When Don Garber steps up to the microphone in Indianapolis on Thursday, January 17th the first pick that he announces will be heading to Toronto, barring a trade that is. That player will then be burdened with the pressure of expectations that come from fans desperately searching for someone to help turn the franchise's on field fortunes around for 2013. If the club really is only a few pieces away from being competitive the first overall draft pick is a great chance for them to get at least one of those missing pieces.
While it may be a bit too early for us to start making a real list of potential players for Toronto to select first overall (rest assured though that is coming!) it is never too early for us to look back at the history of first overall picks to get a sense of just how successful players have been when taken at the top of the draft.
2012 - Andrew Wenger - Montreal Impact:
Had a bit of a slow start to his rookie season with Montreal as he wanted to finish off his school year at Duke but when he got there he proved to be a solid pickup for the club. He will not likely end up in the Rookie of the Year race but he was impressive none the less. Going forward if the Impact want him to keep improving they will need to decide just where he is best suited to play on a regular basis. His 4 goals in 2012 suggest that may yet be in an attacking role.
2011 - Omar Salgado - Vancouver Whitecaps:
He did not take the traditional route to the SuperDraft as he was signed by MLS after leaving C.D. Guadalajara to pursue the chance to play for the US Under-20 team. He would be drafted by the Whitecaps and has since proven to be a solid player for them but still has a lot of room to improve. He did miss a large chunk of the 2012 season with an injury so ti is hard to tell just where the teenager is in his development. Will likely end up in Europe before too long but the Caps could end up with a nice bit of change in return for his transfer.
2010 - Danny Mwanga - Philadelphia Union:
Coming out of Oregon State the Congalese native was hoping to make a name for himself in MLS as a powerful forward. He struggled to really find his scoring boots for the Union with only 12 league goals in 61 appearances before he was traded to the Portland Timbers. In Portland, he is looking for a fresh start and scored 3 goals in his first 18 games but still has yet to live up to his 1st overall billing. It was not exactly a stacked draft class in 2010 but the likes of Teal Bunbury and Zach Loyd have probably had better careers to date.
2009 - Steve Zakuani - Seattle Sounders:
This was the year that Toronto selected Sam Cronin second overall and O'Brian White fourth. In between those two picks was a certain Omar Gonzalez and also in that first round were Stefan Frei, George John, and Chris Pontius who have all turned into solid MLS players. With that group all going in the first round, for Zakuani to live up to being the first pick out of a strong draft class he would have to turn into a very special player. He may not be the best of the bunch, probably a fair bit back, but Zakuani has had a good career so far for the Sounders. He has 17 goals in 72 league games but missed a lengthy period of time in 2011 with a broken leg. Seattle certainly did better in that first round that Toronto did.
2008 - Chance Myers - Kansas City Wizards:
It took Myers some time to really start to make a name for himself in MLS but when he finally locked down a spot in Kansas City's starting XI he proved to be good value for the first overall pick. This past season he was a key part of their defense that allowed a staggering 27 goals against all season. Some will point to Brek Shea, that year's second overall pick, and say that Myers was not the best choice at 1st overall and that is fair, but that does not mean that Myers has been a bust by any means. It is no small feat to be a regular in one of the best defensive units MLS has ever seen.
Not much needs to be said about Mo as almost every TFC fan is familiar with his time at the club and has kept tabs on him since he was sold to Rangers in 2008. He is now with Stoke City following the financial mess that engulfed Rangers and made his Premier League debut as a late substitute against Liverpool this fall. For Toronto FC he was a very promising player, earning Rookie of the Year honours and chipping in with the occasional goal. Now a full US international and Premier League player there is no way you can call Edu a bust. Add to that the fact that his transfer fee "paid for our grass" and you have to say he was a very good pick.
2006 - Marvell Wynne - MetroStars:
Wynne has been a decent MLS level player since being drafted by the MetroStars (later renamed New York Red Bulls). When with Toronto FC he was an erratic full back, not great defensively, but offering a fair bit going forward and never boring to watch. At Colorado, they converted him to a Centre Back wher his speed is used to cover for a multitude of sins and he was a regular part of their MLS Cup winning team. There are certainly guys in the 2006 class like Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, and Kei Kamara who have gone on to have arguably better careers but Wynne has been solid as a pro even if he has never reached the heights you would want from a top pick.
2005 - Nikolas Besagno - Real Salt Lake:
Hard to look at him as anything other than a total bust for RSL. It would even be understandable if most people reading this are currently thinking to themselves, "who the heck is that?". He would only make 8 league appearances for RSL before being sent out on loan and then being released by the club. Once one of the top prospects in the country he is now spending his time playing in the USLPDL. Just to make it worse the guys who went after him were Brad Guzan and Chad Barrett.
2004 - Freddy Adu - DC United:
The saviour of American soccer, the next big thing, Adu was considered by almost everyone to be a can't miss prospect and he attracted national headlines when he signed with MLS at age 14. Since then he has made stops at DC United and RSL before heading over to Europe to play for a number of different clubs but never really made a name for himself. He is now back in MLS having played the last season and a half for Philadelphia Union where he has again struggled to really become an impact player. Now, Adu is 23 years old and sitting on the brink of being nothing more than a piece of trivia if he can't find a way to live up to some of the potential that so many saw in him back when he was 14. His draft year included a number of other future US internationals in Chad Marshall, Clint Dempsey, and Clarence Goodson making it hard to call Adu a good first overall pick even if he did wonders for the league's publicity.
2003 - Alecko Eskandarian - DC United:
Head injuries brought his career to an early end after seven years and stops at six different clubs. He was a serviceable goal scorer almost everywhere he went but was never the consistent scorer that a club could build its attack around. His stop over in Toronto back in 2007 was very brief as he scored one goal in a handful of games before being moved on to Real Salt Lake. He ended up with 30 goals in 125 MLS games which is nothing special but considering it was a draft filled with dependable MLS guys like Ricardo Clark, Mike Magee, and Todd Dunivant it is hard to say he was a real bust.
2002 - Chris Gbandi - Dallas Burn:
Gbandi was a solid outside defender for Dallas Burn (later renamed FC Dallas) making over 100 league appearances before trying, unsuccessfully, to make a move overseas. He never became a household name for most MLS fans but he was by no means a bust and Dallas fans will probably still have some fond memories of him. Biggest knock on him as the number one pick is the fact that right behind him was Taylor Twellman, an MLS goal scoring machine, and Brad Davis, a reliably productive MLS player, who have both had better careers.
Looking back over the last 10 drafts it is clear to see that in almost every case the team has come away with a player who is at least able to make a contribution at this level. With only one pure bust in the bunch it may not be an exact science, often times the best player in the draft does not get taken first, but it is a fairly safe bet that the team will come away with a decent piece. That should give Toronto fans more than enough reason to look forward to January 17th in hopes that they land another player or Edu's quality who can help to improve the team both in the short and long terms.