The MLS SuperDraft is meant as a way for MLS teams to find the hottest young players hailing either from the States or elsewhere that are enrolled in a US college soccer program and bring them from their dorm rooms right up to the biggest league for professional soccer in the country. Sometimes those teams draft players that turn out to be important pieces towards the team winning silverware at the end of the season, other times those players amount to being nothing at all. Regardless, the draft is still an important tool for an MLS team like it is for a team in any other major professional sports league on the continent, and a number of players over the years have given credence to that with MLS titles, big moves to Europe and World Cup appearances to show for it.
Many, if not all, of the players on this list aren’t exactly ones you could classify as being elite – in fact, most of these players only make yearly base salaries in the six figure range. That’s hardly a surprise, given that the MLS is not exactly the Premier League or La Liga or any other major professional league in Europe. However, some players that have been drafted into the MLS since 2003 have flourished enough to convince overseas clubs to take them on, and players such as Clint Dempsey and Brad Guzan have relished that opportunity after the Premier League came calling for both of them.
Some players are still enjoying their time in Europe, while others have come back home to play in a league that is growing fast given the arrivals of players such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry to the league over the years. Many of the 10 men on this list will be fighting for a place on Jurgen Klinsmann’s United States team for this summer’s World Cup, and hope to prove that they’ve come a long way from the college upstarts they were when they were drafted. Let’s take a look at the 10 best MLS first rounders since 2003.
10 Omar Gonzalez - Los Angeles Galaxy ($205,000 in 2014)
Having been drafted 3rd overall by the Galaxy in 2009, central defender Omar Gonzalez has lived up to his hype so far, at least by MLS standards. Gonzalez won MLS Rookie of the Year that same year, has been featured among the MLS Best XI of the year three times, and has won two MLS Cups with a Galaxy team that at one point boasted David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan. The Dallas native is making a base salary of $205,000, and is now looking certain to hold down a place on the starting XI for the US national team at the World Cup in Brazil this summer.
9 Michael Parkhurst - Columbus Crew ($300,000 in 2014)
Moving back to the MLS with the Columbus Crew after an unsuccessful stint with Augsburg in the Bundesliga that saw him play only two games, Michael Parkhurst is looking to nail down a spot at the World Cup with what he hopes will be more playing time. Parkhurst was previously with the New England Revolution, after the Rhode Islander was drafted by his hometown club in 2005 at ninth overall. Parkhurst has a base salary of upwards of $300,000 with the Crew, and has garnered 23 caps thus far with the U.S. national team, playing with them at three Gold Cups.
8 Clarence Goodson - San Jose Earthquakes ($315,000 in 2014)
Returning home to the MLS after a lengthy stint in Scandinavia, Clarence Goodson is also hoping to lock down a place in the World Cup with the San Jose Earthquakes. Goodson – who makes $315,000 this year – was drafted seventh overall by what was then called the Dallas Burn (now known as FC Dallas), and moved to IK Start in Norway in 2008. Goodson – whose time at Danish club Brøndby was featured in an episode of House Hunters International – has established himself as a U.S. national team regular, with 44 caps and five goals to his name thus far, and will hope to make his second consecutive appearance on the team’s World Cup squad this summer.
7 Chad Marshall - Seattle Sounders ($361,250 in 2014)
A newcomer to the Seattle Sounders, Chad Marshall joined the club after a long stint with the Columbus Crew, where he was captain. Marshall was drafted second overall by the Crew in 2004, and built up enough of a reputation to be MLS Defender of the Year in 2008 and 2009, and also gain 11 caps for his country. However, Marshall is not expected to contend for a place in Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad at the World Cup this summer, which will likely be disappointing for him as he was also one of Bob Bradley’s cuts for the tournament in South Africa four years ago. Marshall is currently making $361,250 for the Sounders this season.
6 Maurice Edu - Philadelphia Union ($480,000 in 2014)
Maurice Edu was lucky to take his career further than his days of being Toronto FC’s first overall pick in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, as he had stints with Rangers, Bursaspor and Stoke City before joining the Philadelphia Union on loan earlier this year. Edu only played one game for the Potters before returning to the MLS, and the man capped 45 times so far for the U.S. will hope to gatecrash Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad at the eleventh hour. Edu is making between $480,000 and $600,000 for the Union this season after the MLS balked at his initial salary demand of $1.2 million per season.
5 Sacha Kljestan - Anderlecht ($729,500 in 2014)
Despite having gained significant Champions League experience and playing for arguably the top club in Belgium, Sacha Kljestan is still somewhat of a bubble player for the U.S. national team. Taken fifth overall by Chivas USA in 2006, Kljestan has been capped 45 times with four goals to show for it, and is making $729,500 with Brussels-based club Anderlecht this season – having won two league titles with the club so far. After just barely missing out on the squad in 2010, Kljestan will hope to convince Jurgen Klinsmann enough to bring him on a plane to Brazil this summer.
4 Yura Movsisyan - Spartak Moscow ($2 million in 2014)
The only member of this list not representing the United States internationally, Yura Movsisyan has proven himself a consistent goal scorer during his time in Russia over the past few seasons. Currently a member of Spartak Moscow, the Los Angeles native and Armenian international is making about $2 million with the Russian club. Having been selected fourth overall by Kansas City in 2006 despite not being a U.S. youth international, Movsisyan is establishing himself as a prolific forward for Spartak as well as a regular for his country; a country that is growing in terms of footballing talent, with Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan also among the best footballers to come out of Armenia in the game today.
3 Brad Guzan - Aston Villa ($2.56 million in 2014)
After being the second overall pick by Chivas USA in the 2005 draft, Brad Guzan has certainly come a long way. He has gained 24 caps with the U.S. national team despite perpetually not being able to dislodge Tim Howard from the number one spot, and has established himself as the undisputed number one keeper for Aston Villa since his arrival at the club in 2008. Guzan is making $2.56 million this season with Villa, and will be extremely likely to be Howard’s backup in Brazil this summer, just as he was four years ago in South Africa with a U.S. team that topped their group before losing to Ghana in the round of 16.
2 Brek Shea - Barnsley ($3.8 million in 2014)
For a player with so much promise right out of the gate, Brek Shea’s stint with Stoke City has so far proven to be a disappointment, not helped by a knee injury at the start of the 2013-14 season. Shea has so far only played three games with the Potters, and is currently on loan at Championship side Barnsley. Drafted second overall by FC Dallas in 2008, Shea is making $3.8 million this season, and now faces a bit of an uphill battle to make Klinsmann’s U.S. team this season, despite the left winger’s immense talent and potential.
1 Clint Dempsey - Fulham ($8 million in 2014)
Undisputedly one of the U.S. national team’s most important players, Clint Dempsey has returned on a two-month loan to former club Fulham despite his current role as a member of the MLS’ Seattle Sounders. Expected to help lead the U.S. team’s attack in Brazil this summer, Dempsey is making $8 million this season, and has undoubtedly established himself as one of the best North American players currently in the game both with his club and international career, making the Europa League final with Fulham in 2010. Not bad for someone who initially came onto the scene as the New England Revolution’s eighth overall pick in 2004.