CHICAGO — When MLS commissioner Don Garber takes the podium Friday at McCormick Place to announce what FC Cincinnati will do with its first overall SuperDraft pick, it will be a monumental day in the club’s history.
The club currently sits with 10 SuperDraft picks — three in the first round and four in the second round Friday — and three to be selected in the third and fourth rounds via teleconference on an unspecified date. The key word there is “currently,” because after gaining six selections earlier this week, including all five of the Philadelphia Union’s picks, the trading might not be finished.
“We have some guys we’ve been targeting,” FC Cincinnati technical director Luke Sassano said of possible draft selections Thursday during media availability. “We’ve definitely had a lot of conversations — a lot of clubs have called us about that first pick. There’s some very unique, skilled players on the attacking side but also on the defensive side of the ball. We haven’t made our clear-cut decision, but we’re definitely zeroing in on a guy and a couple of moves that we feel will help us.”
Said club coach Alan Koch, “We’ll see. Anything can happen. People are always talking, so we need to be open to business.”
The exact player FC Cincinnati selects first — if that pick is not traded — won’t be known publicly until the draft starts, though president and general manager Jeff Berding said he knew how the club would handle its resources.
It could be midfielders Siad Haji from Virginia Commonwealth or Frankie Amaya from UCLA or goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair from Maryland. Or someone else.
Whoever the club takes at No. 1 or any of the other spots probably won’t be cracking the starting 11 for the season opener March 2 in Seattle. But they might be able to help the roster.
“The league has grown so much that the players that are available in the draft, I don’t think the expectation is for these guys to come and play right away,” Koch said. “I’d classify the majority of the players in this draft as projects, and I think that’s a huge positive. We’re trying to find the players that we think have a high ceiling.”
The draft will be the culmination of months of work put in by domestic scout Hunter Freeman and his staff.
“We feel pretty confident about our homework,” Sassano said.
Sassano has been on the other side of a SuperDraft before. The New York Red Bulls selected him 32nd in the 2008 draft. And he wasn’t even in attendance.
“To be honest, I was on a beach in California not thinking I was going to get drafted,” Sassano said. “I got a phone call that I just let go to voicemail.”
The players who get drafted Friday likely won’t have the same impact as Sassano did in 2008. As a rookie, Sassano played in 18 matches for the Red Bulls and started in their playoff game against Houston. Evolution has made the league stronger since then, he said.
“You have more money being invested,” Sassano said. “You have more quality of players coming into the league. You have a homegrown system that’s developing players earlier on.”
It’s the lack of a homegrown presence that partially led FC Cincinnati to make the trade with Philadelphia, he said.
The draft’s first two rounds end a long week for FC Cincinnati’s technical staff. After returning home, the staff will prepare for preseason training, which begins Jan. 21 by MLS mandate, Koch said. The stay in town will be brief. Preseason matches begin at the IMG Academy in Florida on Jan. 30.
“At the end of the day, we’re a soccer team,” Koch said. “As a coach I want to get out there on the field, work my players and prepare the team for the season. Cannot wait to see all of our returning players and cannot wait to see the new players. Obviously a lot of the players that get picked up in the draft really are coming on in trial when they come in but we’re excited to embrace them and bring them into the family and work with these guys as much as possible to set our club up for success.”