K in TAM and $50K in GAM. FCC could pay an additional $100K in allocation money based on Manneh’s performance.
Transfermarkt Profile

FC Cincinnati signed left winger Kekuta Manneh on a free transfer from Swiss Super League outfit FC St. Gallen 1869. The Gambian is 24 years old but comes with a wealth of first division experience, including 124 MLS appearances (74 starts) for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Columbus Crew. He scored 26 goals and delivered 14 assists between 2013 and 2017 while in the American first division. His standout MLS season came in 2015 when he made 32 appearances for the Whitecaps, scoring 7 goals and creating 5 assists. He also can boast eight MLS Cup playoff appearances, mostly as a substitute during his time with the Crew.

Manneh left MLS in 2017 after a season with the Crew and hasn’t found a great deal of playing time since his departure. He landed at powerhouse Pachuca of Liga MX during the 2018 Clausura, but only featured in 1 league match and 5 cup games. In the fall of last year he moved to Switzerland, but only featured in six of 20 Super League matches for FC St. Gallen 1869 during the 18/19 season. Kekuta Manneh arrives in Cincinnati looking to reignite his career in MLS where he has found success in seasons past.

Three Things Kekuta Manneh Brings to FC Cincinnati

FCC Connections

As a former Whitecap, Manneh has established connections with Alan Koch, Kendall Waston, Darren Mattocks, and especially FCC assistant coach and fellow Gambian Pa-Modou Kah. Manneh and Kah played together in Vancouver during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The video below kicks-off with a goal created by both players and highlights their relationship. It also features cameos by Kendall Waston and Darren Mattocks.

“Scooter” Has Pace and Finishing Ability

Former Whitecap teammate Darren Mattocks gave him the nickname “Scooter” in Vancouver because “he’s always buzzing around the pitch.” Apparently, Manneh wasn’t a fan of the nickname at first but has embraced it since. The moniker will likely be reinstated now that he’s joined the Orange & Blue.

Kakuta Manneh is a burner. He has pace. He can beat opposition players on the dribble, and can finish what he started. In the video above, Pa-Modou Kah comments. “He’s faster with the ball than without the ball . . . He’ll be one of the best Gambian players to have played this game.”

FC Cincinnati is not currently well-stocked with pacey players. Manneh certainly checks that box. He’s also a welcome addition to bolster FC Cincinnati’s attack. With Lamah and now Manneh on the left, that side of the Orange & Blue’s offense looks a lot more potent.

American Ambitions

Although Manneh is Gambian, and lived there until the age of 16, he is also a product of the American soccer development system. He moved to Texas upon his arrival in 2010 and played with U.S. Development Academy clubs as well as the famous PDL side Austin Aztecs. Manneh has aspirations to play for the USMNT and established residence in Washington during his time in Vancouver to pursue citizenship.

Kakuta Manneh realized his goal and became an American in the fall of 2016. Shortly thereafter, he was called up to the USMNT January camp under Bruce Arena. He hasn’t been capped yet but he’s another player on Alan Koch’s roster that could be in the mix for a national team call-up if he performs well for FC Cincinnati.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

TRADE: Three Things Hometown Hagglund Brings to FC Cincinnati

Cincinnati native Nick Hagglund makes his way back to the Queen City from Toronto FC, in a move speculated about since FC Cincinnati’s moved to MLS.

Photo Credit: Toronto FC

Age: 26
Position: Defender – Center Back
From: Cincinnati, OH (domestic player)
Former team: Toronto FC
Value: $800K
Deal: Traded to FC Cincinnati for $150K in GAM in 2019, $100K in TAM in 2020, and the #1 allocation ranking. FCC also receives the No. 24 allocation ranking from Toronto FC. Additional terms apply if the #1 allocation ranking or Hagglund are traded thereafter.
Tranfermarkt Profile

Cincinnati native Nick Hagglund makes his way back to the Queen City from Toronto FC in a move that had been speculated about since FC Cincinnati’s MLS reality was confirmed.

Hagglund grew up in West Chester and featured for Cincinnati United Premier (CUP) and Lakota West during his youth career. The Xavier University standout was drafted 10th overall by Toronto FC in 2014 and has been with that club until now. He is a five-year MLS league veteran with 88 league appearances to his name.

Followers of Cincinnati soccer that don’t know Hagglund from CUP, Lakota West, Xavier, or Toronto FC might remember him from 2016. Hagglund played 90 minutes for TFCII when that they first met FC Cincinnati in USL play. Omar Cummings scored a late winner in that match to send FC Cincinnati home with three points.

It’s worth noting that the price FC Cincinnati paid for Hagglund has been questioned by some national soccer pundits. $250K in allocation money and the #1 allocation spot is a hefty fee. However, the hometown defender comes with benefits that made Sassano, Koch, and Berding believe he was worth the price. Time will tell whether it was a wise investment.

Three Things Nick Hagglund Brings to FC Cincinnati

Home Cooking

This is the obvious one. Hagglund is one of our own and because of that, no one needs to explain to him how to order Cincinnati chili. He understands “Eastside” versus “Westside”, and he expects people that he hasn’t met before to ask him which high school he went to.

FC Cincinnati fans have witnessed the departure of several Cincinnati and Ohio products that graced the roster in seasons past. Austin Berry, Matt Bahner, Luke Spencer, Michael Millay, Eric Stevenson, and Kenney Walker all gave FCC a distinctly local flair during its formative years. Even adopted sons like UC alum Omar Cummings helped forged a bond between the fans and the club.

The current roster has quite a different look, and that’s to be expected with a move to MLS. However, it’s a big coup for the front office to acquire a capable local product for FC Cincinnati’s first season in the highest level of American soccer.

MLS-Tested Defender

While he has not been a guaranteed starter in Toronto, Hagglund can boast 67 career MLS starts and 10 additional appearances in MLS Cup playoff matches. He made an impressive 23 starts as a rookie for TFC, but has shared time in the starting eleven in recent years.

Regardless, his time in the league adds some needed “know-how” to the central defense. Kendall Waston is obviously loaded with experience, but behind him, positional center backs Forrest Lasso and Hassan Ndam only have a combined 2 MLS appearances between them. Some speculate that experienced fullback Mathieu Deplagne may also play a role at center back, but that remains to be seen.

Hagglund’s experience includes some big MLS moments as well. In one of his finest memories north of the border, he headed home this dramatic playoff goal that helped Toronto FC advance to the 2016 MLS Cup final.

Proven Winner

Jeff Berding has said on multiple occasions during this MLS roster build that FC Cincinnati is looking to bring “winners” into the team. Hagglund can certainly claim to be one. He won the Eastern Conference Championship with Toronto FC in both 2016 and 2017, and he lifted MLS Cup with the Reds just over a year ago. Coach Koch spoke about the value of bringing in Hagglund:

“I think it’s amazing to have a guy from Cincinnati who’s gone and had success in this league. To bring him home is something that we should all take pride in. He gets an amazing opportunity in that he’s gone and had success in the league”

-Alan Koch

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

TRANSFER: Stanko Brings Bundesliga, National Team Experience to FC Cincinnati

Michigan native Caleb Stanko returns to the United States, joining FC Cincinnati on a transfer after six years in the German Bundesliga.

Image: Ryan Meyer

Caleb Stanko
Age: 25
Position: Defensive Midfielder
From: Holly, Michigan
Former team:  SC Freiburg, currently 13th in Bundesliga (Germany)
Market Value: $455K
Deal: International transfer – terms not disclosed
Tranfermarkt Profile

Having climbed the rungs within the German leagues, defensive midfielder Caleb Stanko signed with FC Cincinnati on Wednesday, joining for the 2019 season. The 25-year-old spent most of his career with Bundesliga club SC Freiburg’s reserve squad, starting the climb in 2011 and producing 3 goals and 8 assists in 100 total appearances.

While Stanko only appeared 13 times with the parent squad, he was with SC Freiburg during their banner 2015-16 championship year in the second tier of the German league. Freiburg then loaned Stanko to FC Vaduz for the 2016-17 season, where he tallied 21 starts and 7 substitutions for the Liechtenstein club. However, a meniscus injury in his right knee sidelined Stanko for much of 2018. His only official minutes after the injury came in a game with the SC Freiburg II team in December.

Stanko was present at FC Cincinnati’s first training session at Sheakley on Tuesday but was limited to fitness and footwork drills. This was not due to injury, but solely because his paperwork and transfer documents were not yet complete. He is fully fit per the FC Cincinnati front office and is a full participant in Wednesday’s training session.

Listen to Stanko talk about his move to the Germany at the age of 18.

U.S. National Team

Stanko’s work rate as a teenager got him called into several camps with the U.S. youth national team. Then, his move to Freiburg at age 18 caught the attention of then-U-23 coach Caleb Porter before the 2012 Olympic qualifiers. He didn’t make Porter’s team but he did impress U-20 coach Tab Ramos. Stanko, playing as a central defender, helped the U-20 squad qualify for the U-20 World Cup in 2013. Stanko captained that team. His only appearance with the full men’s national team was as a substitute in a September 2016 World Cup qualifier, a 4-0 win versus Trinidad & Tobago. He came on for Sasha Kljestan in the 73rd minute.

While much of his work has been in a defensive role (3 goals and 10 assists in all 141 professional matches), Stanko should bring knowledge of national and international systems to stabilize the defensive midfield. Ives Galarcep at believes that he could be inserted alongside Fatai Alashe or Victor Ulloa in the middle, which could free up newly-acquired Allan Cruz to play a more offensive role. While he’s not the coveted #10 that FCC wanted in Matias Fernandez, he is a capable #6, and is a comparable target to Ozzie Alonso, who moved to Minnesota United.

Alan Koch spoke about Stanko’s signing and his new home with FC Cincinnati.

“I’m happy to add Caleb to our roster. We look for versatility in our central midfielders and we feel he can fill a number of roles depending on the personnel we have on the pitch. We look forward to Caleb competing immediately within our group.”

Fun Fact: Caleb Stanko and Fatai Alashe, both 25-year-old Michigan natives, played together at US Development Academy club Vardar Academy. Here’s a match report from the 2010 USDA Finals Week.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as FC Cincinnati’s squad takes shape for their first MLS season.

Three Things Allan Cruz Brings to FC Cincinnati

Allan Cruz, a promising young midfielder, joins from CR Herediano in Costa Rica. Here are the qualities that Cruz will bring to FC Cincinnati’s 2019 squad.

Photo Credit: License JuanJosé

Allan Cruz
Age: 22
Position: Midfielder
From: Nicoya, Costa Rica (international spot)
Former Team: CS Herediano
Market Value: $455K
Transfermarkt Profile

Allan Cruz, a promising young midfield talent, joins FC Cincinnati from CR Herediano in Costa Rica. At the tender age of 22, Cruz boasts 100 appearances since making his professional debut in 2015. During those appearances, he’s scored 10 goals and contributed 6 assists, with the bulk of his action coming during the 17/18 season.

His recent success earned him an invitation to the international stage last year. He now has six appearances with the senior Costa Rican national team, all friendlies in 2018. He tallied a goal with his head in a friendly against Peru last November.

Cruz also participated in both the CONCACAF Champions League and CONCACAF League with his former team. CR Herediano won the latter in 2018. Here’s a highlight of one of Cruz’s finer moments in CONCACAF League play.

Three Things Alan Cruz Brings to FC Cincinnati

Versatile Midfield Play

Recent reports labeled Cruz as the “N’Golo Kanté Tico.” While French midfielder Kanté is best-known for his defensive talents, Cruz most often played at Herediano in central midfield alongside a more defensive player. The linked article cites Cruz’s teammate and mentor, Tico veteran Randall Azofeifa, arguing that Cruz is really a “typical European #10” and praises his ability to “attack spaces.” Perhaps Cruz can evolve into that attacking midfield role for FC Cincinnati. Alan Koch likes to have a full stable of midfielders suited to playing various roles, and Koch referenced Cruz’s versatility in a Tweet welcoming him to Cincinnati.

Another Tico in the Team’s Spine

Allan Cruz joins veteran center back and Costa Rican international Kendall Waston in Cincinnati, who looks certain to be a mainstay on the team’s back line. The MLS veteran has 30 caps for the Ticos and should be a great mentor for Cruz as he begins his journey in America’s first division. The image below shows Waston (back row, third from right) and Cruz (first row, far right) together with the Costa Rican national team.

Photo Credit: La Nacion

Sellable Asset

FC Cincinnati’s 2019 roster build has focused on veteran talent. While Cruz has quite a few pro appearances under his belt, he’s the youngest of FC Cincinnati’s international transfers. His value as an asset should increase as he reaches the prime of his career. If he continues on the current trajectory, Cruz is no doubt a player that could attract interest from high-paying European outfits. This piece of business stands out as one that’s most likely to yield some future profits for FC Cincinnati.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s offseason and MLS roster build.

Photo Credit: License JuanJosé

FC Cincinnati Selects Forward Rashawn Dally and Passes on Two in the Late Rounds

FC Cincinnati selected forward Rashawn Dally and passed on their two late round selections in the MLS SuperDraft.

The final two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft took place on Monday, January 14th via conference call and lasted less than 45 minutes. FC Cincinnati had three total picks to use at the #49, #61, and #85 spots. However, they opted to only use one, selecting a forward from a small private college in Connecticut. Thereafter, the technical staff opted to pass on their final two selections of the draft.

Round 3 – Pick #49 – Rashawn Dally

Age: 22
Position: Forward
From: Bloomfield, CT (holds U.S. and Jamaican citizenship)
College: Quinnipiac University
Stats: From the Quinnipac Bobcat’s player profile on Dally (linked above).

“Dally recorded 16 points and 15 assists in his career with the Bobcats, playing in 78 career games – which ranks tied for No. 5 in program history. He tallied six goals and six assists in 2018 to finish second on the team in total scoring (18 points). Dally recorded 15 points (five goals, five assists) in MAAC play. “

In March of 2018, Dally was also called into the senior Jamaican national team camp. He has featured in match play for the Reggae Boyz at the U-18 and U-20 levels.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s offseason and MLS roster build.

FC Cincinnati Selects Amaya and Four More Hopefuls in MLS SuperDraft

FC Cincinnati landed UCLA freshman and U.S. U-20 International Frankie Amaya with the #1 pick in Friday’s MLS SuperDraft.

FC Cincinnati landed UCLA freshman and U.S. U-20 International Frankie Amaya with the #1 pick in Friday’s MLS SuperDraft. That pick was then followed by four more picks — one more in the first round at #13, and three more in the second round.

Amaya addressed the crowd following his selection and relayed some heartfelt words about his path to being drafted at the top spot.

I’m just a kid from Santa Ana, California, . . .I’ve worked hard my whole life, . . .I didn’t believe in talent, just hard work.”

The draft started with some near-drama that didn’t quite pan out. LAFC made a last-minute attempt to persuade FC Cincinnati to part with their #1 pick. They reportedly offered $200K in allocation money and an international spot for the pick. FCC’s technical staff countered the offer, looking for substantially more allocation money, and LAFC declined. Therefore, Amaya became FC Cincinnati’s first-ever draft selection.

Here’s a graphic of FC Cincinnati’s first and second round draft followed by the vital information and some personal quotes from the players selected.

Graphic: Connor Paquette

Player profiles (linked in names) and values below are via MLS.

Round 1 – Pick 1 – Frankie Amaya

Age: 18
Position: Midfielder* (Generation adidas member)
From: Santa Ana, CA
College: UCLA
Stats: 2 goals, 2 assists in 14 games played in 2018. Member of the US U-20 national team that won the CONCACAF Title. 2018 USC Second Team All-Far West Region. 2018 First Team All-PAC-12 Conference.

Amaya remained humble with his selection as the top draft pick for FCC. “I didn’t really have any idea (about becoming #1),” he mentioned. “I just wanted to become a professional soccer player. . . . I’m blessed that I got #1.” Amaya also mentioned that one of his major influences was Andrés Iniesta during his Barcelona years.

Round 1 – Pick 13 – Logan Gdula

Age: 22
Position: Defender
From: East Lyme, CT
College: Wake Forest University
Stat: 2 goals, 14 assists over 4 years with WFU. Helped anchor a back line that totaled 46 clean sheets all 4 years. Played USL PDL (now USL League 2) soccer with Carolina Dynamo.

Gdula was very emotional with his selection, thanking his mother for everything. “She just did everything for me and made sure that I became successful. She worked her hardest, never gave up on me, and never gave up on herself.” Gdula also admitted that he was a Ronaldo fan during his years at Manchester United.

Round 1 – Pick 16 – TRADED

Round 2 – Pick 25 – TRADED

Both the #16 and #25 picks were traded to New York Red Bulls for $100,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM).

Round 2 – Pick 29 Tommy McCabe

Age: 20
Position: Defensive Midfielder
From: South Orange, NJ
College: University of Notre Dame
Stat: 4 assists in 61 games over 3 years at Notre Dame. Third Team All-ACC in 2018. ACC All-Freshman Team in 2016.

McCabe noted his attachment to Arsenal and Thierry Henry, especially when he joined New York. “Living in New Jersey when he came to the Red Bulls, I would always go watch him play. I know we’re not the same type of player at all, but I loved watching him play.” He also admired Michael Bradley from the U.S. national team.

Round 2 – Pick 30 Jimmy Hague

Age: 22
Position: Goalkeeper
From: Walled Lake, MI
College: Michigan State University
Stat: Had 26 clean sheets in 62 games over 3 years for MSU. Selected as Second Team All-Big 10 in 2018. Was Big 10 Goalkeeper of the Year in 2017.

Hague noted that he seemed to enjoy the bond with GK coach Jack Stern at the combine. “I really liked (Jack), because he was really down-to-earth. It sounds like he’s going to push me my hardest.”

Round 2 – Pick 37 Ben Lundt

Age: 23
Position: Goalkeeper
From: Berlin, Germany (German citizenship)
College: University of Akron
Stat: Had 27 clean sheets in 64 games started for Akron over the past three years. Second Team All-MAC in 2018. Played for the U17 and U23 Hertha Berlin teams.

Lundt has yet to visit Cincinnati, but expressed his appreciation to be drafted and to stay within Ohio. He also listed both Oliver Kahn and Manuel Neuer as influences. “But I try really to do my own style and take a little bit from everyone,” he stated.

Third and Fourth Rounds

The draft isn’t over. The final two rounds will take place on Sunday, January 13 via conference call at 2 pm Eastern Time. FC Cincinnati has three more picks remaining in the third and fourth rounds. They will make selections at the #49, #61, and #85 spots.

NOTE: The day and time was later changed to Monday, January 14th at 1pm Eastern Time.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati and the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

SuperDraft Q&A with Travis Clark of Top Drawer Soccer

UCLA Freshman Frankie Amaya / Image: Don Liebig – UCLA

The MLS Combine starts today in Orlando and lasts through January 9th. Coaches, scouts, and media from around the country are gathered in Florida to gauge the talent available in this year’s draft. Orange & Blue Press connected with Travis Clark of Top Drawer Soccer to get his take on the 2019 college players and how FC Cincinnati should approach the SuperDraft. Clark is the Director of Content at Top Drawer and an expert on college soccer.

How do you compare this year’s draft class to recent years? Is it weaker as some have suggested?

TC: This year’s draft class is like many others. Diluted due to the elite players skipping school or already tied to MLS teams via the Homegrown mechanism. There aren’t a lot of players available at the top pick worthy of selection.

Every #1 pick since 2003 has been a Generation adidas player. Who are the top few names you expect to be in this year’s class, and do you expect the streak of #1 overall picks being Generation adidas to continue?

TC: There are no huge surprises in this year’s Generation adidas class so far, aside from the league making a very obvious swing back towards domestic players — last year’s group was mostly overseas college players. Given FC Cincinnati’s team at this point, adding a GA player at No. 1 seems inevitable because it comes with roster flexibility. There’s no clear candidate I’d take, although Siad Haji or Frankie Amaya have the highest ceilings. From what I can gather, Haji could fill a solid need, as he’s an attacking player that can occupy wide areas and play on the wing.

The Generation adidas players signed so far are Siad Haji, John Nelson, JJ Williams, Tajon Buchanan, Frankie Amaya, Griff Dorsey, and Dayne St. Clair.

Do you think FC Cincinnati’s draft strategy with their #1 pick should be to just get the best overall player, or should they try to address a 2019 positional need?

TC: FCC should definitely target the best player they can get, or the player they feel has the highest ceiling. There won’t be many players that are ready to step in right away and compete for time.

Is the MLS SuperDraft Still Relevant?

Who do you think FC Cincinnati should select and why?

TC: If I was FC Cincinnati, I would look to trade down or trade the pick away. Bring in a proven MLS player that a team is looking to move or some allocation money that can be used elsewhere.

What is the likelihood that FC Cincinnati’s first pick will be a year-one difference maker for the team?

TC: 5% at most. I don’t think any player from college soccer available in the draft will be a huge difference maker.

What are the odds that FCC trades the #1 pick to get something in return? Do you think that’s a good strategy?

TC: Yes — as I noted, it would make plenty of sense, depending on salary. Getting a player in the GA program makes sense too because it won’t count against the cap.

Do you know of any sleepers that might slip to the second round and make a high-quality pick there?

TC: I actually feel like FC Cincinnati could find a player in the second round. Last year, LAFC picked someone that I believe was cut in the first week or two. Looking for a central defender, outside back, or wide player with the first pick in the second round might yield a surprise. . . ., there should even be central midfielders out there (Joey Piatczyc, Andrew Samuels, or Tommy McCabe) that should be able to make the team.

Generation adidas Class

Many expected MLS to announce the 2019 Generation adidas class today, but there is no official news yet. The announcement is likely delayed in an attempt to include a couple of standout players who have not yet signed. One example is North Carolina State fullback Manny Perez, who is also attracting interest from Europe.

Generation adidas is a joint program between MLS and Adidas in which a handful of the top collegiate underclassmen and select youth national team players are signed to MLS contracts and made available in the SuperDraft. Since 2003, every #1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft has come from the Generation adidas class.

Despite the lack of an MLS announcement, tweets like this are starting to surface. Haji is the #1 ranked prospect on Top Drawer Soccer’s December 24th MLS Big Draft Board.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Travis for his time and insights. Get over to Top Drawer Soccer and check out all of their content on the draft, college, high school, and U.S. youth soccer. Also, stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft and FC Cincinnati’s offseason.

Is the MLS SuperDraft Still Relevant?

Should FC Cincinnati fans really pay attention to the MLS SuperDraft?

Image: Joe Craven

Some people may have just been introduced to it, and others may be skeptical, so we feel the question should be asked. Should FC Cincinnati fans really pay attention to the MLS SuperDraft?

Experts generally agree that the MLS SuperDraft is less important to overall talent acquisition than drafts in other American sports. So why is that the case?

The first reason for the SuperDraft’s waning importance is the MLS Homegrown Player Rule. Instituted in 2008, the rule encourages MLS teams to develop talent through their own academy. It then allows teams to retain rights to the players as they develop, even if they go to college. To encourage MLS clubs to participate, homegrowns have roster rule benefits versus standard players that help with an MLS team’s overall roster build.

Now that the Homegrown rule has been in place for over ten years, clubs are more likely to identify top local players early, then sign them to Homegrown contracts at or before college age. Even if the club doesn’t, they retain rights to academy players throughout college and gets first dibs to offer them a contract, as long as they do it prior to the SuperDraft following the player’s senior year. The end result is that a lot of American talent goes through the academy pipeline. Ultimately, that’s probably a good thing.

Second, many youth players continue to opt for overseas development, rather than follow a U.S. based path that includes college. They draw on the examples set by notable U.S. players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Timothy Weah. Many believe that players receive better coaching outside of the U.S and play against better competition. There’s a whole business behind the talent placement too. Rob Moore, who runs the U.K.-based On Target soccer agency, placed Pulisic at Dortmund and actively looks for U.S. based players to place with European clubs. This outflux of talent obviously weakens the pool of U.S. players that attend college and get to MLS via the draft. It’s worth noting that many of the big-name players above started their development at U.S. academies before moving to Europe, so the development approach is really a hybrid.

Finally, MLS teams are spending more money on their rosters as the salary cap increases and mechanisms like Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) are used to build rosters. As the overall roster values increase, the talent that finds its way the senior roster is less likely to come through the collegiate ranks. MLS provides incentives and allocates roster spots designed to keep lower-paid, developing players with the team. However, it is increasingly less likely that SuperDraft procured players will be able to earn these spots, or advance the first team as more money comes into the league.

In search of some numbers to back this up? Research by Soccer America revealed that in 2018, fewer than 25 percent of the players selected in the previous three drafts were currently with an MLS team.

The Verdict

The draft is clearly less important than it used to be for a variety of reason and its value is diminishing annually. Additional, the likelihood of a SuperDraft player impacting an MLS team right away is low.

In a recent conversation with Orange & Blue Press, college soccer expert Travis Clark of Top Drawer Soccer said the following about the upcoming draft.

This year’s draft class is like many others. Diluted due to the elite players skipping school or already (being) tied to MLS teams via the Homegrown mechanism. There aren’t a lot of players available at the top pick worthy of selection.

The highest draft picks really are the ones to watch and, since FC Cincinnati has the first overall pick, that’s something to pay attention to. However, most of the draftees will slug it out in training camps for a limited number of MLS spots, and often will look to the USL to continue their career, and eventually get a shot at the American first division.

While the SuperDraft is becoming progressively less important, it undeniably still produces quality MLS players. Look no further than Atlanta United’s Julian Gressell for proof of that. However, SuperDraft success stories are becoming the exception rather than the rule as America’s first division evolves.

Meet the MLS SuperDraft

The MLS SuperDraft is less than two weeks away and it’s the last major roster-building event before FC Cincinnati’s preseason begins. Like many aspects of MLS, the SuperDraft is complicated. It resembles the drafts of other major American sports but also has a number of idiosyncrasies. This article lays out the essentials of the SuperDraft for readers who are new to the draft, or for soccer fans that haven’t paid close attention until Cincinnati had an MLS team.

MLS SuperDraft Essentials

The SuperDraft consists of four rounds of player selections, typically split over two days. The first two rounds will take place at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago on Friday, January 11th. Two more rounds typically follow the Sunday after (although that schedule has not yet been confirmed). MLS conducted the final two rounds via conference call rather than in person in recent years.

As the lone expansion team, FC Cincinnati holds the first overall pick and the first pick in each subsequent round of the draft. Teams that did not make the 2018 playoffs select after FCC, beginning with the team that totaled the fewest points during the 2018 regular season. The remaining teams select based on which team had fewest regular season points among teams eliminated in the same round of the MLS playoffs.

Generation Adidas (GA) players are a small group of players but are often the hottest commodity in the SuperDraft. Each year, through the GA program, the league signs a handful of elite underclassmen and youth national team player to MLS contracts. They then enter the SuperDraft. As an added benefit to teams that select them, GA players don’t count against the salary budget until they graduate from the program. Since 2003, every number one draft pick has been a Generation Adidas player. MLS should announce the 2019 GA class during the first week of January. For the rest of the draft details we’ll turn to our fast facts format.

Fast Facts

  • FC Cincinnati has five total picks, including two second-round draft picks. They secured an extra second-round pick by means of a trade with Toronto FC in return for the first overall allocation spot.
  • Only players on the league’s draft-eligible list can be selected. Club technical staffs and the league itself nominate the players on this list.
  • The majority of the eligible players are college seniors, but the list also includes Generation Adidas players, and a can include non-collegiate youth international players. For example, there was one non-collegiate player in 2018 draft, Issaka Nyemewero, a Ghanaian youth-international.
  • The Homegrown Player Rule overrides SuperDraft eligibility if a contract is offered. For example, if a college senior played for an MLS academy and qualifies as a homegrown, that player will not be available in the draft as long as the MLS club offers the player a contract before the SuperDraft. They essentially get first dibs on any homegrown talent. A good example of this situation is Indiana senior Andrew Gutman, who is currently Top Drawer Soccer’s Player of the Year and #1 overall Men’s player. Gutman is a Chicago Fire academy product, but they have not yet signed him and he’s rumored to be on his way to Europe.
  • MLS teams can trade SuperDraft picks like in other American sports, so teams can move around in order to get a player they want or trade their pick for other assets, such as allocation money, a player, or an international spot.
  • Draft picks typically enter training camp with the clubs that drafted them but it’s not a guarantee that they will make the team’s roster.

The MLS SuperDraft will be streamed live on MLSSOCCER.COM. The SuperDraft is open to the public at no charge. However, seating is limited, so get there early if you’re making the trip to Chicago. Orange & Blue Press will be in Chicago on January 11th to cover the event.

Stay tuned for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s offseason and MLS roster build.

TRADE: “Tricky” Alvas Powell Brings Experience and Potential to the Queen City

Alvas Powell brings deep first team MLS experience to FC Cincinnati’s squad at right back at the tender age of 24. Can he live up to his full Portland potential in Cincinnati?

Photo Credit: Ytoyoda License

Age: 24
Position: Defender -Right Back
From: Danvers Pen, Saint Thomas, Jamaica (domestic player, holds green card)
Former team: Portland Timbers
Value: $905K
Deal: Traded to FC Cincinnati for $250K in General Allocation Money (GAM). The Timbers also retain a sell-on fee of 25%.
Tranfermarkt Profile

Saint Thomas, Jamaica native Alvas Powell joins FC Cincinnati as a 24-year-old with significant MLS and international experience. The right-sided defender has racked up 122 MLS appearances with the Portland Timbers since 2013. He also has 35 senior caps for the Reggae Boyz, including appeances in 12 World Cup qualifying matches.

Orange & Blue Press checked in with Jeff Bull, our writer and correspondent in Portland who is also a Cincinnati native and pens the Timbers blog Conifers and Citrus. He served up some vital details on Powell for our readers. Bull describes himself as a “full-time, modern-era Timbers fan (i.e., no NASL)” who speaks highly of Powell’s talents but also describes him as a “tricky” player. Here’s why.

Bull says that Powell “defends well because his speed contains the overwhelming majority of his mistakes. When he directs that speed toward the opposition goal, the emotions you feel will be complicated.” Here’s a look at the kind of damage Powell can do going forward.

Bull noted the highs and lows of Powell’s play. “Powell can weave his way through an entire damn defense and score a goal. Three weeks later, though, I’m slipping this parenthetical into a match report: (How many times can one man make the wrong pass to the same wrong spot?)”

Powell’s talents have been evident since he burst on to the scene in Portland in 2013. However, some Timbers fans feel he hasn’t realized his full potential in the American first division. He was perhaps suffering under the weight of the fan’s expectations after six seasons in the Rose City. Bull says “I don’t know how many Timbers fans have accepted Powell as he is at this point. What I do strongly suspect, is that Powell will drop that baggage if and when he moves to Cincinnati.”

Powell made strong bonds during his six years, but the evolution of the Western Conference champion’s defense meant the end of Powell’s time in Portland. Two weeks ago, several Oregon news outlets reported an emotional meeting between Powell, head coach Giovanni Savarese, and Timbers General Manager Gavin Wilkinson. At that meeting, the trio sat down to discuss a potential trade dealing the Jamaican away from Oregon. Wilkinson shared the following sentiments after the meet-up.

It was very upsetting, and I think everyone walked away from it just realizing how special Alvas is as a person and how much he means to the group in the locker room, and it’s probably one of the hardest meetings I’ve ever had to be a part of. [Stumptown Footy]

Powell perhaps became expendable after the arrival of left fullback Jorge Villafaña from Mexican side Santos Laguna in August. That acquisition precipitated the shift of defender Zarek Valentin to a right-back role, where he started for most of the latter part of the Timbers 2018 season.

It’s clear that Powell has the experience and skill set to be an asset to FC Cincinnati’s inaugural MLS campaign. He also appears to be a character guy that made some strong bonds with the squad in Portland. He’ll, of course, now be reunited with former Timber Fanendo Adi in Cincinnati. The question now is whether Powell can realize his full potential under Alan Koch’s guidance in the Queen City.

Another interesting aspect of this trade is what it means positionally for Mathieu Deplagne, who also plays at right back. Taylor Twellman speculated on Twitter on Christmas that the move means the Frenchman may be converted to a center back.

A big thanks to Jeff Bull for his time and insights. Look for more contributions from Jeff in the near future on Orange & Blue Press, and check out his blog at Conifers and Citrus. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s MLS roster build. 

Photo Credit: Ytoyoda License