So tomorrow is the 20th edition of the MLS Superdraft. It’s a concept which may seem alien to us Europeans, clubs taking turns to pick a player from a list of eligible college graduates, but it’s a system very popular in American sports.
There have been some great success stories from the Superdraft in the past, so much so that clubs will trade between each other to get a higher spot in the draft so they can pick the best prospects first.
Unfortunately, there were no Englishmen listed in the first batch of eligible graduates but that could change before tomorrow. There has been English success in the past though. Current Leeds United loanee Jack Harrison came through the Superdraft route and so did Dom Dwyer, the former Norwich City youngster, who has now become a US international after a sensational goal scoring record in MLS.
There are four rounds where the 24 teams take turns to pick from the eligible players, having watched them compete in trial matches during the week, known as the combine.
In this article, I am going to look back at every single English player who has been drafted in the previous 19 editions of the Superdraft and see what happened to them.
2000 – English players selected: 1
So in the inaugural Superdraft there were six rounds and 72 players were selected, just one of which was English-born. Stephen Armstrong is the man who has the honour of being the first ever English-born player to be drafted in MLS. I say English-born as after being born in Birkenhead, Liverpool, he was raised in Cape Town.
Anyway, after moving to the US he attended Butler University in Indiana and after an impressive college soccer career, he joined Swedish top flight side Västra Frölunda in 2000. After 12 appearances, he secured a move to Watford, who played in the second-tier at the time. After just three sub appearances he was released when he then returned to the States to partake in the Superdraft, which makes Armstrong an oddity in the fact he had a professional season under his belt before even being drafted.
Despite this, he still wasn’t a first round pick, he was chosen 13th overall by DC United. He went on to have a solid career in the States. A season with DC was followed by two years with Kansas City Wizards (as they were known then) followed by a final season in MLS with Columbus Crew. He totalled eight goals and six assists from his 71 games.
He then went on to make over 100 appearances for Charleston Battery in various leagues below MLS. He then went into coaching roles and now works as a sales manager, according to his LinkedIn.
2001 – English players selected: 0
2002 – English players selected: 1
After a fruitless 2001 draft, the English were back in full force the following, well by full force I mean one player was selected. This time it was Danny Jackson, a defender from Leeds who moved to the US at 18 to attend the University of North Carolina. He was selected as 16th overall pick by Colorado Rapids and managed a grand total of one MLS appearance, which lasted 15 minutes.
After leaving the Rapids, he joined Seattle Sounders where he spent six successful seasons, playing for the club until they joined MLS in 2009. During his time with the Sounders he won the USL First Division in 2007.
He now works for a real estate company in Seattle.
2003 – English players selected: 0
2004 – English players selected: 1
There seems to be a pattern forming in this early years. Anyway, Andy Dorman was the man selected in 2004, he was the third to last pick in the entire draft and was selected by New England Revolution. Don’t let the fact he was selected so late on fool you though, he went on to become a full international, albeit for Wales.
But that was later on. He started off having a very successful four year spell with the Revolution after being drafted following graduation from the University of Boston.
Thirty-nine goal involvements in four years saw him secure a move to St Mirren where he continued to impress to earn a big transfer to Crystal Palace, who were in the Championship at the time. This was when he earned his three caps for Wales as despite being born in Chester, he grew up in Flintshire.
He returned to his former side New England in 2013 where he had three final seasons in MLS before moving to take up a coaching role in Boston.
2005 – English players selected: 0
2006 – English players selected: 0
2007 – English players selected: 2
After two barren years, we hit the jackpot in 2007 with two players selected! This was also the year David Beckham joined LA Galaxy so more people were probably aware of MLS.
The first was John Cunliffe, a forward from Bolton who had been on the books at Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers before heading across the Atlantic to study at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.
After an impressive scoring record in college soccer, he was selected as 7th pick in the draft by the now defunct team Chivas USA. His first season in pro football wasn’t awful, he scored three times and contributed an assist from 15 appearances, which only five were starts.
The following year he was traded to San Jose Earthquakes where he was again a handy player, scoring twice from 12 appearances (four starts). He then joined second-tier side Carolina RailHawks before returning to the UK for a three-year spell with Northern League side Chorley. He now works as a coach back at his old college, Fort Lewis.
The other player selected in 2007 was Ben Hunter. Another forward from up north, Hunter played for his local side Doncaster Rovers as a youngster before attending the University of Rio Grande in Ohio. He was selected as the 49th overall pick by Columbus Crew but he failed to make his MLS debut and after a couple of seasons in the second tier with Richmond Kickers and Real Maryland Monarchs, he returned to the UK and played for North Ferriby United in Conference North. He now runs a soccer school in South Yorkshire.
2008 – English players selected: 1
Only one Englishman selected in 2008 but he would go on to be a successful one. Andy Iro would go on to win the MLS Cup but this came after a difficult upbringing in Liverpool. He ran a shop with relatives before a burglary saw him end up being shot in the leg. Despite this, he would go on to secure a scholarship at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
After impressing at college, he was drafted as the sixth pick by Columbus Crew. His first year was a success as he played 22 times and his solid displays at the back helped secur the Crew’s first ever (and to date, only) MLS Cup title.
He would go onto play for the Crew for another three seasons before rounding off his MLS career with a year with Toronto. He then returned to England to join League One side Stevenage but his only appearances in England would come during a loan spell in League Two with Barnet.
He now works as a director for an interior design company in California.
2009 – English players selected: 2
Kwame Adjeman-Pamboe has had one hell of a career since being drafted in 2008. The winger was born in London but later raised Maryland. He was selected as the 28th overall pick by Colorado Rapids but was never offered a contract, instead he began a world tour. First up with Finnish second-tier side FC Viikingit, he then returned to the States to join Tampa Bay before returning to the country of his birth for one appearance with Barnet in League Two.
Then it got stranger. A couple of years in the Greek second-tier brought about regular football but Adjeman-Pamboe, known as JJ, then spent three years playing in Egypt, starting in the second tier before playing in the top flight for Al-Gaish. Then if possible, it gets even more obscure. The winger spent time playing in the Northern Cyprus league and get this, he wasn’t even the only English-born player to feature in the league last year, former St. Mirren forward Billy Mehmet has also had a spell playing in the region claimed by Turkey.
The other player selected in 2009 was Kyle Patterson who has not had quite so much of an unusual career. The forward from Birmingham had a spell playing in Finland before studying at St. Louis University. He was selected as 48th pick by LA Galaxy where he played alongside David Beckham but not for long. After three appearances, which did yield an assist, he left the club and joined Swedish top flight side GAIS.
He then returned to the UK and played in non-league football.
2010 – English players selected: 2
Two more Englishmen were selected in 2010 and the first, Korede Aiyegbusi, has had a career to rival Adjeman-Pardoe’s. Born in Hackney, the defender finished his studies at North Carolina State University and was then selected by Kansas City Wizards in the first round of the 2010 draft. After three years of MLS action yielded just nine appearances, he went on to play in six different countries in four years. From Finland to Switzerland, from Germany (with his cousin Moses Makinde) to Sweden and finally Iran to Kazakhstan, Aiyegbusi has been everywhere and seen it all. Now 30-years-old, he is currently a free agent but his career so far has lasted a lot longer than the other Englishman drafted in 2010.
Jason Griffiths was chosen in the third round by New England Revolution and made a solid start to his MLS career, making ten appearances in his debut season. But that was it. As soon as his pro career had started, it was over as he was released by the Revolution after one season. The Bracknell-born midfielder who played for Southern League side Beaconsfield before moving to the States, went on to coach at his old university, the University of Kentucky.
2011 – English players selected: 1
Did you know Wayne Rooney wasn’t the first member of the Rooney family to play in MLS? His younger brother John was actually seven years ahead of his famous brother in terms of playing in MLS. After playing for Macclesfield Town, John Rooney signed a deal with MLS so he could enter the 2011 draft and was selected in the second round by New York Red Bulls.
He went on to make just five substitute appearances for the Red Bulls, despite being on the bench 26 times in the 2011 season. The year after he played for second-tier side Orlando City before their MLS days and then returned to the UK where he has played in the National League ever since. He currently plays for Barrow and has scored five goals so far this season.
2012 – English players selected: 1
Arguably the most successful of all the English players selected in the Superdraft, Dom Dwyer has achieved celebrity status in the US, not bad considering he came from playing for Staines Town and King’s Lynn back home.
He was selected as 16th overall pick by Sporting Kansas City after first studying in Texas and later in Florida. He had a slow start to his MLS career, playing just once in his first season but the following year is where he started to take off. After a loan move to St. Mirren was called off, Dwyer joined second-tier side Orlando City on loan where he blew everyone away with some scintillating form. He scored a remarkable 15 goals in just 13 games to put him firmly in the mind of Sporting Kansas City. He returned to win the MLS Cup with them in 2013 and has gone on to become one of the most prolific scorers in the league ever since.
He returned to Orlando in 2017, this time a MLS side, and also debuted for the US national team the same year. He also married the star of the US women’s team Sydney Leroux, forming one of US soccer’s power couples.
2013 – English players selected: 0
2014 – English players selected: 0
2015 – English players selected: 1
Just as you think we’re getting somewhere, there were two years without English involvement but Otis Earle stopped the drought in 2015. The defender, son of Port Vale and Wimbledon legend Robbie, was a first round pick for FC Dallas but his pro football career was short lived. He did not make an MLS appearance and was instead sent on loan to Arizona United (now known as Phoenix Rising) where he made five USL appearances.
He left Dallas after a year and was on trial with New England Revolution in 2017 but nothing came from it. He now works as an executive at a foreign exchange company.
2016 – English players selected: 4
Jack Harrison became the first ever Englishmen to be the number 1 pick in a Superdraft when in 2016 he was selected by Chicago Fire. However, he was instantly traded to New York City who wanted him for their inaugural season. He went on to be a key player for NYCFC and under Patrick Vieira’s guidance, the former Manchester United youngster went on to score 14 goals in 55 games, not a bad return for a winger.
After two years he joined sister club Manchester City and has been out on loan ever since, first at Middlesbrough and now at Leeds United.
Also selected in the first round was Ben Polk. The forward grew up in Oxford and was selected by Portland Timbers but spent the entire season with their reserve team in the USL, scoring once in 25 games. He then joined Orlando City B in the same league but after eight appearances, left the club. He hasn’t played since.
Selected in the second round was Paul Clowes who grew up in Manchester City’s academy before moving to the States to attend Clemson University. He was drafted by DC United but did not play for them and after a half a season he joined USL side Charlotte Independence. In 2017 he played for fellow USL side Orlando City B and last year he had a spell regaining fitness with Cheshire League side Egerton back in the UK. He now looks set to sign for a USL side for the 2019 season.
Finally in the fourth round, Liam Doyle was selected. The Isle of Man native had been at Ohio State University and was also drafted by DC United but instead joined USL side Harrisburg City Islanders. He has since built a very solid career in the USL, moving on to Swope Park Rangers before last year playing for Nashville. You can read my interview with Liam here.
2017 – English players selected: 4
Birmingham-born Joe Holland was a first round pick for Houston Dynamo after four years at Hofstra University. He made five substitute appearances for the Dynamo before joining their affiliate side in USL, Rio Grande Valley. He scored four times in 13 games to secure a move to fellow USL side Pittsburgh Riverhounds the following year. This year the midfielder will be playing for Birmingham Legion, a brand new USL side.
Chosen in the second round was Aaron Jones. He spent time in Ipswich’s academy growing up and was drafted by Philadelphia Union. However, he spent the year playing for their USL affiliate side Bethlehem Steel where he made 28 appearances, scoring twice from defence.
He was released at the end of the season and hasn’t played since.
A former Sheffield United youngster was also drafted in round three that year. Danny Deakin was the 64th pick overall, joining Orlando City. He didn’t get his chance in the first team though, instead he played 20 times for their B team in the USL, scoring once. This season he has played back in England for Curzon Ashton and Buxton.
Finally in 2017, there was Jack Elliott, arguably the best of the picks that year, despite being drafted by Philadelphia Union as the 77th overall pick. The Londoner had spent four years at West Virginia University and after one appearance for Bethlehem Steel in the USL, became a regular starter for the Union, playing 30 MLS matches as he was one of the rookies of the year. He played only 17 times last year but has proven to be a great acquisition for Philadelphia.
2018 – English players selected: 2
Last but not least, last year’s draft where two Englishmen were selected. Mo Adams was always going to be a first round pick. He was earmarked as one of the stars of the draft beforehand after being selected as a Generation Adidas player, which offers talented players a route to professional football without having to finish their four years at college. Adams was selected as the 10th overall pick by Chicago Fire.
The midfielder from Nottingham had played for both Nottingham Forest and Derby County growing up and even played for Boston United in National League North before moving to the States to study at Syracuse University. He went on to make 15 MLS appearances in his debut season, a solid year where he played alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger in the centre of midfield.
The other player chosen was former Everton youngster Oliver Shannon. He was selected in the second round by Atlanta United after attending Clemson University in South Carolina. He went straight into Atlanta’s reserve side in the USL, playing 27 times before being released. He is currently a free agent.