MLS Forecasts For Two Young Players

Rapid Fire
Meredith H. Keffer

All-American Andre Akpan was selected 22nd overall in this year’s MLS SuperDraft by the Colorado Rapids. Fellow senior Kwaku Nyamekye was also picked in the fourth round by MLS Champs Columbus Crew.

Two hours had passed. Seven other forwards had been taken. Most of the prospective players on-site in Philadelphia for the 2010 MLS SuperDraft had already heard their names called and were making the rounds through media and PR personnel.

Yet All-American Andre Akpan ’10, Hermann Trophy finalist, all-time leading scorer for Harvard (127 points), and unanimous All-Ivy selection, remained seated along with his family hoping for his name to be called.

Members of the media were coming up to me asking for my opinion on the precipitous drop of Akpan’s draft stock. I did my best to reason that his MLS combine performance (underwhelming by most accounts) had hurt him, but surely four years of dominance (including a stint with the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team) would take precedent in team evaluations, right? At least for one team, that seemed to be the case.

At 4:07 p.m., with the 22nd pick in the draft, the Colorado Rapids selected Akpan. Three hours later, senior Kwaku Nyamekye, another member of the Crimson men’s soccer team was selected by the Columbus Crew.

Both players consistently outperformed their counterparts in Ivy League play—the question now remains, can they adapt their skills to the professional level?

Let’s take a closer look at the teams the duo have joined and their prospects for success.

SWEET HOME COLORADO

Akpan joins a Rapids team that is eager to enter the upper echelon of MLS clubs. Colorado has narrowly missed the playoffs in each of their last three seasons, but their off-season transactions (and talent on the offensive side of the ball) could beckon a new era of success.

The team boasts one of the best striker duos in MLS with US National Team member Conor Casey and Jamaican international Omar Cummings. The two combined to record 24 goals and 13 assists during the 2009 season.

With Akpan falling to the second round, the Rapids seized the opportunity to add needed depth at the forward position. Barring injury, Akpan won’t be playing a prominent role in the starting line-up but can easily grab some playing time off the bench if he can consistently outperform his competition. Forwards Pat Noonan and Facundo Diz will be Akpan’s main opposition for minutes; Noonan featured in 17 games last season and scored two goals while Diz only played 97 minutes the entire season.

Noonan was similarly a runner-up for the Hermann trophy and has played 12 times for the U.S. National Team, but has been on a decline in form since he became a prominent starter for the New England Revolution. Akpan, who almost resembles an amalgamation of Casey and Cummings, should take advantage of the knowledge and experience at his disposal. He won’t be able to replicate the success he enjoyed in college to the MLS as his speed is simply average at the Pro level, but his proclivity for finding the back of the net is a skill that can’t be taught.

With Casey potentially missing several MLS games if he gets called up to the U.S. National Team for this summer’s World Cup, Akpan may find himself in a situation where he can receive valuable playing time mid-way through the season. It will take about half the season for Akpan to adjust to the pro game but he may be primly positioned to apply the knowledge gained from his veteran teammates when minutes become available.

THERE’S A ROAD OUTSIDE COLUMBUS

Nyamekye’s journey from Switzerland to Cambridge has now led him to the 2008 MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew. However, his transition from collegiate to professional soccer is wrought with obstacles.

Unlike Akpan, Nyamekye faces a far more difficult task in not only getting minutes with his squad but simply making the roster. MLS clubs can have a maximum of 24 players on the roster, four of whom have to be developmental players (A designation for players 25 years of age or younger who do not count towards a club’s salary budget).

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