With the 2015 edition of the MLS SuperDraft over, it's time to examine the players Real Salt Lake drafted. This year's edition of the draft went quite well for the Claret-and-Cobalt once again. Not only did RSL manage to pick up three player's rights, but they also were on the receiving end of a reported $100,000 in an allocation money deal with Seattle — not too shabby.
The Claret-and-Cobalt have been one of the more quietly successful teams over the years of the MLS Superdraft. As reports and league officials struggled to find information on RSL's draft picks, many around the league expected that the small-market club from Utah was simply pulling names out of a hat. The joke was on them time and time again as names likes Chris Schuler and Sebastian Velasquez excelled on the MLS pitch.
With the recent attrition of Superdraft picks in this league, however, what will it take for these players to make the senior MLS roster? In order to stop yet another Enzo Martinez from slipping through the cracks in the RSL roster, let's examine what it will take for the Claret-and-Cobalt's 2015 Superdraft selections in order to make the first-team.
With the 27th pick, RSL selected Boyd Okwuonu from the University of North Carolina. As a sophomore, the former Tar Heel defender was a top ACC prospect that helped lead North Carolina to the nation leading records in shutout percentage (74 percent) and goals against average (0.29), recording clean sheets in 17 of 23 games, during the 2012 season.
Despite spending most of his time at center back throughout his college tenure, Okwuonu is small for a center back in MLS. Still, at 5-foot-8, Okwuonu plays bigger than his size would let on. His raw physicality is seen when challenging players one-on-one and competing against any player in the air.
Okwuonu is also known for keeping possession and effectively linking up with players further down the pitch with a simple and accurate passing game. Because of his physical stature, Okwuonu might be better suited as an outside back for RSL, as he was also rated highly as a right back in the draft.
So it seems like he would be a great fit for RSL, no? Well sure, but there are still aspects of his game that have to improve if he is going to vie for a first-team role.
At right back, the Claret-and-Cobalt already have two players Tony Beltran, the undeniable first choice, and Jordan Allen. Both of these players already fit well into the RSL system being offensive outside backs. Okwuonu, on the other hand, is a reliable stay-at-home defenseman. While this leads to quality clearances, it does little to create scoring chances further up the pitch. This might be the position RSL's new Technical Director Craig Waibel was alluding to when he told the Salt Lake Tribune that "we have an idea (where Okwuonu can contribute)."
In order to see Boyd Okwuonu consistently on the first-team roster, he will either need to unseat Beltran — very unlikely — or move Allen farther down the pecking line, which is more likely. As it is still up in the air as whether Allen is truly an outside back or not, that's an area where Okwuonu could challenge and make the senior roster.
Like many clubs in the league, RSL looked to staff their USL Pro reserve team, the Real Monarchs, in the third and fourth rounds of the Superdraft. Continuing their theme of obtaining depth, the Claret-and-Cobalt grabbed yet another defender and an attacking midfielder with the 57th and 77th picks, respectfully. These players look to be more fringe players if anything but stockpiling them with the Monarchs might be a way to development them into starting XI players for RSL.
The left sided defender Jordan Murrell was first to be selected. The Canadian youth has a high soccer IQ and a physical presence. Unlike RSL's first pick in the draft, Okwuonu, Murrell is more of an attack-minded outside back. In 18 matches this last year for Syracuse University, Murrell scored two goals and registered seven assists. Murrell however suffers from indecision of whether he should stay and defend or go forward and attack like many young outside backs in the modern game. This makes Murrell, in many respects, the exact opposite of Okwuonu.
On the other hand, Murrell may never make it to the RSL senior roster as he is entertaining options of taking his talents to Europe, with Millwall, among others, reportedly offering him a trial. He is reportedly on trial with some teams in Europe after being snubbed by the MLS Combine. Still, if Murrell is to make it into a starting role for the Claret-and-Cobalt, he will need some experience with the Real Monarchs. The young defender will need the Monarchs to teach him the intricacies of the RSL system. Obtaining some valuable development time in the USL Pro will help bridge the gap between Murrell's college career and first-team soccer.
The Brazilian midfielder Lucas Baldin joins his compatriots of the MLS Superdraft in providing much needed depth going into the 2015 season with the additional beast of CONCACAF Champions' League looming on the horizon. Baldin joins RSL with the most professional experience of the 2015 Draft selections. Having been born in Brazil before moving to Argentina, Mexico, and now the U.S., Baldin represents a young player with a wealth of experience.
Baldin starred at the youth level for two Mexican Primera Division clubs before his college career. Upon having standout performances with the University of South Florida, he joined the Seattle Sounders' U-23 and Reading United squads in the USL Premier Development League to refine his skills. In his senior year with the Bulls, Baldin had five goals and nine assists in 20 appearances.
Baldin finished his college career with a top three conference player ranking and the 92nd rank in the top 100 college men according to TopDrawerSoccer.com. The creative midfielder has demonstrated that he can be an attacking presence with a great eye for a shot on goal. Let's not forget to mention that he is perhaps the cleanest on the ball of any of the players in the 2015 SuperDraft. His dribbling and attacking creativity lead Waibel to tell the Salt Lake Tribune that Baldin could fill a variety of "different roles in the attacking half of the field."
Still, Baldin finds himself also at the fringe of the RSL first-team. For all of his positive qualities, Baldin still suffers from some bad habits. As RSL fans know, the Claret-and-Cobalt are known for their possession oriented, attacking soccer. Baldin, however, can be seen on clips becoming overzealous in attacking the opponents' box and cheaply losing possession.
These tactics, while beneficial for more direct clubs in creating chances — i.e., San Jose Earthquakes — they could lead to dangerous counter-attacks against RSL. So, in order for Baldin to find his way on the senior roster he will either have to surpass Luis Gil or Luke Mulholland, both of which seem extremely unlikely, or spend some time with the Monarchs learning RSL's playing system.
With these draft picks, the RSL preseason roster is becoming more clear — or the Real Monarchs roster, possibly. The Claret-and-Cobalt drafted players with significant potential that Craig Waibel envisions will help RSL either in the long run or short run by simultaneously competing for first-team minutes and starring with the Real Monarchs.
Along with Homegrown signing Phanuel Kavita, the inaugural back line for the Real Monarchs could be coming together after picking up Okwuonu and Murrell in the draft. Meanwhile, the Monarchs could exploit Baldin's attacking prowess in the midfield.
This, of course, is all speculative since only a privileged few know the outline for RSL's 2015 season. It remains to be seen if RSL could see a seismic shift in playing structure and style and therefore leaves the fate of these players relatively unknown.
We would like to hear from you. What do you think? What would it take for these draft picks to make it to the first-team/senior roster? Will we seem them with RSL or the Real Monarchs in 2015? Let us know in the comments below.