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Looking at MLS No. 1 draft picks of the past

There have been some good ones, and some… not so much.

MLS: LAFC Groundbreaking Ceremony
Excited about the SuperDraft? You might want to think again.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

As the MLS combine in Orlando is about to kick off, we at Angels on Parade thought it would be a good idea to dive into the history of No. 1 overall draft picks in the MLS College Draft/SuperDraft.

While the draft isn’t until Jan. 19, there is excitement around Los Angeles Football Club having the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. However, in looking at previous No. 1 picks, that excitement may have to be tempered with a little dose of reality.

Before we get into the full list, here are some things to take into consideration:

  • Only five players taken No. 1 have been selected to the MLS All-Star Game
  • One two No. 1 picks were named MLS Rookie of the Year

Those two things would suggest the No. 1 pick for LAFC should not have lofty expectations laid upon him to somehow lead the team to glory in the first year. There could be the success story – like Maurice Edu and Andrew Farrell – or disappointments – such as Nik Besagno.

Which one will LAFC get? Only time will tell. For now, here’s a rundown of the players selected in first overall in the College Draft or SuperDraft (they’re essentially the same thing but there was a rebrand along the way as MLS combined a couple drafts together).

1996 – Matt McKeon (Kansas City Wizards)

McKeon played six years in MLS with Kansas City, then Colorado in 1999, and back to Kansas City from 2000-02. Over his time he scored 13 goals – all with Kansas City and was a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team in 1999, where he made two appearances. He retired after being cut by the Wizards in 2002.

1997 – Tahj Jakins (Colorado Rapids)

Jakins was a highly-touted defensive player from UCLA when he was drafted in 1997. He played in 61 matches with the Rapids before being signed by Kansas City in 2000. That year, he played for MLS Pro-40, the Raleigh Capital Express and then went on loan to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2001 before being waived by the Wizards in November that year.

1998 – Leo Cullen (Miami Fusion)

Cullen was the first pick in team history for the Fusion (R.I.P.) and he spent 3 ½ seasons before being traded to New England. Cullen left the Revolution in 2003 to pursue his college degree, then joined up with Colorado in 2005. He had 15 appearances with the Rapids before retiring at the end of the season.

1999 – Jason Moore (D.C. United)

Moore was the first non-defender taken with the top pick in the draft – although he was a defender at the University of Virginia before switching to midfield his sophomore season when he was drafted. He played one year with United before moving to Colorado, then Chicago (where he scored his only goal) and, finally New England in 2003.

2000 – Steve Shak (MetroStars)

Shak was a surprise pick by the MetroStars in 2000 as they overlooked players like Carlos Bocanegra and Danny Califf. He lasted a season with the MetroStars and another with Colorado before a season in Sweden with Bodens BK. Following his return, he spent from 2004 to 2009 in the USL with Virginia Beach and Charlotte – scoring 11 of his 12 career goals in the USL.

2001 – Chris Carrieri (San Jose Earthquakes)

After two games with the New Brunswick Brigade of the Premier Development League, Carrieri was drafted by San Jose in 2001. He had five appearances before being traded to Colorado in 2001. There, he scored 19 goals in 69 appearances for the Rapids through 2003. He had one more season in MLS – 2004 in Chicago – but spent most of his career in the USL with the Richmond Kickers and the Carolina RailHawks.

2002 – Chris Gbandi (Dallas Burn)

Gbandi was the first international player taken with the first pick – he is from Liberia – and had 111 appearances for Dallas from 2002-07. He transferred to Haugesund in Norway in 2008, but returned to play with USSF Division 2 club Miami FC in 2010. Gbandi has been the head men’s soccer coach at Northeastern University since 2016.

2003 – Alecko Eskandarian (D.C. United)

After being drafted in 2003, Eskandarian had a slow first season – scoring just three goals in 23 games – but led United with 14 goals the next season while helping lead United to the 2004 MLS Cup – where he scored two goals in the title win. He was an MLS All-Star in 2006 and scored United’s only goal in a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid that summer. He spent 2007 with Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake before being acquired by Chivas USA in 2008. Concussions halted a promising rise, as he prematurely closed out his career in 2010 with the LA Galaxy.

MLS: Desert Friendlies-Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers
Portland Timbers forward Freddy Adu shoots on goal during the second half against the Seattle Sounders at Kino Sports Complex. The game ended in a draw 1-1.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

2004 – Freddy Adu (D.C. United)

Adu was, and still is, the youngest player (14) to sign a professional contract after being drafted. But, after being touted as the “next Pele,” Adu seemed to fizzle, playing for 13 teams in eight different countries – the U.S., Portugal, France, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, Serbia and Finland, although he received a healthy number of caps for the USMNT along the way. In 2017, Adu tried out with the Portland Timbers, but was not offered a spot. Unquestionably a disappointment, Adu also struggled with the enormous expectations placed on his young shoulders.

2005 – Nik Besagno (Real Salt Lake)

Drafting Besagno seemed to set a trend for drafting very young players, as he was just 16 when picked by RSL. However, like Adu, Besagno failed to impress – making just eight appearances in three seasons with Real Salt Lake. He was loaned to Seattle in 2008, but was cut in January 2009. From there, he played with the Tacoma Tide of the USL Premier Development League and closing it out with the PDL’s Washington Crossfire.

Colorado Rapids v San Jose Earthquakes Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

2006 – Marvell Wynne (New York Red Bulls)

Wynne enjoyed some success with New York and with Toronto, and then helped lead Colorado to the 2010 MLS Cup title as a starting center back. In 2015, he was picked up by San Jose, but was forced off the pitch when a heart abnormality was discovered prior to the 2017 season, although he wants to return to playing this year. Wynne did have five appearances with the USMNT from 2007 to 2011.

2007 – Maurice Edu (Toronto FC)

Edu’s career started with a bang as he earned MLS Rookie of the Year in 2007 before being transferred to Scottish side Rangers in 2008. He had 96 appearances for Rangers, scoring nine goals in his four seasons – he scored a Champions League goal against Valencia in 2010. That was impressive enough to lead him to Premier League side Stoke, but that is when things started to fall apart. He played just 10 minutes as a sub in three seasons. He had 12 appearances for Bursaspor in Turkey before making a permanent switch to Philadelphia and the Union in 2014. Significant injuries have effectively sidelined him the past two years.

2008 – Chance Myers (Kansas City Wizards)

Myers was a slow starter after being picked first overall, struggling to break through due to a variety of factors over time. Despite it, he did make 147 appearances for the team, really hitting his stride around the 2013 MLS Cup win with Sporting KC, before being released in 2017. He was picked up by the Portland Timbers, but injuries again let him down and he seldom featured.

2009 – Steve Zakuani (Seattle Sounders FC)

Zakuani, originally from the Congo, actually started his youth career with Arsenal from 1997 to 2003. But, he turned down the Premier League to sign with Seattle and play in the MLS. He helped lead the Sounders to the U.S. Open Cup championship in their inaugural season. But, a nasty leg injury against the Rapids in the 2011 season hampered Zukuani for the rest of his career, and he retired after the 2014 season, sadly ending what had appeared to be a very promising career.

2010 – Danny Mwanga (Philadelphia Union)

Mwanga was the second consecutive 1st pick from the Congo, but unlike Zakuani, his career was allowed to follow its natural course. He was a finalist for Rookie of the Year in 2010 after scoring seven goals. He followed that in 2011 when he was nominated for the MLS All-Star Game. He was traded to Portland in 2012 then to Colorado in 2013. Since then, he played on loan with the New York Cosmos before being picked by Orlando City SC in the 2014 expansion draft. He spent 2016 on loan to the Ottawa Fury from the Tampa Bay Rowdies. As a player who started quite well, things really petered out over time for Mwanga.

2011 – Omar Salgado (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)

Salgado spent three seasons with Vancouver, but never really broke into a starting position – making just 26 appearances for the Whitecaps. He spent 2014 on loan to the Charleston Battery before being purchased by Tigres UANL of Liga MX in 2015. In two seasons with UANL, Salgado was loaned out to Tampa Bay and to Jaguares de Cordoba in Columbia, making six combined appearances in two seasons. Overall, another disappointing No. 1 pick.

2012 – Andrew Wenger (Montreal Impact)

In three seasons with the Impact, Wenger made 59 appearances and scored eight goals, including a goal in the 2013 MLS Cup playoffs. He was traded to Philadelphia in 2014 and made 59 appearances for the Union, scoring nine goals in two seasons. In 2016, he was traded to Houston and played in 30 games, scoring six goals. Wenger is hard to assess — he’ll never be a star, but he’s found a pretty consistent level in MLS.

2013 – Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution)

Since being drafted by New England, Farrell has consistently been on the backline for the Revolution. He has started at least 30 games in each of his seasons with New England and was selected to the 2016 MLS All-Star Game where he featured in the second half against Arsenal. His consistency has made him one of the better 1st draft picks in the league, although many now believe he’s more of a steady presence than a defender teams will build around.

2014 – Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)

The Jamaican international has been the Union’s starting goalkeeper since the 2016 season and earned a spot in the 2016 MLS All-Star Game. Since being drafted, Blake has made 65 appearances for Philadelphia and 31 for Jamaica. He helped lead his home nation to the 2014 Caribbean Cup title and earned the Golden Gloves award during the tournament. Expected to move to Europe at some point, Blake is one of the big successes among the No. 1 picks.

2015 – Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC)

Larin has been a stalwart on offense for the Lions, scoring 43 goals in his 87 appearances for Orlando City since being drafted. He also has five goals in 23 appearances for the Canadian National Team. In 2016, Larin was selected to the MLS All-Star Game. Latest talk around Larin is a potential move abroad, but nothing has been confirmed. Aside from a drunk driving arrest (which is significant), Larin’s stock keeps rising.

2016 – Jack Harrison (Chicago Fire)

Harrison spent no time on the field for the Fire. In fact, he spent no time in Chicago as he was immediately traded away to New York City FC. Harrison’s youth career was spent with Manchester United, but with New York City he was nominated for 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year and was runner-up for the 2016 MLS Goal of the Year – losing in both categories. He has scored 14 goals in 56 appearances for NYCFC, and is also considered a star of the future, who may get to play in his homeland of England before all is said and done.

2017 – Abu Danladi (Minnesota United FC)

Danladi had a strong first season with the Loons, scoring eight goals in 27 appearances. He was nominated and selected a finalist for 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year and appears to have settled in to life as a Loon. With just one season under his belt, it’s impossible to make sweeping assessments, but he’s off to a solid start.

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