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Toronto FC will target best player available with sixth pick in MLS SuperDraft

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2019-01-11 Laura Armstrong - Staff Reporter
a group of baseball players playing a football game: Dayne St. Clair, of Pickering, Ont., practises with his University of Maryland team. The goalkeeper is among those cited as possible candidates to be drafted by Toronto FC in this weekend’s SuperDraft. © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited Dayne St. Clair, of Pickering, Ont., practises with his University of Maryland team. The goalkeeper is among those cited as possible candidates to be drafted by Toronto FC in this weekend’s SuperDraft.

The Philadelphia Union made headlines on Wednesday night when the Major League Soccer club sold all five of its draft picks to FC Cincinnati for cash in the league’s allocation money system.

The Union had the 13th, 29th, 37th, 61st and 85th picks overall before selling them off. Union sporting director Ernst Tanner told reporters on a conference call following the sell-off that while a handful of players in this year’s draft might make it, he didn’t expect any of them to be available outside of the top 10.

“We would not have benefited very well from the 13th pick,” he said.

Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney has a similar mindset heading into Friday’s MLS SuperDraft. A disappointing season means the Reds will pick sixth, giving them a chance to nab a player talented enough to be a part of TFC’s future.

But outside of the top five or seven selections, Vanney said, the differences between players become marginal. He believe that to be a product of the growth of Major League Soccer in recent years. As teams improve, thanks to changes like an injection of target allocation money the past couple seasons, the gap between what it takes to be a good college player and a good, reliable professional player widens.

“While I think the average (college) player is probably gaining a little bit in terms of their ability, I still think the gap that’s growing between college and professional is much faster than what the players coming into a draft are making up,” he said.

Take Toronto’s own history, for example. Seven of the club’s 10 top picks between 2007 and 2016 played between nine and 27 games for the Reds in their first year. One of those picks, Zachary Herold, was forced to retire due to a heart condition before playing a game; another is TFC’s current No. 1 goalkeeper, Alex Bono, who made no appearances in his first season with Toronto.

The path of success via the draft isn’t easy: the Reds released 2017 top pick, defender Brandon Aubrey, after one season with Toronto FC II; defender Tim Kubel and goalkeeper Drew Shepherd, their top two picks at No. 28 and No. 46 overall in 2018, also were released.

It’s not to say development overall in North America has stalled, Vanney said. Academies across the league have improved in the last five years, he believes; better coaching and development strategies have created better players that don’t need to go through the draft to make their teams.

“I think if you were to aggregate all those young players and how the academies are fairing and everything else, then I think we’re very much moving in the right way when it comes to development,” he said.

Still, Toronto has one of the draft’s top spots, and the goal is to select the best player, no matter the position.

“The ones that we think have a skill set or an expertise that can allow them to be successful,” Vanney said. “There are other guys who are good players but they’re jack-of-all-trades, you’re not really sure. Those guys aren’t really what we’re after. We’re looking for guys who know who they are, they have a good soccer brain and have a skill set that differentiates them from somebody else.”

Mock drafts have most commonly linked the Reds to two players: Generation Adidas signing Dayne St. Clair, a goalkeeper from Pickering, Ont., and Michigan State forward/winger DeJuan Jones, who reportedly boosted his stock at this week’s combine in Orlando by showing off a mix of technical skills and athleticism.

Vanney believes the top selection will be dominated by attacking players.

“It’s easier to take a younger player or college player and give them spot minutes early on as an attacking player than it is a defensive player,” he said. “The farther away from your goal, the more opportunities you have to bring them along.”

Vanney will be joined at the draft table by president Bill Manning and newly minted general manager Ali Curtis. Toronto also holds the 39th overall pick in the second round, and the 54th overall pick in the third round. Rounds 1 and 2 will be held Friday, while Rounds 3 and 4 will be held via conference call at a later date.

While the quality of the draft may not be what it used to be, Vanney said it remains a day full of emotion.

“Every time they announce a new player it’s like opening a new present at Christmas,” he said. “You’re waiting to see who it is and then all of a sudden there’s a reaction.”

Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy

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