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What to know: Crew ready for evolving MLS Draft

The Black & Gold have three picks in today’s first two rounds of the SuperDraft.

MLS: SuperDraft Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer bent to reality this year when the League announced that the 2020 edition of the SuperDraft wouldn’t be held at the site of the United Soccer Coaches Convention. Previous editions of the Draft tried to recreate the pageantry of other American sports drafts with a parade of college players holding up a jersey or putting on a team cap. This year, the draft is being held via a conference call.

The Columbus Crew SC brain trust won’t have to fly out to Baltimore for the Coaches Convention and will be drafting from MAPFRE Stadium. With the new venue, the team is hosting a luncheon with season ticket holders for a watch party.

The New MLS Rosters

The modifications now match the declining importance of the event. MLS rosters aren’t built on the draft as much as the early days of the league. Teams now look to build rosters differently. MLS teams are very active on the transfer market. The Crew added Lucas Zelarayan, Luis Diaz, Eloy Room, Youness Mokhtar, Chris Cadden and Vito Woormgoor in the last six months via international transfers. Diaz and Zelarayan came on significant transfer fees.

The second method is through the Academy system. Homegrown midfielder Wil Trapp is approaching 200 appearances for the club after signing in 2013. Center back Aboubacar Keita made 10 appearances in his rookie season last year after six months with the University of Virginia. Indiana University freshman Aidan Morris has reportedly signed a deal to join the team this season while other Academy signings may be imminent.

Recent Draft History: Hits and (mostly) Misses

There still are difference-makers coming through the Draft, but there aren’t nearly as many. The Crew took Lalas Abubakar with the fifth pick in 2017. After 31 appearances over three seasons, Abubakar was traded for $400,000 of General Allocation Money and an international roster slot for 2020. Fellow 2017 class draftees Connor Maloney and Logan Ketterer eventually ended up in USL after failing to make the mark in MLS.

The 2018 draftees Ben Lundgaard (goalkeeper) and Eddie Opoku (midfielder) also failed to make an impression and are off the team, waiting for their next opportunity. The team did find a player in the third round who did stick in MLS. Luis Argudo made 39 appearances before he was picked in the expansion draft by Inter Miami this offseason. Argudo fits what teams can look for out of the draft, a player who can provide depth and fill out a game-day 18-man roster. Forward JJ Williams was the only player to make the team from the 2019 SuperDraft, playing seven times before going on loan for most of the season. Rafael Mentzingen played well in USL-2 with hopes of making the jump to MLS in 2020.

The 2020 Edition

The Crew already, reportedly, landed a solid young midfield prospect in Aidan Morris as an imminent homegrown signing. Morris was the National Freshman of the Year as named by TopDrawerSoccer.com after his first year with Indiana and fits a need where the team is thinnest, central midfield. More Homegrown and other signings are likely before the season. Signing through the Academy shortcuts the draft.

Columbus has the seventh, 47th, and 49th picks in the first two rounds of the draft. As noted with Argudo, there is hidden talent in the lower picks, but the Crew will be looking for a player that can make the roster and make an impact in the 2020 season with the early first-round pick.

Top talents like Indiana center back Jack Maher, Clemson’s Robbie Robinson, and Virginia forward Daryl Dike will be off the board by the time the Black & Gold are on the clock. Looking at Top Drawer Soccer’s draft board, Columbus might look to fill in a spot where it could use a little depth down the roster. Syracuse winger Ryan Raposo signed a Generation Adidas contract that would keep him off the salary budget and would be a prospect to groom at a wide midfield spot.

The team could also use a backup to forward Gyasi Zardes, but the drop off from Dike and Robinson to Central Florida’s Cal Jennings is significant. There’s the same limitations as JJ Williams, a lack of track record and experience. The Crew could use proven depth rather than a project.

Another option for the Crew would be to trade picks, but the team isn’t likely able to repeat what the Philadelphia Union was able to do last year by trading every pick of the 2019 SuperDraft for allocation money. Every team now understands the declining importance of the draft and there’s no team like last year’s FC Cincinnati to take advantage of.

How to Watch

When: Thursday, January 9th at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Watch Online: ESPN App, and MLS’s Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube channels

Picks: 7th, 47th, 49th