LOS ANGELES â€” Toronto FC showed off some swagger at the MLS SuperDraft on Friday, choosing centre back Brandon Aubrey in the first round before trading its two second-round picks for targeted allocation money.
Aubrey, a highly touted prospect from Notre Dame, dropped down the ranks after a self-admitted poor showing at the pre-draft Combine. Taken 21st overall by Toronto, he was the seventh defender selected.
“It made no difference,” head coach Greg Vanney said of Aubrey’s Combine performance. “We spent a lot of time and energy on scouting players in their environment to see how they do. For us (the Combine) is just one small piece of it. We trust our scouting. We trust the people that this player has been around.”
Toronto’s draft table was indeed adorned with a binder of biblical proportions.
“This is where you have to be really good at scouting,” team president Bill Manning said of having the penultimate pick in the first round after finishing MLS Cup runners-up.
TFC then traded its second-round picks â€” Nos. 26 and 27 â€” to Chicago for US$75,000 in targeted allocation money â€” funds used to finance a high-end player.
“The message also is we didn’t need those picks to be good,” said Manning. “Because we have a good group right now.”
Essentially Toronto felt that the players it already has coming up the pipeline, including newly signed homegrown player Sergio Camargo, are better than what it could have got with the picks.
In so doing Toronto passed up on Canadian teenagers Shamit Shome and Adonijah Reid, Generation Adidas Canada players who were taken later in the rounds.
“We have the luxury now where we can use some of our picks as assets,” said GM Tim Bezbatchenko.
TFC fans may want to keep an eye on goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland (Louisville) and forward Guillermo Delgardo (Delaware), taken by the Fire using the Toronto picks.
Manning said he already has options to spend the targeted allocation money. He is looking for an attacking midfielder who can add something to the existing corps.
While he talked up the existing midfield, he said Toronto is looking for someone with a nose for goal. With veteran Will Johnson moving to Orlando, the team has some money.
Aubrey, he said, helps the depth situation at centre back. Right-back depth is also a minor issue with reserve Mark Bloom traded to Atlanta.
“It isn’t critical but it is a need,” Manning said.
Bezbatchenko already has a right back in mind.
Toronto said while its draft rankings were close to what actually went down, it had thought Aubrey would go in the top 15.
“When he fell, we were really pleased because we thought he was a need,” Manning said.
Aubrey, a solid six foot three and 192 pounds, said he had expected to be drafted higher. But he tried to see the glass half-full after struggling on the poorly named Team Chaos, which did not play well as a squad at the Combine.
“The great thing about the draft is if you’re a lower pick, you’re going with one of the better teams,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you get picked. It just matters how you perform when you get to your team.”
Aubrey said after each day at the Combine, he went back to his hotel room to watch film and see what he could do better.
“I definitely think I’m an analytical guy. I like to solve puzzles, put it that way” he said.
The 21-year-old Aubrey also won praise from Shome, a Team Chaos midfielder who went in the second round to the Montreal Impact.
“A solid centre back,” said Shome, an Edmonton native. “He’s a strong guy in the back, good in the air, vocal good with his feet.”
Vanney said Aubrey may have been the best-passing defender in the draft, is not afraid of physical play and is also good heading at set pieces.
“He’s also a cerebral defender … It’s just going to be about gaining some experience and getting used to the speed of the game at the professional level,” he added. “He comes with a lot of attributes that work for us.”
The coach expects Aubrey to see time as a member of Toronto FC 2. How much depends on how he performs.
“He’s a focused kid who has an opportunity to have a long career,” Vanney said.
Aubrey’s arrival adds depth in a backline that lost Josh Williams to Columbus in the off-season. Aubrey joins Clement Simonin in backing up the starting back three of Drew Moor, Nick Hagglund and Eriq Zavaleta.
“Put him in the mix,” Manning said of Aubrey. “He’s got a good pedigree.”
Manning called the veteran Moor, like Aubrey a Dallas native, the best mentor the young draft pick could have. Moor, who turns 33 on Sunday, was a rock in the Toronto defence last season.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with Drew’s influence on the team this past year, especially coming in as a free agent but the greatest thing about Drew is he’s a better guy off the field than he’s on the field. And that’s saying a lot because he’s a heck of a player on the field.”
Aubrey played striker as a freshman at Notre Dame and had been both a defensive and attacking midfielder at club level.
“I think I’m a natural fit at the centre back position,” he said, sporting a tie in the Fighting Irish green and blue colours. “It allows me to see the whole field.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press