TFC's Hernandez says club intends to use first overall pick in MLS SuperDraft
It's been 10 years since Toronto FC last held the top pick in the MLS SuperDraft and the club traded away that selection.
New England, the beneficiary of that deal, used it to select Andrew Farrell. Still going strong at 31, the veteran defender remains with the Revolution and now leads all MLS players in regular-season minutes (28,724), appearances (327) and starts (322).
Midfielder Kyle Bekker, taken third overall by Toronto that year using a pick acquired in a deal with Portland, spent two seasons in Toronto colours before moving to FC Dallas, CF Montreal and finally Forge FC, where he was won CPL trophies as captain.
It has been slim pickings since for TFC, although defender Nick Hagglund (Toronto's first pick in 2014, 10th overall) delivered five solid seasons before being traded to his hometown FC Cincinnati in January 2019. Alex Bono (2015, sixth overall) was a starter who was in goal when TFC won the 2017 MLS Cup but is now with D.C. United.
Toronto GM Jason Hernandez says his intention is to use the first pick in Tuesday's three-round draft, saying the club has spent considerable time, energy and resources into finding a player "that's going to help us, not only now, but for years to come."
The league has widened the talent pool this year, opening the door to sophomores and juniors.
"It feels as though the talent within the draft is spread pretty systematically, pretty evenly across defence, midfield and the striker position," said Hernandez, who went sixth overall in the 2006 MLS supplemental draft to the MetroStars.
That's good news because Toronto, the league's worst team at 4-20-10 last season, needs help everywhere.
Players to watch include Georgetown forward Jacob Murrell, Washington centre back Nate Jones and midfielder Kalani Kossa-Rienzi, Louisville defender Josh Jones, High Point midfielder Jefferson Amaya, Marshall forward Mathew Bell and Canadian forward Marcus Caldeira (West Virginia).
Virginia striker Stephen Annor Gyamfi, Clemson defender Pape Mar Boye and Maryland forward Kimani Stewart-Baynes, the Big Ten freshman of the year from Toronto, could feature prominently if they sign Generation Adidas contracts with the league as freshmen.
The Colorado Rapids hold the second and fourth picks, acquiring the No. 4 selection via trade with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Inter Miami picks third and Austin FC fifth.
CF Montreal picks 10th. The Whitecaps traded their first-round pick (16th overall) to Real Salt Lake in a February deal to acquire the rights to forward Sergio Cordova. Vancouver, which also gave RSL up to US$300,000 in general allocation money, subsequently transferred the Venezuelan to Turkey's Alanyaspor in September after 19 league appearances.
While the importance of the draft has diminished in recent years thanks to the growth of MLS academies, there is still talent to be had.
Forward Duncan McGuire, the sixth overall pick last year, scored 13 goals for Orlando this season. And goalkeeper Roman Celentano has made 85 league and playoff appearances for FC Cincinnati since being taken second overall in the 2022 draft as a Generation Adidas signee.
For Toronto, the draft still offers a chance to acquire skill and depth at a reasonable price, which is prized given the roster rebuild that is going on under Hernandez and coach John Herdman.
"We are very much into the puzzle pieces that is a roster reconstruction in MLS off-season," said Hernandez,
One can argue Toronto's highest-profile first-round pick since 2013 was Brandon Aubrey, a Notre Dame alumnus now turning heads as the Dallas Cowboys' rookie placekicker. Aubrey spent 2017 with Toronto FC 2 after being selected 21st overall.
Defenders Clement Simonin and Skylar Thomas (2015, ninth and 11th overall), forward Griffin Dorsey (2019, sixth overall), defender Nyal Higgins (2020, 19th overall) and midfielder Matt Di Rosa (2021, 25th) failed to make an impression
Forwards Tsubasa Endoh (2016, ninth overall) and Ifunanyachi Achara (2020, 25th overall) both landed TFC jobs with Endoh appearing in 70 regular-season and playoff games over six seasons and Achara in 30 regular-season games in three campaigns. Both have since moved on.
Toronto traded away its first-round picks in 2018, 2022 and 2023.
Eight Canadians went in last year's draft, including four in the first round led by Montreal's Moise Bombito, a University of New Hampshire defender taken third overall by the Colorado Rapids.
Sporting Kansas City picked Toronto forward Stephen Afrifa (Florida International University) eighth overall with Malcolm Johnston of Aurora, Ont, (Maryland) going 26th to New York City FC and forward Levonte Johnson of Brampton, Ont., (Syracuse) going 29th overall to Vancouver.
Johnston is the younger brother of Canadian international Alistair Johnston.
Ahead of its inaugural season, Toronto FC took midfielder Maurice Edu with the first overall pick of the 2007 draft.
TFC has had some success outside the first round in recent years.
Goalkeeper Luka Gavran, taken in the second round (31st overall) in 2022, impressed when give a chance to start late last season. And Toronto retains the rights to Western Michigan forward Charlie Sharp, a MAC Hermann Trophy finalist this year who was taken in the third round (61st overall) in last year's draft.
Hernandez says talks will continue with Sharp, whose rights Toronto retains through December 2024.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2023