It is fitting that the 22nd season of MLS will include 22 teams, an increase of two on 2016, with all parties converging on Los Angeles Convention Center in California on Friday for the SuperDraft.
Twenty-one drafts have gone before and - as one of 10 charter members of MLS - the Colorado Rapids have been involved in every single one.
From Jean Harbor at the Hotel Intercontinental in New York City on February 6, 1996 to John Manga via conference call on January 19, 2016, the Rapids have acquired 137 players via the various-titled drafts (Inaugural Player Draft, College Draft, SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft).
The first 16 players to be acquired during the 1996 process arrived from clubs playing in already-established leagues, such as the American Professional Soccer League (APSL) - which had the Colorado Foxes among its number - and the United States Interregional League (USISL). The Rapids first official college choice was Mike Gentile. He came out of the University of Wisconsin–Madison with the ninth pick of the college draft. Gentile was released during preseason, and carved out a successful career in the USISL.
Names to arrive in Colorado via the draft include Omar Cummings, Ross Paule, Tyrone Marshall, Dan Gargan, Jacob Peterson, Kosuke Kimura, Nick LaBrocca, Jordan Harvey, Dillon Powers, Deshorn Brown and Axel Sjöberg.
In the league’s inaugural draft of 1996, the Rapids picked up a total of 20 players. Among the selections was Steve Trittschuh, who was a part of the team which reached the 1997 MLS Cup, and is now head coach of Colorado Springs Switchbacks.
Joel Shanker was the Rapids’ final selection of that first player draft, chosen in the 16th round, with the 152nd overall pick. He was released by the Rapids during preseason of 1996, and would return to playing in the Major Indoor Soccer League. Shanker is now VP for a metals merchant based in St. Louis, MO.
The Rapids would add a further four players via the Supplemental Draft and College Draft. Goalkeeper Dusty Hudock arrived via the former, and would start the first four games of the league’s first season.
Some of those to join via the draft in that first year never set foot on the field for the club. Former Morocco goalkeeper Khalil Azmi was one of those. Selected in the 14th round, 132nd overall, Azmi - who featured at the 1994 FIFA World Cup - would find himself stuck behind Hudock and ex-England keeper Chris Woods in the pecking order. Azmi is now a car salesman in Vienna, Virginia.
Only once have the Rapids had the very first pick of the MLS SuperDraft. That came in 1997, after the terrible first season. Tahj Jakins, out of UCLA, would play a little over three seasons in Colorado, making 61 appearances before departing for Kansas City Wizards in 2000. The 1997 draft would also deliver Ross Paule to Colorado’s door.
Some of the first picks have worked better than others. Andrew Mittendorf was the Rapids’ top choice in 1999, the eighth overall pick in that year’s draft. He was released during preseason. Nico Colacula made only four appearances during his two seasons with the Rapids, despite being chosen sixth overall in 2007.
Ciaran O'Brien was Colorado’s first pick of the 2008 SuperDraft when the fifth name called. During three seasons with the Rapids, throughout which he was loaned to three different clubs, O’Brien made just one appearance, and it is one he will want to forget. He replaced Christian Gomez after 71 minutes of the season opener, at home to LA Galaxy, but was sent off in the final minute for a challenge on Carlos Ruiz.
Other first picks for the Rapids include Adin Brown (2000). Selected third overall, Brown’s time at the Rapids was hampered by injury. He was part of the deal which brought Carlos Valderrama from Tampa Bay to Colorado midway through 2001. Brown is currently the goalkeeper coach for 2015 MLS Cup winners Portland Timbers.
Hunter Freeman was the club’s only selection in the first three rounds of the 2005 SuperDraft. He was also the Rapids’ first ‘round 1’ pick since Brown five years earlier. Chosen seventh overall, Freeman would eventually make 47 appearances for the club over two seasons.
When Jordan Seabrook became the 51st pick of the 2009 SuperDraft, he also became the Rapids’ 100th draft pick of all-time. He was ultimately not offered a contract by the Rapids, but dropped down to play in the USL before spending four years in Scandinavia.
Arguably the club’s most successful draft came in 2013, when they selected Deshorn Brown (#6) and Dillon Powers (#11) in the first round. Powers would be named MLS Rookie of the Year, with Brown the runner-up but leading scorer for the Rapids. Even more recently, the Rapids have acquired Marlon Hairston, Jared Watts (both 2014), Axel Sjöberg, Dominique Badji (both 2015) and Dennis Castillo (2016) through the draft process.