What's the opposite of a silver lining? Whatever it is, the Portland Timbers have had that in recent years when it comes to Major League Soccer's annual SuperDraft. As Portland's place as an annual playoff team has solidified, their draft picks have become less valuable.
This year is different, though. Thanks to last week's trade of Jorge Villafaña, the Timbers have a better draft pick than usual. With that deal, the Timbers moved up from the 16th pick of Thursday's 2021 MLS SuperDraft to the eighth, putting them in a better position to select play who could impact their 2021 squad.
Could is the key term, there. As Major League Soccer has matured, the importance of its SuperDrafts have waned. Part of that is because of the drawing power the league's developed around the world. Part of that is because of the increased role of teams' Academy systems, which see players added to teams without going through the draft process. Whereas once teams looked to the draft's highest rounds as a place for immediate help, selections are now cast into a more competitive environment. Draft picks have harder times securing roster spots.
In a way, that makes Portland's Thursday position more intriguing. Whereas lower picks have in recent years been likely Timbers 2 talents, a higher pick could bring a greater talent. And for a 2021 season where Timbers 2 is on hiatus, the context around that talent will be different, too.
Here are some need-to-knows about Thursday's SuperDraft:
MLS's three-round, 27-team draft starts at 11:00 AM PT, with the first round be available to watch on MLSSoccer.com or through the league's mobile app. Both places will provide live updates throughout the second and third rounds, with Timbers.com taking a Portland-centric approach via its own draft tracker and social channels.
Portland's moved up into the first round's top 10, but after that, they're picking at more familiar spots: 16th in both the second and third rounds.
|Timbers' 2021 SuperDraft selections|
|First round (via LA Galaxy)||8th||8th|
This is where a quiet member of the Timbers' braintrust, technical director Ned Grabavoy, moves into the spotlight. Along with the rest of Portland's technical staff, the former Timber has had to change his approach to scouting this year, with COVID-19 limiting the options teams have to evaluate talent. On Thursday, Grabavoy will be part of the staff you see in the Timbers' draft room.
Tomorrow's eighth pick may be toward the end of the draft's top 10, but it's still in the top 10, a stratosphere the Timbers have only occupied on four other occasions:
|Timbers' Top-10 SuperDraft picks|
|2015||5th||Nick Besler||Notre Dame|
This year's draft is far different than it was when Darlington Nagbe came to Portland. Even in the four years since Jeremy Ebobisse's selection, the drafthas taken on a new feel. But even amid those changes, there's still a point where teams can expect to get MLS-ready talent. Portland's question in this year's draft is whether that point extends to the Timbers' spots.
MLSSoccer.com has a mock draft available, where Top Drawer Soccer's Travis Clark projects the Timbers will select Maryland left back Matt Di Rosa with the eighth-overall selection. Whether that's who Portland is targeting, the mock is a good way to see who one of the media's top college-soccer writers identifies as the draft's best talents.
Beyond that, there is also the full list of available players as well as those who have an Oregon connection:
|Oregon-connections, 2021 SuperDraft|
|Hafferty, Joseph||D||Oregon State|
|Mondi, Tyrone||F||Oregon State|
|Stanley, Aedan||D||Portland Timbers 2 / Duke|
Combine those with MLSSoccer.com's positional rankings and you start getting a better idea of whose name could be called by the Timbers tomorrow.