With the 2020 MLS SuperDraft all-but kicking off MLS preseason on Thursday, it’s worth casting an eye back to 2019. The rise of the Homegrown Player has heavily decreased the value of the draft, but FC Dallas’ venture into USL League One has provided drafted players with a greater opportunity to play professional soccer with the organization.
We’ll take a look at what FC Dallas did as well as what happened at the spots FC Dallas will pick from in 2020 to get a feel for the level of talent at Marco Ferruzi and Andre Zanotta’s disposal.
FC Dallas 2019 Picks
Let’s go round by round.
Round 1, 4th overall pick – Callum Montgomery
Defensive cover was the plan going into the 2019 SuperDraft and FCD immediately went for the player who was considered the best defender among the draft class. Montgomery excelled at UNC Charlotte with a host of Conference USA awards in addition to being named a semi-finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy.
We’ve seen the Canadian defender strike up a prosperous partnership with Brecc Evans for North Texas SC in his 22 appearances with the USL League One champions. Montgomery has only made the 18-man roster seven times for FC Dallas and has yet to make his debut. He’s unquestionably a good enough defender to get some minutes for FC Dallas, although there is a steep adaptation to Luchi-ball before that happens.
NTX play the same brand of soccer and there have been instances where Montgomery has played himself or a teammate into trouble due to hesitation, or not picking out the right pass. Montgomery did switch position from defensive midfield to center back prior to college, and there have certainly been large gains over the course of the season as he raises that element of his game to an MLS-level.
I’d go as far as to say he would have seen time in the US Open Cup and started in Vancouver in other circumstances. Instead, Luchi Gonzalez opted to pair superior passer, and somewhat crucially Spanish-speaker, Ryan Hollingshead with Bressan in that game as Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler missed time.
Round 1, 10th overall pick – Johnny Nelson
The steal of the draft. A Generation Adidas player from UNC Chapel Hill, Nelson has already made an impact on FC Dallas without seeing a great deal of time.
Nelson was recruited to UNC as the number two ranked high school player in the nation coming off starring for the US squad for the 2015 U-17 World Cup alongside then-Dallas Homegrown Alex Zendejas, Brandon Vasquez, Tyler Adams, and Christian Pulisic. After starting all 41 games for the Tar Heels, MLS tempted Nelson to leave college two years early with a Generation Adidas contract.
Nelson has frequently taken a place on the FC Dallas bench, subbing into games five times and making a further four starts in MLS. It took a ridiculous year from Ryan Hollingshead to restrict Nelson to just that.
Perhaps the biggest sign of the club’s faith in Johnny Nelson was the decision to trade Marquinhos Pedroso. The everyday starter at left back after signing in 2018 was considered expendable because Nelson was deemed good enough to step into that role. While Ryan Hollingshead made that position his own in 2019, preseason is a fresh start and a great time for a player to force their way into Gonzalez’s plans.
Round 3, 63rd overall pick – Eduvie Ikoba
A team shy of a target man took a punt at 6’4″ striker Eduvie Ikoba from Dartmouth. A two-time All-Ivy first-team forward, Ikoba looked capable in preseason camp but left early on to pursue other opportunities.
After turning up in Hungary, Ikoba signed for Zalaegerszegi TE featuring in 12 of the OTP Bank Liga strugglers’ 16 games with three goals recorded prior to the winter break.
Round 4, 87th overall pick – Sam Ebstein
FC Dallas took a look at another attacking player in midfielder/forward Sam Ebstein from Cal. Whether it was something the FC Dallas technical staff saw in his game before drafting the player, I’m not sure, but Ebstein was quickly moved to defensive midfield for a couple of weeks before leaving camp.
Ebstein is currently working towards a post-graduate degree at the University of Chicago.
Round 4, 88th overall pick – Dylan Castanheira
In the weirdest pick of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, FC Dallas selected an Atlanta United player. Castanheira signed a professional contract with Atlanta’s USL Championship team then FC Dallas picked him three days later. Were they unaware or just poking a hole in the eligibility having previously been stiffed on signing Christian Cappis and Shaq Moore by the league, who knows.
Castanheira started 21 games for Atlanta United 2 in 2019. He kept one clean sheet.
2019 Picks by Other Clubs where FCD Picks in 2020
Of course, some success at the fourth and tenth overall picks isn’t indicative of what FC Dallas has ahead of them this year at 14 and 17. So here they are:
Round 1, 14th overall pick – Akeem Ward (DCU)
Primarily a left back, although DC United rated Ward as the best right back in the draft class. Either way, they needed help at both spots and Ward was expected to get a chance. He made just one appearance for DC, in midfield, amid time with their USL affiliate Loudon United.
In July he was released to make room for the signing of Gordon Wild and was picked up by fellow USL Championship side Birmingham Legion.
Round 1, 17th overall pick – Sam Brown (RSL)
The first Harvard player to be drafted in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft, Sam Brown is currently the fourth consecutive 17th overall pick to fail to make a single MLS appearance.
He can break that trend but will need to be signed by Real Salt Lake first. Instead, Brown was signed by eventual USL Championship winners, Real Monarchs, where he featured in eight games.
Round 2, 40th overall pick – Peter-Lee Vassell (LAFC)
If Johnny Nelson was the steal of last year’s draft, Peter-Lee Vassell isn’t far behind. The Jamaican national team midfielder entered the draft after impressing in the Caribbean Combine as a professional for two years with Harbor View in Jamaica. I think that’s called the Luka Doncic route in these parts.
Vasesell made six appearances for LAFC, and a further six on loan at Phoenix Rising, but was waived by LAFC at the end of the season. There was some talk that accepting his call-up to play for Jamaica at the Concacaf Gold Cup was the motivating factor for Bob Bradley. Someone should be getting an MLS-level depth eight in 2020.
Round 3, 66th overall pick – Justin Donawa (CLB)
Bermuda national team midfielder Donawa was a teammate of Eduvie Ikoba at Dartmouth. An injury-hit senior year saw him fail to earn an invite to the combine, although Columbus opted for Donawa just three picks after FC Dallas selected Ikoba.
The Bermudan was released a couple of weeks into preseason and had an unsuccessful trial at Pittsburgh Riverhounds. He did go on to earn a contract from English 6th tier side Darlington after impressing in a summer trial. Donawa has proven himself as an impact player with eight goals from eight starts and 18 substitute appearances for the Quakers.
Round 4, 92nd overall pick – Pass (MTL)
This was the 19th pick to be passed on.
Thoughts and Conclusions
First thing’s first, FC Dallas will not draft a starter at 14 in the modern SuperDraft. If last year is anything to go by, even solid depth is quite an ask even before getting into the roster implication of balancing Homegrown Players in the off-budget spots.
FCD’s technical staff have two real options – Stash prospects in USL, or try to leverage their five picks.
The nature of North Texas SC is more to hold over future homegrown players that you want to reward with some kind of contract while they develop. The likes of Francis Atuahene, Ema Twumasi, and Jacori Hayes are starting to weight on a roster already heavy with panic signed Homegrowns who are just starting to get into position for MLS. Going forward, FCD ideally wants those protect-your-investment signings on North Texas contracts instead.
Take a look at Buzz breaking the Roster Dance down. There are three free senior roster spots and Reggie Cannon moves into one of those assuming he signs a new contract soon. That leaves two senior spots that you want at least a starter-level number nine from.
About the notion of stashing draft picks in USL, there is a similar issue to what the academy is experiencing. Players coming out of college can earn far more in a setting that isn’t designed as a staging area for youth academy graduates.
With NTX contracts not a great option for keeping hold of another Chris Lema or Noah Franke – players who could develop in FC Dallas environment – we’re left with trading picks. Either largely getting out of the draft or packaging those if Luchi Gonzalez and co have a top-ten talent in mind who could make an impact in MLS in 2020. With Miami and Nashville looking for volume in constructing their rosters, it may be a good opportunity to trade up or out.
One scenario for FC Dallas trading up could result from Reggie Cannon’s prolonged contract negotiation. While talks are reportedly ongoing with SMU full back Eddie Munjoma to sign a Homegrown deal, the team could opt to go all-in on fourth overall ranked Dylan Nealis from Georgetown if Cannon is to be sold. The MAC Hermann Trophy finalist is coming off captaining the Hoyas to an NCAA Championship where he was also named defensive MVP for the tournament. He had four goals and five assists from 24 starts in 2019.