The opening two rounds of Major League Soccer’s 25th annual SuperDraft will be remembered as one of those quintessential “You Just Had To Be There” moments in league history.
Faced with the Draft’s dwindling relevance over the last decade, league officials shifted the activities surrounding the event entirely online for the first time. Now divorced of its usual relationship with the yearly United Soccer Coaches Convention, Thursday’s SuperDraft experienced more than its fair share of oddities – including one that directly impacted Colorado’s first round selection.
With eight players off the board, newly-christened Montréal Impact manager Thierry Henry looked perplexed as it became time to make the ninth overall selection. When the Impact’s clock hit zero, Adrian Healey announced on the online ESPN broadcast that Minnesota United had made a trade for the selection. United’s entire on-screen clock elapsed before Healey announced: “The trade is now not happening.” Seconds later, Healey confirmed that Montréal had used their pick on North Carolina Defender Jeremy Kelly.
That’s where the Rapids come in – Kelly was Colorado’s target going into the first round and his rights had just been secured by a club that had no interest in making any selection whatsoever.
That didn’t stop the Colorado Rapids.
When it came time for the Rapids to make their move at 11th overall, the Rapids sent their pick to Nashville S.C. for $75,000 in General Allocation Money. General Manager Pádraig Smith and Co. immediately flipped those funds to the Impact for Kelly’s rights, which completed a string of deals that effectively moved Colorado two spots up in the draft for free. It was a cunning move reminiscent of the recent intra-MLS deals overseen by the Rapids General Manager.
Colorado capped off their moves on the day with a selection requiring significantly less fanfare. At 37th overall, the Rapids selected University of Virginia defender Robin Afamefuna.
“The draft is a great spot for us to continue to add young, hungry players to the core that we already have in place,” Smith said. “We feel like we’ve done that today.”
Colorado targeted Kelly and Afamefuna for similar reasons. With most of the roster’s core ironed out (the lack of designated players notwithstanding), the Rapids went into the Draft searching for potential depth in positions of need. While both draftees have played across the back line and deep in midfield, Kelly’s skillset in particular offers Colorado a chance to provide some additional cover for Keegan Rosenberry at the right fullback position. Currently, 17-year old Seb Anderson is the only backup for the Rapids’ iron man in defense.
Selecting a player from the SuperDraft is only the first step in MLS’s college player acquisition process – the Rapids still need to negotiate contract terms with both Kelly and Afamefuna. That said, it’s clear from the lengths that Colorado went to acquire Kelly that the club desires to bring him aboard permanently. That’s not necessarily the case with Afamefuna, but Smith spoke highly of the German so there’s a decent chance he remains with the club.
Two more rounds of the SuperDraft are scheduled for Monday and the Rapids will have the opportunity to bring in three additional players with the 63rd, 87th, and 89th overall selections.
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