It started with a splash and ended with a surprise for the New England Revolution at the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday.
After trading up to the top spot only hours before the draft, the Revolution selected consensus first pick Louisville defender Andrew Farrell and wrapped up the afternoon by selecting a goalkeeper -- Indiana’s Luis Soffner -- in the final stages.
In between Farrell and Soffner (second round, 36th overall), the Revolution selected UNC-Charlotte midfielder Donnie Smith (second round, 21st overall) and Xavier forward Luke Spencer (second round, 23rd overall) at the Indiana Convention Center.
“Overall, we’re pleased with our draft and we believe we addressed a few areas we were looking to improve,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns said in a statement. “With Andrew, we added who we believe was the best available player in this draft class. With Donnie, Luke, and Luis, we’ve drafted players who we believe can add depth and versatility to our club. Donnie and Luke give us options on the wings as well as up top, while Luis gives us talented depth in goal.”
Going into the draft, scouts pegged Farrell as the most MLS-ready prospect on the draft board. Despite playing three different positions (center back, right back and defensive midfielder) last season, Farrell’s impressive play on a back line that allowed only 0.62 goals/game earned him 2012 BIG EAST Co-defensive Player of the Year.
By trading up to acquire Farrell, the Revolution front office addressed their most pressing need: defense. Last year, New England’s back four were snake-bitten by mental errors and inconsistency, and Farrell will be counted upon to stabilize the unit.
It’s too early to tell where head coach Jay Heaps plans to use the versatile Farrell. One scenario could see the first-rounder at right back, and starter Kevin Alston being switched to left back. However, it’s clear that the team needs the most help in the center of its defense. In light of that, Heaps and Burns surely have visions of Farrell manning one of the two center back spots this season.
With their most pressing need checked off, the Revolution used the rest of their picks to add depth in other areas of the field.
The selection of Smith, whom many scouts considered a "true" left-sided midfielder, gives New England a skilled apprentice to starter Lee Nguyen. Many scouts believe he has all the skills -- speed, creativity and crossing ability -- to become a starting MLS midfielder. All he needs is time to refine those aspects of his game.
Spencer is an intriguing pick. On paper, the Revolution seem to have sufficient numbers at forward, especially with high-priced strikers Jerry Bengtson and Saer Sene onboard. But Bengtson, a regular call-up for the Honduras National Team, is expected to miss time with the World Cup Qualifying on tap. With Bengtson away, the door could open up for a bruising, target forward like Spencer, whose style of play gives the Revolution offense a different dynamic.
For its final pick of the afternoon, the Revolution decided to raise a few eyebrows in selecting Soffner. With Matt Reis and Bobby Shuttleworth set to battle for the starting goalkeeper’s spot when preseason camp gets underway, there are legitimate questions about the rationale in using a SuperDraft pick to select a projected third-string keeper. But given Soffner’s size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) and shot-stopping prowess (.816 save percentage), it appears that the coaching staff jumped at the chance to groom a prospect who could someday become their starter between the sticks.
On the whole, the Revs have to feel good about what they accomplished in Thursday’s draft. They plugged their biggest hole by grabbing Farrell, added a pair of attacking prospects in Smith and Spencer, and shored up their goalkeeping corps with the addition of Soffner.
More so, it appears the Revolution made another considerable stride in their quest to become a contender four years removed from their last playoff game.