At a time when many MLS pundits are writing off the MLS SuperDraft as a significant source of professional talent, Sporting Kansas City’s rookie draft class will soon become the most utilized group of college products in the club’s 20-year history.
And that’s saying something for a team that has picked up MLS All-Stars like Roger Espinoza, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer through the SuperDraft in recent years.
In January, Sporting Kansas City selected Connor Hallisey (10th overall), Saad Abdul-Salaam (12th overall) and Amadou Dia (20th overall) in the first round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. Fast forward to last night’s 1-0 win at the Portland Timbers and all three newcomers were in the starting lineup for Manager Peter Vermes.
The milestone moment marked the first time in the past eight seasons for three rookie draft picks to start a regular season match for Kansas City and the only such occasion in Major League Soccer to date this year. However, in reality, the sight of Hallisey, Abdul-Salaam and Dia all simultaneously on the field together was hardly unusual for Sporting KC. It’s happened a total of 12 times across all competitions in 2015.
In many ways, Saturday’s road result speaks for itself — particularly for a team that traveled cross country after playing 120 minutes in the U.S. Open Cup Final three days earlier — but the trio’s performances also served as another affirmation of Sporting Kansas City’s eye for amateur talent and willingness to develop depth on a 26-player roster that also includes 18-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown and 21-year-old Jordi Quintilla (both of whom played on Saturday).
Dia and Abdul-Salaam anchored each flank of a Sporting KC backline that shutdown four Designated Players - two past (Diego Chara, Fanendo Adi), two present (Diego Valeri, Lucas Melano) — for the team’s 11th shutout of the year, second most in MLS. Further up the field, Hallisey aided in the defensive effort with six recoveries — tied for most among all KC players in the first half — before making way for U.S. Men’s National Team playmaker Graham Zusi at halftime.
Collectively, Sporting Kansas City’s three rookies have now played a total of 54 regular season games through MLS Week 31. That’s one shy of the club record, set in 2007, for appearances by first-year draft picks (see table at bottom) and more than the previous four rookie classes combined. It also leads the League in 2015, as does their 27 combined starts and their 2,701 minutes played.
TEAM-BY-TEAM: ROOKIE DRAFT PICK CONTRIBUTIONS IN 2015
By comparison, the Timbers’ roster also features three 2015 MLS SuperDraft picks. One of those three is Overland Park, Kansas native Nick Besler, the younger brother of Sporting KC captain Matt Besler.
Not only did none of the three dress in the 18-man gameday squad on Saturday, none have made their MLS debuts. In fact, since Caleb Porter became Portland’s head coach in 2013 — after coaching at collegiate powerhouses Indiana and Akron, ironically — no draft pick has played in their rookie season for the Timbers and no homegrown players have logged a single minute.
It’s a stark contrast to Sporting KC in 2015 — all three of the team’s homegrown players started one week ago in a 1-1 draw against Seattle — and a point of pride for a club that started 10 players on Saturday who came through the American college soccer system.
“I still remain as large an advocate of the college soccer game as ever,” Sporting KC assistant technical director Mike Jacobs recently told ExtraTime Radio. “We’ve been very fortunate. Peter Vermes and our coaching staff with Sporting has done a tremendous job. If you look at our roster, it’s littered with guys with not only college experience but a lot of guys that have four years of college experience. You have two U.S. internationals in Graham Zusi and Matt Besler who both played four years in college; Graham at Maryland and Matt at Notre Dame. So for us we clearly value the college game.”
FIRST SEASON STATS: KC ROOKIE DRAFT PICKS ALL-TIME
|Jose Burciaga, Jr.||2001||1||12||3||2||93|
*Aaron Hohlbein was a 2007 Supplemental Draft pick