In China’s numerology obsessed culture, the Number 8 is considered among the more lucky of numbers. Pronounced “ba” in Mandarin, the word for eight sounds the same as the Chinese word for “prosper” or “wealth.”
For the Portland Timbers on Thursday at the 2012 SuperDraft, they’ll be hoping to parlay their Number 8 overall selection into some definite soccer prosperity. Defender? Forward? Midfielder? Goalkeeper? Trade? The possibilities are endless. After a busy MLS Combine that wrapped up yesterday, most of the league’s technical staffs all flew to Kansas City chattering about players and prospects. General manager Gavin Wilkinson, head coach John Spencer, and the rest of the technical staff are busy sifting through possibilities.
Drafts in any sport are always a challenge. While definitely an opportunity to bolster a team for the future, the selection can have large implications for many years to come.
Over the past five years, the Number 8 pick has produced some interesting selections. In trying to take a look at this year’s choices, we looked back at some Number 8’s of SuperDraft’s past.
2011 saw the Vancouver Whitecaps take Omar Salgado first overall—followed close behind by the Timbers taking Darlington Nagbe. But Vancouver was not finished in the first round. Picking up the Number 8 from Toronto FC in exchange for Nate Sturgis, the Whitecaps selected University of Akron midfielder Michael Nanchoff. Nanchoff—a former teammate of Nagbe on the 2010 NCAA championship squad—played sparingly in his rookie season for the first team. Slowed by some injuries, he picked up minutes in the MLS Reserve League and remains a Generation adidas signee who is part of Vancouver’s strong young core heading into new coach Martin Rennie's 2012 campaign.
Dilly Duka of Rutgers went to the Columbus Crew in 2010 at Number 8. The former US U-20 international was, like Nanchoff, used sparingly his rookie season. However, in 2011, Duka played in 22 matches—16 of them starts—picking up two goals and three assists in midfield. Currently with Caleb Porter’s US U-23 side camp in Carson, CA, Duka is in the running for the 2012 Olympics and is an emerging MLS player to watch.
Sporting Kansas City utilized their Number 8 with University of Notre Dame’s Matt Besler in 2009. Besler, a one-time Fighting Irish teammate of Timbers forward Bright Dike, broke into MLS with a strong rookie campaign starting 26 of 28 matches on the backline. 2011 saw Besler selected to the MLS All-Star team after a massive fan vote text campaign led by Sporting. A master of the long throw-in, Timbers fans will remember him from his long toss assist that led to Aurélien Collin’s game-winning header at JELD-WEN Field last July.
2008 and 2007’s Number 8’s—FC Dallas goalkeeper Josh Lambo and Chicago Fire forward Jerson Monteiro respectively—don’t have the MLS impact of their fellow recent Number 8’s. Lambo is still only 21 and spent part of his pro career on loan with FC Tampa Bay in 2010. He has yet to make a senior appearance for Dallas. Monteiro played sparingly with the Fire before spending some time with the Atlanta Silverbacks.
So while recent history suggests the Number 8 has produced some promising young players, perhaps the most famous MLS Number 8’s of all time was the New England Revolution’s Number 8 selection in 2004: Clint Dempsey.
Dempsey won Rookie of the Year in 2004, played in back-to-back MLS Cup Finals in 2005 and 2006, and then proceeded to Fulham of the English Premier League where he has become a Craven Cottage legend with 39 goals and counting in 167 matches. The US international and World Cup veteran is considered one of the finest American soccer players in the world.
Come Thursday, what the Timbers choose to do with Number 8 remains and exciting prospect. What will happen? Follow the Timbers fortunes on ESPN2 at 9 a.m. PT to find out and stay connected with www.portlandtimbers.com and MLSsoccer.com for full draft coverage.