A look back at the 2015 MLS SuperDraft and Cristian Roldan
The MLS SuperDraft is always a crazy day with a lot of craziness happening. For one, the draft usually features less “standout players” than most other American sports and the top prospects often turn out to have the most success. Every now and again you get the Chris Wondolowski’s of the world who turn out to be fabulous players who have much longer and much more successful careers than those picked above them. The 2015 MLS SuperDraft was no different, there were fifteen players chosen before Cristian Roldan. Kind of crazy, right? First on the list is Cyle Larin, a little further down you’ll find Tim Parker and right after that, Axel Sjöberg. What about all the other players? Where are they now? Have they justified being picked over Cristian Roldan? Let me give you a brief summary of the fifteen players picked before the MLS champion, and you can decide for yourself.
1. Cyle Larin – Orlando City SC
Cyle Larin had an incredible three seasons in MLS before the feud began with Besiktas. Scoring an MLS rookie record 17 goals in his debut season was just the start. He followed that up with 14 goals in his sophomore season and continued to be one of the
most threatening strikers in MLS. Despite tough times in Orlando, Cyle had been a positive for the side every season. The Canadian striker finished his third season with 12 goals giving him a total of 43 goals in three seasons.
2. Khiry Shelton – New York City FC
Khiry Shelton was very exciting for NYCFC supporters and could still turn into something special, however, that would have to be at a different club. Khiry has shown glimpses that he is a very special player, but a lack of consistency hurts him. Towards the end of the 2016 season was probably the peak of his very young career. Shelton scored 4 goals and grabbed 9 assists. Playing at a club with plenty of depth on the wings may have hindered his growth, but the talent is there for sure. At the end of the 2017 season, Khiry Shelton was traded to Sporting KC.
3. Romario Williams – Montreal Impact
Romario has had a very different career path than both the two players selected above him. Williams totaled just 7 minutes in the 2015 MLS season before spending time with FC Montreal, who is of course the Impact’s USL affiliate. The 2016 season treated the
Jamaican a little better when he was on loan at Charleston Battery. Romario scored 10 goals and was then traded to Atlanta United following the end of the 2016 season. Atlanta sent him right back to Charleston hoping for more success and so far, so good. The forward scored 15 goals in 22 appearances during his loan most recent loan spell3. At 23 years of age, Williams can certainly still have an impact in MLS.
4. Fatai Alashe – San Jose Earthquakes
Fatai had an immediate impact on his club which has resulted in him seeing the field more than most people on this list. Alashe started 27 games in his rookie season and contributed a pair of goals and assists. The midfielder started another 27 games the
following season with near identical numbers. Consistency is what coaches are looking for, and consistency is what Fatai Alashe is giving them.
5. Nick Besler – Portland Timbers
Yes, just to get this out of the way, he is the younger brother of USMNT and Sporting KC defender Matt Besler. Unfortunately for him, his career has not started off quite as hot. Nick spent his entire Portland career with the clubs USL affiliate, Portland Timbers 2. Little Besler then moved to Real Monarchs (Real Salt Lake’s affiliate) before the 2017 season where he scored three goals. Nick can definitely find his way back into MLS at some point in the future.
6. Alex Bono – Toronto FC
Alex Bono was the first goalkeeper picked in the draft but spent his entire first season with Toronto on loan in the USL. Since then, he has found himself in and out of the first team. Bono started 15 games in 2016 due to a Clint Irwin injury which occurred at about the midway point in the MLS season. Alex Bono’s persistence paid off and he has earned the #1 spot between the sticks for Toronto helping them secure a first ever MLS Cup victory.
7. Matt Polster – Chicago Fire
Similarly to Fatai Alashe and Cyle Larin, Matt Polster walked into a weak team and took full advantage. In his rookie season, Polster played in 30 of the club’s 34 MLS games and started in 27 of them. He continued to get minutes in 2016 and even grabbed his first two MLS goals. Polster was drafted as a midfielder but is currently playing as a fullback in Chicago, I don’t see him taking Dax McCarty or Bastian Schweinsteiger out of that midfield anytime soon either. Despite that, Matt Polster was brought in to the USMNT January camp for 2018.
8. Zach Steinberger – Houston Dynamo
Zach made a total of three appearances for Houston racking up 29 minutes before being loaned out to Indy Eleven. Since then, Zach has been loaned to both Rio Grande Valley FC Toros in the USL and Jacksonville Armada in the NASL. Jacksonville eventually bought the midfielder before the 2017 season and he enjoyed a relatively successful season with the club which could see a few MLS clubs taking interest.
9. Clément Simonin – Toronto FC
Toronto’s second of three picks on this list was Clément Simonin. The French defender spent seven years in FC Lorient’s academy in France before coming to America. Simonin went the full 90 in the club’s first game of his rookie season in 2015 but has only
appeared in the team once since. He struggled for minutes with Toronto FC II as well, only appearing in 13 games over two years before eventually going back home to France and playing for a club that goes by the name of Concarneau.
10. Connor Hallisey – Sporting Kansas City
In Connor’s rookie season, he made six starts, featured in 13 games and even grabbed an assist. For a rookie, not too bad, right? Unfortunately, even after a similar sophomore season, SKC didn’t reward him with a contract. Hallisey is not currently signed to any club but could certainly make an impact somewhere.
11. Skylar Thomas – Toronto FC
Yes, it’s Toronto again, and yes he was loaned to Toronto FC II again. Skylar Thomas has played 0 MLS minutes in his career but made 47 appearances for the club’s affiliate. Skylar decided to give up on the Toronto dream and moved to Charleston Battery at the start of the 2017 season. I can’t think of much else to say here, so I’ll just move onto number 12, who is surprisingly not a Toronto FC pick.
12. Saad Abdul-Salaam – Sporting Kansas City
Like a lot of these other players, Saad was quickly loaned out and was headed down a path a lot of these other players went down. Fortunately for him, after making just five appearances for the San Antonio Scorpions, SKC recalled him from loan and he has been a key part of the team since. He made 22 appearances in his rookie season and followed that up with another 30 in his sophomore season which ultimately saw him awarded the 2016 Sporting Kansas City Defender of the Year. Abdul-Salaam scored his first goal early in the 2017 MLS season. Despite all of this, SKC traded the player to NYCFC for the second overall in this same draft, Khiry Shleton.
13. Tim Parker- Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Tim Parker made 7 appearances for the club’s affiliate in his rookie season but has since stapled his name on the team sheet for the Whitecaps almost every week since then. Tim featured for the Whitecaps 15 times in his rookie season and another 29 times in
2016. The defender earned a call up to the January camp for the USMNT in 2016 and rightfully so. The 24-year- old grabbed his first MLS goal in 2017 and featured in 32 of the club’s 34 matches. Tim Parker is one of the most underrated defenders in MLS, ask any striker in the league.
14. Axel Sjöberg – Colorado Rapids
Axel started 14 games in his rookie season but had a breakthrough season in 2016. The defender played a big part in Colorado’s success in his sophomore season and I don’t use the word “big” loosely. The 6’7” defender was in the MLS Best XI and he deserved it. Sjöberg is one of the most feared defenders in the league and will be for years to come. The three picks prior to Axel were all defenders who have had less success than him so far in their early careers and Colorado will hope it stays that way.
15. Otis Earle – FC Dallas
Unfortunately, Otis just never got his chance. He was never given a single minute in Dallas and only made six appearances for Arizona United where he was loaned out to. There is not much more to say here, hopefully Otis can rebound and work his way back up to MLS at some point in the future.
You just read a little information of all fifteen players drafted before Cristian Roldan in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. So, it has to be asked, why was he picked so late? Okay, it happens all the time, some players can’t deal with all the responsibility of being a professional and some simply just aren’t good enough but in Cristian Roldan’s case it might just come down his dedication, love for the beautiful game and hard work. Hard work pays off and Cristian Roldan is a perfect example of that. Roldan found himself in and out of the starting XI in his rookie season where he made 11 starts, but was
featured 22 times. Not a bad rookie season, but he worked even harder the following season and the 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year appeared in 33 of the club’s 34 MLS games and really made a name for himself.
Cristian was one of the most important players in Seattle’s run to the MLS Cup and any Sounder fan will tell you that. In 2016, his game blossomed beautifully, and he showed the world the type of player he can become. Cristian is constantly adding new aspects to his game and is capable of playing anywhere in the middle of the pitch. His knowledge of the game also allows him to play any role he is asked to play. Roldan was even used as a left-back against FC Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals in his rookie season. Roldan once again played in 33 games for Seattle as well as grabbing a career-high 6 goals. Adding goal scoring to his game has brought him one step closer to becoming one of the most complete players in MLS, forget about the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. In that draft class, there are still a few players that you could argue have been more successful from a personal standpoint. But with Roldan playing a big part in Seattle’s 2016 MLS Cup win, I’m not sure there is any other player I’d rather have at my club.
Cyle Larin has been one of the most clinical players in the league since his arrival, Axel Sjöberg was in the 2016 MLS Best XI, but you could still argue Roldan was the better selection in the draft. As mentioned earlier, Roldan played a big part in Seattle’s MLS Cup win, but it might have just been the start. Roldan’s rapid growth in both experience and knowledge should have Seattle supporters excited for years and years to come. The Emerald City has truly found a gem in Cristian Roldan.
By: Jay Stucchio
Photo Credit: Seattle Sounders