Toronto FC are developing a habit of going off the board at the MLS SuperDraft. Last year they got a lot of attention for selecting Clement Simonin despite almost no one projecting him as a first round selection or even a second round pick. They have done the same to a lesser extent when they picked Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman well ahead of where they were projected to go. Even Nick Hagglund was a bit of a reach for the team when they took him as most experts had several other central defenders that were still on the board ranked above him.
Tsubasa Endoh is another pick where Toronto FC went well off the draft board to get the player that they feel is the best fit for their team. Endoh's name was nowhere to be found on almost every single mock draft out there prior to the MLS Combine and even his MVP performance during that event still only lead to most experts placing him somewhere in the late first round or the second round of the draft.
Even Endoh was surprised to find out that he had been taken early in the first round. In a conference call with the media after he was selected the Maryland player remarked that he was expecting to go in the second or third round and was even concerned that he might not get drafted at all.
During his college career Endoh did not put up eye catching numbers and his size was likely a red flag to some MLS teams who would wonder how he will handle himself in the middle of the park where play can often be quite physical. Some observers that Waking the Red spoke to expressed concern about how he would hold up at the next level against consistently larger midfielders and noted that his starring role at the combine may have been in part due to the less physical nature of those games. Endoh was given plenty of space to work with at the combine and showed that he knew how to make the most of that space. It is space he will have to work a lot harder to find at the pro level though.
Every scout we spoke to noted that he does have some tools that could make him successful at the next level. He has a great work-rate, can run hard for 90 minutes, is strong with both feet, has above average vision, can take defenders on, and is a capable creator for his teammates. While Endoh is not the fastest player in the draft he does have quickness in both his movement and his reading of the game that can help to make up for that lack of top end pace.
So while Endoh was a bit of a stretch to grab at the 9th overall pick you can see why TFC might have been willing to roll the dice on him. The team was in need of a midfielder who could provide some width and a change of pace from the likes of Michael Bradley, Will Johnson, and Benoit Cheyrou. So with a lack of any real clear standout players on the wings available in the draft TFC took a chance on a player who could have a high upside.
Like their selection of Simonin last year the team went with a player who is probably going to need some time before they are ready to make a real contribution at the next level. They have all sorts of tools to work with but it will be a matter of putting them in a system that makes the most of those skills. Simonin was sidetracked by injury in his first season but he did show that he was more than capable of playing the ball out of the back and could be a solid defender with the right players around him.
There is a chance that we will see Endoh in the first team this season rather than spending the year with TFC2. He plays a position of need which should make it easier for him earn a roster spot coming out of preseason. If he does make the roster at some point this season that would make him a good value at 9th overall as most players outside of the first few selections will likely need some seasoning in USL.
If TFC had taken a player at just about any other position (right back may be the other exception) that player would have had a very hard time making the roster. It made sense for the club to go after a wide player and to go after one with a lot of potential upside. Given that they had very few needs that could have been addressed through the draft they had the luxury of being able to gamble a bit with this selection.
So while the selection of Endoh may have been a bit of a reach at least it was one that made sense for the club. Sure, they might have been able to trade down and still get their desired player but chances are they would not have gotten much of a return for doing that. The safest thing to do was get their man when they had the chance and move on to prepare for their selections in the third and fourth rounds.
For now we have no idea what Endoh is going to be at the next level but he fits a need and that is about all you can ask for on draft day when your only selection is 9th overall.