Atlanta United focusing on best player available in draft

That Atlanta United will have the last pick in Friday’s MLS SuperDraft isn’t a bad thing because it means the team won the MLS Cup.

That’s a trade any team would take.

The challenge of picking 24th in the first round, and then 48th in the second round, is that it’s hard for the team to target a specific player, according to Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra. As such, Atlanta United likely will draft the best player available.

“At the combine, we are thinking, ‘Which kids do we think will get picked up? Which one should we focus on that might fall through the cracks to us at 24? Which ones do we think could actually be a part of our team? Do they fit our style of play? Do they fit our player profile?” he said.

Bocanegra said it’s difficult to evaluate by watching players at the combine, which was held the previous week in Orlando, because those players are playing for new coaches, with new teammates and sometimes out of position. Throw in that the college seasons ended weeks before the combine and it can make scouting, already an inexact science, even more difficult. Because he spent some time focusing on Atlanta United 2, Bocanegra said he didn’t attend as many college games as he has in the past.

“It’s tough for the kids down there,” Bocanegra said. “Hopefully we draft the person that has a chance to fit into our system. Then it’s up to them to come in and prove it.

“The great part is we have Atlanta United 2, as well, which is a big part of our club and an important piece to the puzzle.”

By using its scouting network to watch players on their college teams, where they are more comfortable, Atlanta United has an idea of how good the players in the pool are. Bocanegra said there are a few that fit the profile the team wants.

Then, the most important question, according to Bocanegra may be, “Are they athletic enough and fast enough to play for us? It’s really what we look at.”

Atlanta United did well answering that question in its first two drafts. 

Its first year, when it had specific positions it hoped to fill, the team selected centerback Miles Robinson with the No. 2 pick in 2017, and then midfielder Julian Gressel at No. 8. Gressel was named the rookie of the year was a consistent contributor in the MLS Cup. 

Robinson has played well in spot starts. He is expected to continue to develop and become a starter. The team also selected midfielder Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu. The team declined the option on his contract following the 2018 season.

Last year, the team selected striker Jon Gallagher at No. 14 and at No. 36 midfielder Oliver Shannon, who both played well for Atlanta United 2, and at No. 37 Gordon Wild, who played well while on loan with Charleston. In the fourth round, the team selected goalkeeper Paul Christensen, who made one appearance last season when Brad Guzan was shown a red card against Sporting KC. All but Shannon are still with the club.

MLS SuperDraft Order

First round

1. Cincinnati

2. San Jose

3. Orlando

4. Dallas

5. Chicago

6. Toronto

7. Minnesota

8. Houston

9. New England

10. Dallas

11. New England

12. L.A. Galaxy

13. Cincinnati

14. D.C. United

15. Colorado

16. Cincinnati

17. Real Salt Lake

18. Columbus

19. NYCFC

20. Seattle

21. Sporting KC

22. New York Red Bulls

23. Portland

24. Atlanta United

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