Few MLS rookies are able to make an immediate impact. That won’t be the case for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Farrell and a few others taken in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
History has shown that the draft is not an exact science. Not in MLS—or in any other sport for that matter.
Teams cannot be sure whether they are drafting a potential Rookie of the Year or future trade bait for a low-end draft pick.
But lackluster careers cannot only be attributed to a player’s inability to live up to potential.
It takes the perfect combination of skill and opportunity for a successful rookie campaign—something not every home-grown signing or player taken in this year’s SuperDraft will be presented with this season.
That lack of opportunity and playing time has led to an agreement between MLS and USL Pro to integrate the MLS Reserve League teams into the USL Pro Schedule.
As MLS executive vice president of player relations and competition Todd Durbin points out, it presents MLS teams with another opportunity properly develop its talent.
“This partnership represents the first step in a long-term alliance between MLS and USL Pro to connect domestic professional soccer through a system that benefits player development, competition and the overall business of our sport.”
MLS has taken the proper steps to limit the number of “Ike Opara’s” in the future. But a loan spell to USL Pro is not in the cards for all rookies this season.
Here are three MLS rookies with the perfect combination of skill and opportunity that will make an impact in 2013.
The New England Revolution believes it has their man in Andrew Farrell—so much so that a trade with Toronto FC was completed to ensure he was the first No. 1 overall pick in franchise history.
Farrell—the consensus No. 1 pick ahead of this year’s draft—is ready to demonstrate that he is worthy of such hype.
When you’re labeled as the “best talent” in the MLS combine in years, that’s a myriad of hype to live up to.
Andrew Farrell goes 1 to New England. One top MLS coach told me "He's the best talent in the MLS Combine in years." He's legit.— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) January 17, 2013
Farrell had a stellar three-year career at Louisville.
The 2012 Big East Defensive Player of the Year started all 44 games his previous two seasons.
His versatility allowed him to seamlessly transition from the midfield to defense as a junior.
Farrell finished his collegiate career with six goals and six assists, while anchoring a Louisville defense that only allowed 1.04 goals per game in 2012.
After finishing with 35 points and a goal differential of minus five, the Revolution can use that natural balance of attack and defense.
As Ives Galarcep of soccerbyives.net points out, Farrell fits an immediate need at right back. But his future with New England will be in the central defense.
“He [Farrell] can step in and start at right back, which would allow Kevin Alston to stay at left back. Eventually though I see him settling in as a centerback down the road.”
His impact for the Revolution, however, will not be reflected in the standings.
New England has not made the playoffs since 2009 and have finished ninth in the East the previous two seasons.
A playoff berth in a loaded Eastern Conference is not likely in 2013, but Farrell’s promising play will allow Revolution supporters to look optimistically in the future.
For a once promising franchise, hope is the first step toward a return to greatness.
Roger Espinoza’s transfer this offseason to Wigan Athletic left Sporting Kansas City with a glaring hole in the midfield. A trade with the Revolution to acquire creative midfielder Benny Feilhaber immediately plugged that hole.
But Feilhaber does not perfectly fill the void left by Espinoza’s departure.
The two were not cut from the same cloth.
Espinoza exhibited a defensive, box-to-box dedication in his time with Sporting—something Feilhaber has not been praised for thus far in his career.
Enter North Carolina midfielder Mikey Lopez.
After slipping down the board on draft day, Lopez was available for Sporting with the 14th overall pick.
Lopez spent two seasons at North Carolina. The 2011 ACC Freshman of the Year finished his collegiate career with five goals and five assists and has been a regular call-up for the US U-20 national team.
According to his scouting report on MLSsoccer.com, he fits the Espinoza mold:
“Has all the tools. He's very creative ... Extremely hard working, great lungs, can run all day. He's a pitbull ... Box-to-box guy and he's good at it ... Major quality is his ability to close down and he's very much a defensive-minded player ... Puts out fires.”
With ambitious expectations for an already established team, there will be ample opportunity for Lopez to make an impact for Sporting in 2013.
The MLS Cup is not the only trophy in the team’s sights. It will look to defend its second US Open Cup trophy and attempt to capture the first CONCACAF Champions League trophy in MLS history.
Slipping down a draft board on draft day isn’t the worst thing. Not if you fall to the perfect place (Just ask Aaron Rodgers).
Lopez has the skill that made him worthy of a first-round pick. But unlike other rookies taken in the SuperDraft, he is presented with the perfect opportunity to make a winning impact this season.
The Columbus Crew failed to clinch a playoff berth by one point in 2012. One draw and three losses against playoff teams the final two months of the season capped a disappointing year.
Finishing was a problem for Columbus in 2012 and that’s exactly what the Crew found in Ryan Finley:
Crew select Ryan Finley, quality forward, top finisher. Should help right away. Hopefully does better 4 Crew than their last ND 1st-rd pick— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) January 17, 2013
Finley’s laundry list of collegiate accolades include an ACC Offensive Player of the Year, a NSCAA All-America First Team and an All-Big East First Team.
He ranked third nationally in goals per game (0.95) in 2012 and his 21 goals were the fifth-most in Notre Dame history.
His scouting report on MLSSoccer.com reads like that of any other world-class striker:
“Effective forward. He can score and showed it at Notre Dame ... Similar to LA's Robbie Keane with his runs ... Powerful, quick runner. Definitely an MLS player ... He's driven with his runs and gets himself in good spots ... On the field he can run hard at you with the ball, he's two-footed and scores with both feet ... A great finisher and has a nose for the goal.”
His acquisitions brings added depth to what is an already dangerous front line bolstered by Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain.
If there is one weakness scouts have attributed to Finley it’s that, “He needs players that can play him in behind.”
He had that at Notre Dame and with Higuain’s world-class creativity, he will have that in Columbus.
His contributions up top will be enough to see the Crew back in the playoffs this season.
Follow Eduardo on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC