Trades looming as MLS draft shapes up to be a wild one

Kelvin Kuo
A crop of highly sought-after prospects impressed at the MLS combine, which has teams lining up to trade into the top part of Friday's MLS draft.

LOS ANGELES — The weather hasn't been what most Major League Soccer coaches and general managers may have hoped for this week at the MLS combine, but the play of the most talented prospects in the 2017 MLS draft has been good enough to convince a long list of teams to try and trade up into the top five picks of Friday's draft.

LIGA MX talking points for Round 2

Expansion teams Minnesota United and Atlanta United hold the keys to Friday's draft, with both fielding multiple offers this week and both expressing a willingness to make a deal if the right one is presented.

The targets of so many teams' draft-day affection? Syracuse central defender Miles Robinson and UCLA forward Abu Danladi head the list, while U.S. Under-20 striker Jeremy Ebobisse and midfielder Jonathan Lewis are also attracting attention.

Minnesota United is controlling the action at the top spot, with Robinson being the most highly coveted of the available prospects. The Loons could stand pat and select Robinson or Danladi, but teams eager to land the Syracuse defender could tempt Minnesota United with a package including players, draft picks and/or allocation money.

No expansion team has ever traded away the first draft pick in its team history, but that track record isn't going to keep Minnesota from at least considering the possibility.

"We're not going to look at the pick as anything other than trying to make our team better," Minnesota United general manager Manny Lagos told Goal. "The idea of having the pick because we're supposed to have the pick and it would look good and shiny for TV? No. We're going to take our time and think about what makes sense for us in the club.

"I think the staff did a lot of good work looking at the college soccer season and assessing it. I think we did a good job of it, and I think the kids have played really well and that just increases the value and asset of the No. 1 pick."

Among the teams trying to trade up to one of the top spots in the draft, according to Goal sources, are the Portland Timbers and New England Revolution. Both teams are believed to be coveting Robinson, and both have the resources to make a tempting offer to Minnesota to move up.

The Revolution are particularly interesting for a variety of reasons. For one, Robinson is a native of Massachusetts and self-professed lifelong Revolution fan. He also happens to fit the profile of the kind of tall and athletic central defender the Revs would love to to sign, and happen to need. The Revs also have bargaining chips, including Teal Bunbury, who sources tell Goal is seeking a move away from New England. The Revs also have a surplus of goalkeepers, and could include Brad Knighton or Bobby Shuttleworth in a package.

The Revs are no strangers to trading up to the top spot, having done so in 2013 to select defender Andrew Farrell.

One team anxiously awaiting Minnesota's decision is Atlanta United, which has been the subject of just as many, if not more, trade inquiries for the No. 2 overall pick. If Minnesota selects Danladi or Ebobisse, then there could be a big run at Atlanta for Robinson, while one source tells Goal that D.C. United is coveting Lewis.

"What's funny is that the demise of the draft gets reported every year, and yet every year you find that there's certainly in that top 10 players that can contribute," Atlanta United president Darren Eales told Goal. "There's a lot of people interested in moving, but we've got a new roster and have to weigh the potential deals on the table with actually taking a player who might be able to contribute in the first year."

Much like Lagos, Eales made it clear sentimentality about the club's first MLS draft isn't going to make Atlanta hold onto its top pick.

"If you're the No. 1 there's probably a little bit more pressure to take that first pick, but we want to do the best we can to put a team together for Tata (Martino) for season one. We're not going to be emotional about it. If we think it's better to trade, we'll trade."

Another player drawing interest from teams trying to move up in the draft is Maryland fullback Chris Odoi-Atsem. Projected as a top five talent, and clear-cut best fullback in the draft, Odoi-Atsem is the target of teams hoping to address a need, or add depth, at right back. The Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls are among the teams believed to be trying to trade up to take Odoi-Atsem.

Another reason there will likely be several trades this year is the fact that there are three teams with multiple first-round picks. The Columbus Crew (5 and 9), Colorado Rapids (15 and 21) and Sounders (16 and 22) could all package picks to move around in the draft.