This past Tuesday, Toronto FC management decided to switch gears in the later rounds of the MLS Superdraft (conducted via conference call). While the team’s picks over the first two rounds of the draft skewed on the defensive side to shore up a shallow back-line depth chart, Toronto went into all-out attack mode in rounds three and four, drafting three forwards with their remaining picks. The three are: 23-year old Michael Ramos (3rd round, 50th overall) from Whitworth University, 22-year old Salvador Bernal (4th round, 70th overall) from UNLV, and 22-year old Tyler Engel (4th round, 81st overall) from UNC.
With 3rd and 4th round picks rarely contributing to a club’s first-team- or even seeing the pitch at all in MLS action, TFC are simply hoping that any one of the three turns out to be a diamond in the rough (or at least a useful addition for TFCII).
Michael Ramos has the most interesting story of the three, as his history includes a stint in Europe where he tried to make a career for himself. Ramos took a break from his university studies to travel across the Atlantic and suit up for semi-professional sides in Scandinavia (Iceland and Sweden). He then returned to the States where he registered 14 goals and 12 assists in his senior year at Whitworth University, a Division III institution, prompting a visit to the MLS pre-draft combine. Ramos’ stats would indicate he is equally set-up man and finisher, as even in Seattle (pre-Europe) he racked up 5 assists (to go along with his 2 goals) in 17 matches in his junior year. At 5’11" and weighing in at just over 160 pounds, Ramos is not an intimidating physical force, but could hold his own when battling opposing defenders.
Salvador Bernal was another interesting pick by the Reds. Bernal was born in Mexico and lived there the first few years of his life, and is therefore labelled an international player in MLS. According to this article from the Las Vegas Sun, Bernal would likely have gone in the first two rounds of the draft had it not been for his citizenship status. The young striker is short (5’7") and quick, and his coach at UNLV, Rich Ryerson, speaks very highly of Bernal: "Every time he got the ball in the attacking third, I was standing on my feet to see what happened next, […] he is one of the quickest, most dynamic players I have coached. Sal brings that touch to the table that was natural and comes easy for him. He was the most exciting thing we have had at UNLV in a long time." Bernal was also the first UNLV All-American in over 20 years, receiving the honour in 2013 after putting up eight goals and 19 points. On the off-chance that he really impresses TFC’s coaching staff, the team’s second-to-last draft pick may be even luckier than foreseen, as according to the same article- "Bernal has a work visa through the Dream Act, and the league is expected to consider those players domestic".
Tyler Engel’s resume reads exactly how you would expect a 4th round MLS Superdraft pick’s portfolio to look. The 5’8", 168 pound forward from Illinois was a consistent contributor at UNC, scoring 26 goals in 80 matches over his 4 years in the program. In his 2013 junior season, Engel led the team with six goals and 14 points in 17 starts, including a goal against the would-be national champions Notre Dame and, more notably, four game-winning goals over the course of the season.
Toronto FC’s decision to pick three strikers is curious, as the forward position is not currently lacking in depth for TFC and the current "strike force" includes a healthy range of different ages and experience levels. Robbie Findley (29), Luke Moore (28), Bright Dike (27), and occasional second striker/superstar DP Sebastian Giovinco (27) are all under the age of 30, and with 25-year old DP Jozy Altidore hopefully succeeding in the league (and sticking around for a few years) and promising 18-year old Canadian striker Jordan Hamilton waiting in the wings, there is little need for any of the three new draft picks to find success with the senior team over the next few years. Furthermore, on the off-chance that Gilberto remains with the team through the start of the 2015 season, his presence simply adds to an already healthy slate of attacking options. Add to all this the possibility of 2nd round pick Edwin Rivas finding success with the team, and it becomes even clearer that TFC is not expecting much from their third and fourth round picks. Should any of them turn heads in pre-season play, and subsequently find a regular spot contributing even with TFC’s USLPRO franchise, it would be a great success for the club's scouting network and management.