Wouldn’t it be great if Major League Soccer was the best soccer league in the world? That could be greedy to ask since the United States already has the top level of baseball, basketball, football, and hockey in the world. There is no doubt that the premier soccer talent on Earth resides in Europe, but how about the dream scenario of the MLS holding an International Draft?
It would be set up similar to the NFL Draft where teams are placed in order of the 2011 standings. Playoff teams are placed in the draft according to what round they were knocked out in and the team that had the lesser amount of points would pick earlier.
One more disclaimer. It is obvious that the top 100 players in European soccer could start over most MLS players, but these draft picks are supposed to fill needs of the teams and also takes into account a particular team’s fanbase. Some fanbases are more casual than others and would value a household name over what might be the best player available.
1. Montreal Impact (Expansion Team)-Lionel Messi (Midfielder, FC Barcelona)
Montreal is the newest team in MLS and has yet to play a season so they are placed on top of the draft. This pick is a slam dunk, or if you’d prefer, a penalty kick. Montreal, as is the case for all expansion teams, always goes for the best player available. Even though the Impact nabbed Brian Ching (who said he will retire if he is chosen by Montreal) and Justin Braun on Expansion Draft day, they still have to find the face of their franchise. In this draft, the only way Messi could be an even better fit in the province of Quebec is if he spoke French.
2. Vancouver Whitecaps (28 pts)-Cristiano Ronaldo (Midfielder, Real Madrid)
The Whitecaps tied with New England with a league-worst 28 points, but Vancouver gets the 2nd pick because they lost head-to-head against the Revolution 0-1-1 this season. They were just an expansion team last year, so they still have a lot of holes. While many would argue that Andres Iniesta is the 2nd best player in the world right now (and they are probably right), the fans in B.C. need to see some goals and Cristiano Ronaldo would be the guy to give them to them.
3. New England Revolution (28 pts)-Wayne Rooney (Striker, Manchester United)
This would be an interesting fit because of the whole, “American Revolution” business. If the two sides could set aside their hard feelings (said with tongue firmly planted in cheek), Rooney would be a nice choice. He may not be the best forward in the world right now, but the Revolution drew the 4th-fewest fans in 2011. New England needs a player that is recognized by even the casual observers to bring excitement back to Gilette Stadium and the Red Devils star would do just that.
4. Toronto FC (33 pts)-Nemanja Vidic (Defender, Manchester United)
The Reds could not stop a kid from crossing the street, let alone stop shots from MLS Players in 2011. Toronto gave up a league-worst 59 goals and also had the biggest goal differential in the league (-23). Stefan Frei is still a good net-minder despite a woeful 2011, so giving him some help in the back would be the best choice. Nemanja Vidic is the number one defender on the board so he goes #4.
5. Chivas USA (36 pts)-Xavi Hernandez (Midfielder, FC Barcelona)
The Goats are a lot like the Los Angeles Clippers. They share a building with arguably the best franchise in their sport. Xavi would help draw attention to the, “other team” at the Home Depot Center. He also fits well with Chivas given that they already have a talented forward in Juan Pablo Angel . A Spanish-speaking star also will feel right at home amongst the Chivas supporters.
6. San Jose Earthquakes (38 pts)-Andres Iniesta (Midfielder, FC Barcelona)
The Quakes had the lowest attendance in MLS this season. Getting a player that has the best all-around game outside of Lionel Messi would help a lot in putting rear-ends in the seats at Buck Shaw Stadium. Iniesta would also be a nice compliment to Chris Wondolowski, who tied for the league lead in goals this season (17). The steal of the draft goes to San Jose at #6.
7. DC United (39 pts)-Maicon (Wingback, Inter Milan)
This may be a little bit of a reach at #7, but DC is caught in a bit of a pickle. If the French club Sochaux agrees to keep Charlie Davies in Washington for another year (they loaned him out), they would have firepower with MLS MVP Dwayne DeRosario still on the team. However, that is a big “if”. Bringing in defensive help should be DC’s main priority so they can continue to develop goalkeeper Bill Hamid into the heir apparent to Tim Howard on the US Men’s National Team. A player like Maicon has the versatility to help out both offensively and defensively so he would be a good fit in the “Nation’s Capital”.
8. Portland Timbers (42 pts)-Wesley Sneijder (Attacking Midfielder, Inter Milan)
The other expansion team from this past season is on the clock. Portland exceeded expectations by finishing just 4 points out of a Wild Card spot. Statistically, they were in the middle-of-the-pack both offensively and defensively. For that reason, why not go for a guy who plays in the middle of the field? Sneijder is a dead-ball specialist and would provide offensive help to Kenny Cooper while keeping opposing teams on their own side of the field.
9. Chicago Fire (43 pts)-Branislav Ivanovic (Defender, Chelsea)
There would be a great debate among the Fire brass. Ashley Cole would be a good fit here, but his teammate Branislav Ivanovic has been arguably the best defender in the world over the last 365 days and would get the nod. They already have a solid duo up top with Dominic Oduro and Marco Pappa, which helped Chicago to a +1 goal differential. Providing goalkeeper Sean Johnson some support in back would help to increase that differential and get the boys from the Windy City into the playoffs.
10. Columbus Crew (47 pts, Lost in Wild Card Round)-Kaka (Midfielder, Real Madrid)
The Crew suffered the biggest drop-off in attendance this season despite qualifying for the playoffs. This is another franchise that needs a big name. Kaka, when healthy, is deserving of a higher pick. With his injury problems, this may be another stretch pick. However, Columbus would be ecstatic to pick one of the biggest names in soccer to get the once rabid fan base back inside Columbus Crew Stadium.
11. FC Dallas (52 pts, Lost in Wild Card Round)-David Villa (Striker, FC Barcelona)
The Hoops benefit the most from their early playoff exit, jumping up 4 spots from where they would be if the draft order was only determined by regular season points. Last season’s MLS Cup runner-ups do not have a lot of holes. Kevin Hartman finished 3rd in the voting for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and they have talented offensive players like Brek Shea and David Ferreira. There are two spots that Dallas could look to at #11. One is in the back because of the rumors that are swirling about George John leaving for England this winter. The other would be up top, where they have had almost no continuity lately. The forward position would most likely be where FC Dallas goes with their pick. “El Guaje” is off to a slow start in terms of goal scoring this season, but he is still regarded as one of the best strikers in the world.
12. New York Red Bulls (46 pts, Lost in Conference Semifinals)-Ashley Cole (Defender, Chelsea)
New York was one of the most exciting teams to watch this past season, but with all of their offensive prowess, they were bounced by L.A. in the Conference Semifinals. Adding a defender with the talent that Ashley Cole possesses would help balance out the Red Bulls. With Cole in front of him, maybe goalkeeper Frank Rost will look a little more like the player New York thought he was going to be when they made the net-minder a designated player this past season.
13. Philadelphia Union (48 pts, Lost in Conference Semifinals)-John Terry (Defender, Chelsea)
Like FC Dallas (and a lot of other teams), Peter Nowak’s club will be looking for help in back and up top this offseason. They would not want to stunt the growth of one of the best young forward tandems in the league in Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney, so defense is the play here. In additon to his talents, Terry would provide much-needed leadership for players and a franchise that is still very young.
14. Colorado Rapids (49 pts, Lost in Conference Semifinals)-Francesc Fabregas (Midfielder, FC Barcelona)
Cesc Febregas may not be the best midfielder left on the board, but he is a perfect fit in Denver. Arsenal, Fabregas’ former club, is chaired by Stan Kroenke who owns the Rapids. A lot of Rapids supporters are also “Gooners” and still have not gotten over his move to Spain. Attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park did not jump as much as it should after an MLS Cup win, so the addition of Fabregas would be the next best shot to draw a bigger crowd.
15. Seattle Sounders (63 pts, Lost in Conference Semifinals)-Iker Casillas (Goalkeeper, Real Madrid)
This could not have worked out any better for the Sounders. They lose this year’s MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Kasey Keller to retirement and they pick up the best at his position in the world. “Saint Iker” will automatically transform Seattle into one the favorites to win the MLS Cup in 2012. “The Ike is Right” for Minority Owner Drew Carey and the Seattle supporters (Apologies but a Price is Right pun was needed).
16. Sporting KC (51 pts., Lost in Conference Finals)-Mesut Ozil (Attacking Midfielder, Real Madrid)
Sporting KC had an unbelievable turnaround once they opened up their new stadium after spending a long time out on the road while it was being completed. Peter Vermes’ team was the top team in the Eastern Conference and got all the way to the Conference Finals. The future is uncertain for Omar Bravo, who is out on loan and was left unprotected for the Expansion Draft. Since he was passed over by Montreal, Bravo for now is still a member of the team formely known as the Wizards. The biggest need for Kansas City is an attacking midfielder and the young Mesut Ozil fits the bill.
17. Real Salt Lake (53 pts., Lost in Conference Finals)-Arjen Robben (Midfielder, Bayern Munich)
Arjen Robben would be a perfect fit playing on the outside of the midfield along with Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales. Jason Kries’ team is always on the short list of MLS Cup contenders and the additon of the Bayern Munich star would further solidify their spot as one of the best teams in MLS.
18. Houston Dynamo (49 pts, Lost in MLS Cup Final)-Sergio Aguero (Striker, Manchester City)
Now that Brian Ching is a member of the Montreal Impact (for now), the league’s top assist man Brad Davis needs a new target. Sergio Aguero would provide much needed “punch” for a team that has Oscar de la Hoya among its owners.
19. L.A. Galaxy (67 pts, Won MLS Cup)-Robin van Persie (Striker, Arsenal)
The future holds some unknowns for the champs. Since this draft takes place before David Beckham’s contract is up in December, he is still a member of the Galaxy. The fact that he is having Thanksgiving with the owner of the Galaxy should bode well anyway. Los Angeles is a glamorous place and their soccer team will end the first round of the draft by choosing a player from the most glamorous positon, striker. There are a few candidates that would be good fits. Carlos Tevez, Mario Gomez, and Samuel Eto’o would all fit well in Carson, California, but Robin van Persie is maybe the best striker in England right now and he looks like a guy from Hollywood. That’s got to count for something right?