LA Galaxy manger Bruce Arena has a great reputation for being a master of the MLS SuperDraft. Hired in August of 2008, Arena has been at the desk for LA from the 2009 draft on. Snagging Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza in that first draft, I thought it might be fun to go back and look at some draft grades and see what folk thought of Arena's various drafts.
Here's Arena's best draft for the Galaxy, and as it should be with a natural third pick (LA finished second to last in 2008, but the expansion Seattle Sounders had the first pick). The Sounders took Steve Zakuani with the first pick, then third place finishing Toronto FC trade Ronnie O'Brien to San Jose to have both the second and fourth picks in the draft. ESPN(written by Ives Galarecep) gave LA and Toronto A's in the draft. Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza were obvious stars, but Ives was also high on late rounders Josh Boateng and Kyle Patterson.
Boateng had issues with his amateur team in Ghana giving him international clearance that let to him not receiving a contract. So that's a wash, but looking at Drew Epperly's draft grades we have another report high on Kyle Patterson. The attacker made three appearances, was loaned out to the USL-PDL, and the was waived at the end of the season.
However both reports were high on Arena unloading Ante Jazic onto Chivas USA. Soon after getting rid of Jazic, Arena brought in Todd Dunivant who he had coached in New York. The Jazic trade also included the second round draft pick that Arena used to get A.J. DeLaGarza. The man Arena replaced had traded away LA's natural second round pick for Carlos Ruiz who was traded as Arena took over the team in 2008.
Three pieces of the defensive back line that won back to back championships? I'd say LA did pretty well in the 2009 off-season.
The 2009 off-season was so good that LA went from second to last to best in the West and an MLS Cup appearance. Real Salt Lake and the old rules allowing them to compete in the Eastern Conference bracket may have stolen a trophy from LA, but this took LA immediately from rebuilding mode to maintaining mode. The 2010 SuperDraft was going to be a completely different experience than the 2009 version.
We'll start with Kyle McCarthy at Goal.com who gave LA an A- for their 2010 haul. He called Michael Stephens (whom LA chose with their first round pick) a bit of something different, and praised Arena for turning LA's natural pick into Clint Mathis. Ives at ESPN gave LA a C+ for essentially the same reasons.
Mathis made nine appearances and then retired in August, so perhaps Ives saw better how little was left in his tank. This blog didn't exist yet, but Mathis' retirement was one of the first stories I wrote for SB Nation Los Angeles. So it's from here that things start to sound more familiar.
Stephens has become something of a regular, and maintaining worked out to the tune of a second straight appearance in the Western Conference finals. However LA ended up losing to FC Dallas, so the only hardware the club brought home was the Supporters' Shield.
Another Arena draft, another low draft pick. Draft grades are becoming more and more of a thing. Let's just go ahead and list them: Epperly gave LA a C+, J.R. Eskilson for Goal.com came LA a B+, Jeff Carlisle at ESPN called LA's draft a mixed bag.
Paolo Cardozo was LA's natural first round pick, as the phrase of the day became bolstering the midfield. Eskilson had the highest draft grade, and called Cardozo another incarnation of Juninho. SI called him a diminutive attacker with quick feet and flair. Epperly essentially dismissed Cardozo for be an international pick folk didn't like. Carlisle didn't have much to say about Cardozo either. Cardozo made 18 appearances before he was traded to Chivas USA for David Junior Lopes next year. That whole thread looks bad in retrospect.
Hector Jimenez as a natural second round pick had a longer time with LA, but his draft grade was mixed. Epperly felt LA already had too many right-footed midfielders, though Eskilson called him an unheralded star at Cal. It took until 2013 for Jimenez to get regular minutes, and this offseason he was traded to Columbus for draft positioning and allocation money.
After LA's early exit in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League, Arena was determined to make a go of it in 2011. They won their group with a strong victory over Mexican side Morelia (the best CCL experience at the StubHub until the Monterrey match-up). That's where this midfield depth paid off, and Jimenez was key in the 12-13 and 13-14 runs as well.
However, the big news of the day was Arena trading for Chad Barrett. This came along with LA acquiring Adam Cristman, as Arena tried to fill the hole Edson Buddle left after rejecting a bonafide offer. Carlisle even predicted LA go after an out-of-contract Juan Pablo Angel.
Of course, all this forward acquisition would finally come to a close when Arena was able to ship out the acquired Angel to Chivas USA and bring in Robbie Keane. Barrett sadly injured himself in practice before MLS Cup, and it was Cristman who missed several big chances in front of goal. Barrett did score eight goals for LA, but was loaned out for much of 2012.
Another year of low draft picks after winning MLS Cup in 2011. Ives gave LA a C for their selections, while Epperly gave LA a C+. ESPN called LA's draft a winner. Tommy Meyer and Kenney Walker were the selections, with Meyer having a role in the 2012 MLS Cup victory.
Hopefully at this point in the article you've picked up the fact that while grades will vary, the reviewers are usually pretty good at capturing the theme of a draft. The 2012 SuperDraft happened in the shadow of Omar Gonzalez' leg injury, so everyone understood that LA was going for center back depth.
LA picked up Andrew Boyens in the Re-Entry Draft and used him against Toronto in the Champions League tilt, but Meyer started LA's MLS opener where the club gave up three goals in the final seventeen minutes.
The pundits all got right that Meyer would be called on to start right away. Travis Clark praised him for his size, Epperly called him smart with good ball skills. As an example that grading drafts is really hard, Epperly was surprised that LA didn't go after Hunter Jumper for right back depth. Jumper has only made seven appearances with the Chicago Fire, while Meyer contributed to LA right away at a need spot.
Kenney Walker was attributed to LA needing a plan incase they were able to work out a deal to bring Juninho back. A tireless and athletic defensive midfielder, it's still possible that Walker can find a role in MLS. However, Arena bringing in Marcelo Sarvas as well getting a transfer for Juninho pushed back the need for his services.
Lots of folk got into the grades game by 2013, so let's just get to it. SB Nation gave LA a C+, Ives a B-, Top Drawer Soccer a C, MLS Analyst said "I guess that makes sense", and Epperly gave it a B-. So again, pretty much across the board there's agreement that this was an average, safe draft.
With a natural last pick for the second straight year, Arena selected Charlie Rugg in the first round and Greg Cochrane in the second. He also traded an International roster spot to Philly for a second second-round pick that he used on Kofi Opare.
Epperly calls Rugg a surprise as he wasn't a big time goal scorer in college. Doyle called Rugg a reach at 19. Top Drawer pointed out his injury struggles, but called him a cheaper version of Edson Buddle. SB Nation thought he could have potential when he's not the focal point being double teamed all the time. Rugg was part of the trio (along with 2012 pick Walker and 2012 Supplemental draft pick Bryan Gaul) that Arena tried to loan out midseason (Rugg being the one who wasn't loaned out). With LA bringing in a handful of foreign forward talent, Rugg's not likely to see his role increase in 2014. The reach analysis was probably right.
Opare and Cochrane both made an impact in 2013, and they're the crafty picks which made the 2013 draft average. Most of the pundits called it on the players being selected for defensive depth, which was tried over the 2013 season. Cochrane did get used as a left back (as Doyle hoped) filling in when Dunivant was out with injury, and Opare filled in when LA had center back injuries problems as Meyer had the year before.
Ives was the only one to point out that Gyasi Zardes could have been a no. 1 pick had he gone through the draft. Zardes' contributions make gambling on Rugg a lot more palatable.
The point of this exercise was never to try and retroactively slam anyone's grades. On the contrary, I wanted to show how much the various grades have in common. It's much easier to understand a club's offseason needs (ESPN listing Chivas' needs in the 2014 draft as everything was a nice touch) than it is to understand how a specific prospect will do in addressing that need.
This past draft was Arena's least used, but a consistent streak of average drafts with a low natural draft pick does show off Arena's ability to identity talent. It's still true that a team can never have enough depth at center back, but what we learned more this offseason is just how many draft alternatives are out there.
Once again, Arena has been given an average passing grade. If nothing else, that consistency is noteworthy.