A look at the Black-and-Red’s draft day, which once it got going, focused on the midfield
D.C. United might not have made the early noise at the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, but it was nevertheless a busy day for the Black-and-Red. They ended up trading out of the first round, making a deal with the San Jose Earthquakes that doubled their second round pick total, allowing them to select Oregon State midfielder Sofiane Djeffal and Vermont midfielder/forward Alex Nagy. In the third round, United looked to the midfield again, adding SMU/St. John’s product Skage Simonsen.
Here’s how the day played out:
United held the 13th overall pick, but after someone called a timeout — the broadcast never specified what team used theirs to complete trade talks — they shipped the pick out west, with the Black-and-Red getting $100,000 in GAM and the 36th overall pick from San Jose, who used the #13 to pick Clemson center back Oskar Agren.
In the context of the draft, the comparison in terms of valuation is easy. A little while before United’s move, Chicago traded the #7 pick to the Red Bulls for $100,000 in GAM and the #11 pick. United getting only a second rounder with their GAM looks like a significant step down, but it may also indicate that teams valued only the top 10 or so picks, and that the market for them dropped off a cliff after that.
We started off the day believing United had the #13, #41, and #69 picks. However, as longtime B&RU reader Brendanukkah pointed out in the comments of our draft preview, the terms of how United signed Tony Alfaro seemed to disagree with what MLS’s stated draft order. Here’s what the Alfaro release said:
D.C. United announced today the acquisition of defender Antonio “Tony” Alfaro on a one-year deal through 2021. As part of the acquisition, D.C. United traded a second-round pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft and future considerations based on performance to the Seattle Sounders in exchange for Alfaro’s priority.
In MLS-ese, “a second-round pick” rather than “a natural second-round pick” points generally to trading your lowest pick in a given round if you have multiple picks. However, United only had the #41, their natural pick based on their finish in the 2021 season. So, having to trade a second round pick, when you have only one, would mean the #41 pick should have been Seattle’s.
We asked the team about this, but in the haze of draft day, the news broke from Seattle first:
I’ve confirmed that the Sounders actually got some GAM (I’d guess $50-75k) for Alfaro’s rights, not a second-round pick as originally announced. Not sure if that was the “future considerations.” https://t.co/HxdlPomChE
— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) January 11, 2022
We still don’t know for sure whether United owes the Sounders anything else for Alfaro, and we don’t know why that pick ended up not being exchanged, but via some unknown process, United held that #41 until they got to use it. Sometimes following MLS means just accepting that the minor bureaucratic detail no one can explain just has to be accepted.
Actually making picks
After an excruciatingly long first round — it took nearly three hours! — the draft suddenly sped up, and United made their two second round picks within roughly four minutes of real time.
First up, DCU opted for Oregon State playmaker Sofiane Djeffal. Born in Nantes, France, Djeffal is a central playmaker with a substantial reputation as an entertaining player. With the Beavers, he was a four-year starter, posting 18 goals and 19 assists in 62 career appearances. As a senior, Djeffal put up 6g/6a, including a goal and an assist in their three NCAA tournament games.
Djeffal, who turns 23 in April, was widely recognized as one of college soccer’s top players this past season. He was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2021, along with being named a First Team All-American and a Top Drawer Soccer Best XI player. Before coming to the US, Djeffal was in the FC Nantes academy system for 11 years.
While there is the obvious issue of using an international spot on a draft pick, United did their due diligence, and in fact have seen how Djeffal stacks up within Loudoun United’s roster:
In the second round, D.C. United selected Oregon State midfielder Sofiane Djeffal, the Pac-12 player of the year, a playmaker from France who, for scouting purposes, DCU watched train last summer with Loudoun United.
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) January 11, 2022
If you want to have some fun, Djeffal’s sizzle reel is, even by sizzle reel standards, saucy:
Just five picks later, United opted for another creative attacker, picking Vermont midfielder/forward Alex Nagy. Nagy, a 6’ New Hampshire native, broke out during 2020 and 2021, putting up 6 goals and 14 assists in 28 total games over his final two collegiate seasons. Nagy, who had some experience in the New England Revolution’s academy system, was named to the America East All-Conference First Team in both of those seasons, and made the All-America Third Team as a junior.
Finally, in the third round, United used the nicest pick of all to select Norwegian midfielder Skage Simonsen, who split his collegiate career between Southern Methodist and St. John’s. A powerfully-built 6’3” box-to-box midfielder, Simonson put up 9 goals and 10 assists in 38 appearances at St. John’s, making the All-Big East Second Team in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. Transferring to SMU, the 23 year old continued his productive form, with 10 goals and 4 assists in 27 appearances with the Mustangs. While in Texas, he was named to the All-AAC First Team twice. Like Djeffal, Simonsen would require an international spot either with D.C. or with Loudoun.
What should you expect?
Broadly speaking, second and third round picks don’t make many MLS rosters as rookies any more. Last year, second round picks did not see a single minute of MLS action, and only five even landed an MLS contract as rookies. The third round only saw three players land MLS deals, and they combined to play 116 minutes as a group.
However, that’s not to say it’s impossible: the 2019 second round produced three players (Sean Nealis, Kamal Miller, and Hassani Dotson) that got regular minutes as rookies and were starters in 2021, and Amar Sejdič logs regular minutes for CF Montréal these days as well. The draft’s relevance is certainly waning, but in the right environment, a handful of players can end up making an impact in relatively short order.
Djeffal and Nagy both point to United seeing an opportunity to gamble on some creative players. Given the make-up of the DCU roster, it seems highly unlikely that either will be suiting up against Charlotte FC in the team’s MLS opener next month. United may need attacking additions, but they should be looking for players that are in contention to start, rather than adding depth.
The situation in Loudoun is different, especially with Ted Ku-DiPietro strongly rumored to be making the jump from a USL deal to an MLS contract. The United academy product was by far Loudoun’s biggest creative source, leading the team in goals, assists, key passes, expected goals, and expected assists. Jovanny Bolívar (second in expected goals) and Darluís Paz (second in expected assists) won’t be back either, and while Loudoun will surely add a mix of USL Championship players who could take the next step and international loanees, there is clearly room for creative attacking players to make their mark.
Simonsen may also have an avenue to playing time in a deeper role. United homegrown Jeremy Garay, at just 18, lead the team in touches, and has been entrusted as the hub of their possession play out of the back. He figures to spend most of his second pro season under the tutelage of Ryan Martin again, reducing the number of open spots in the midfield, but Simonsen’s build and propensity for scoring goals as a no. 8 might make him a good partner for Garay.
It’s not clear who Loudoun will bring back from last year’s team — we expect that news to drop in the coming days — but if the international spots are available, he has a shot at regular minutes. Simonsen’s size also make him an intriguing prospect to be reimagined as a center back, much in the fashion of someone like Aaron Long. The technical levels that might be just a little short of an MLS midfielder right now may be plenty good for a move to the back line, provided United sees a future for Simonsen there and wants to invest the time it would take to develop a player who turns 24 in April.