MLS Draft Day: Whom will the RailHawks get? | Sports

MLS Draft Day: Whom will the RailHawks get?

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John Cunliffe, 2007 MLS Combine MVP, in a 2009 game against the Vancouver Whitecaps (Photo by Rich Bostwick)
  • John Cunliffe, 2007 MLS Combine MVP, in a 2009 game against the Vancouver Whitecaps (Photo by Rich Bostwick)

No, the RailHawks aren't picking players in today's MLS SuperDraft, to be held in Philadelphia at 2 p.m. However, recent history shows that the RailHawks and other D2 teams can expect to see some of these highly touted first- and second-rounders in the next couple of years.

Thanks to a blog I encountered on the Internets, I now know that three players who performed so well in recent MLS combines that they were named MVP of the thing are now Carolina RailHawks. That's right. Here's the list of recent combine MVPs:

  • 2005: Luke Kreamalmeyer (drafted by RSL, joined RailHawks in 2009)
  • 2006: Brian Plotkin (drafted by Chicago Fire, joined RailHawks in 2009)
  • 2007: John Cunliffe (drafted by Chivas USA, joined RailHawks in 2009)
  • 2008: Eric Brunner (drafted by Red Bull New York, joined Miami FC, now with Columbus Crew)
  • 2009: Stefan Frei (drafted by Toronto FC, made 26 appearances in 2009)
  • 2010: ?

Obviously, being named MVP of a brief meat market scouting combine is no sure ticket to D1 stardom. (Indeed, in a post on Tuesday about the combine, Ives Galarcep made a passing reference to Kreamalmeyer's award.) But the three future RailHawks all proved to be solid performers in D2 and could perhaps feature again in the MLS. And no doubt there will be a number of draftees today who will find their niche in D2 rather than the MLS.

In scanning the recent first  and second rounds of the MLS draft, I see that a number of picks ended up with the RailHawks: Cunliffe (2007, No. 7 overall); Nate Norman (2007, No. 21); Plotkin (2006, No. 20—three behind Jozy Altidore!);  Jack Stewart (2005, No. 10); Josh Gardner (2004; No. 13—five behind Clint Dempsey!); David Stokes (2003; No. 5); Chris Carrieri (2001; No. 1).

Let's look at another sampling of future prospects: the history of Generation Adidas (and its forerunner, the Nike-sponsored Project 40): There are definitely some future stars there (Tim Howard! DaMarcus Beasley!), but there are others, of course, who went on to relative anonymity, including two who more or less ended their careers with the RailHawks: the aforementioned Stokes and Carrieri.*

What all of this shows is that forecasting which college stars will become top-flight first division pro players is a highly inexact guessing game science. Who knows how Danny Mwanga of Oregon State, who is projected as the No. 1 overall pick, will pan out for the expansion Philadelphia Union? Or Teal Bunbury, winner of the 2009 MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best college player in the country?

Here's another interesting local angle to today's draft: Seven of the top nine projected selections featured in the 2009 NCAA College Cup that was held in Cary, NC, last month.

  • Tony Tchani (Virginia)
  • Ike Opara (Wake Forest)**
  • Teal Bunbury (Akron)
  • Corben Bone (Wake Forest)
  • Zach Loyd (North Carolina)
  • Blair Gavin (Akron)
  • Zack Schilawski (Wake Forest)**

The draft today promises to be fun. And of course, it will be interesting to look back on it a year or two from now to see how today's stars of tomorrow ultimately fared.

UPDATE NO. 1 (Jan. 15, 2010; 10:46 a.m.): The Richmond Kickers of USL's second division announced Thursday that Carrieri, who played for them in a part-time capacity last year, will play full-time this season.

UPDATE NO. 2 (Jan. 15, 2010; 10:48 a.m.): Opara, a 6-foot-2 defender who went to Jordan High School in Durham and then Wake Forest University, was selected third overall in the MLS SuperDraft by the San Jose Earthquakes. Schilawski, a forward and native of Cary who had an illustrious career with CASL, Cary High School, the Cary RailHawks U23 PDL team and Wake Forest, was taken by the New England Revolution with the ninth overall pick.

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