By Kevin Koczwara
New England Revolution General Manager Mike Burns felt pretty good about his team’s draft picks in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. New England picked Generation adidas (GA) and UCLA midfielder Kelyn Rowe with the 3rd pick in the draft and GA defender Tyler Polak from Creighton with the 22nd pick. But there is always a hint of doubt when talking about MLS draft picks because, like with every other draft in professional sports, there are intangibles that can’t be measured and no one knows how a player will develop as a professional.
“We felt pretty good [about the draft]. I mean you never really know for sure until you get the drafted players into camp and training with our guys regularly,” Burns said on the phone.
Polak is already at camp working with the team. Rowe will join the team after he finishes training with the U.S. Under-23 Olympic team on Jan. 25 when the Revs travel to Arizona.
Rowe’s selection at No.3 wasn’t much a surprise. Rowe is one of the few midfielders in the 2012 draft pool with the kind of creativity that is in short supply and high demand in the U.S. talent pool. His role in the build-up to the U.S. Olympic team shows the kind of quality he can and should bring to a Revolution side desperately in search of a player who can unlock defenses and score goals
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had that high a pick in the draft. And for us, we felt Kelyn was the best overall player available at No. 3 and that’s why we selected him,” said Burns. “We feel he is a creative type, offensive player, whether it be as a second forward, as a true No. 10 or play out wide. We feel like his versatility will help us.”
Rowe being available was no surprise, and the Revolution selecting him there wasn’t either. But, when Polak was still on the board in the second round at the No. 22 pick New England snapped him up because it was a surprise to see the left back still on the board. The GA defender was one of the best left backs in the draft, and a GA (GA’s don’t count against the team’s salary cap). Burns and coach Jay Heaps didn’t wait to snap up the left-footed player.
“In regards to Tyler, I don’t think I can remember when we came out of a draft with two Generation adidas players. So, that was certainly appealing to us. We didn’t think, frankly, that he was going to be there in the second round,” said Burns.
“We were surprised. Generally speaking, most of the GA’s signing go in the first round — there’s obviously a reason why they’re signed to GA contracts,” continued Burns. “We were surprised when he was there at the 22nd pick and ii made our decision pretty easy. That’s not to say that we didn’t rate any other players, but Tyler is a Generation adidas player and plays as a left back, which is another need for us. We felt it was an easy decision at 22.”
Polak is a rare breed in MLS, and around the world truthfully. He is a left back with plenty of potential and upside. He is young, left-footed, and with a bright future ahead of him. New England played most of last season without a left back on the roster after releasing Seth Sinovic — a second round pick from Creighton by New England in 2010 — and Didier Domi. Darrius Barnes, a right-footed center back, filled in for much of the season and played well, but struggled in possession and going forward from the left side of the defense. Chris Tierney, a left-sided player, played there when Barnes was unavailable and did okay, but his lack of pace kept him from playing out there more often than not.
With Polak, the Revs have a true left back, finally, and a player who can run with the best wingers and get forward well to deliver crosses. But he still needs work on his one-on-one defending and will have to mature into a professional player. It’s not easy going from the short college season to the gruelling 34 game season in MLS.
“You can’t go into it expecting a rookie to play every minute of 34 games,” said Burns. “We realize there is a learning curve there. We realize that it’s difficult for a lot of rookies to play 34 games over the course of a long season. Having said that, we feel like Tyler has a very big upside.
“I wouldn’t say our league has an abundance of left-footed players, whether it be left back or left midfielders. Not only does he fill a need, but he’s also a left sided player who we feel has a big upside.”
A major upside for Polak is that his GA contract allowed hi to leave school and join the Revolution’s training camp from the start. He started training with the team right away, allowing him to fill in and mesh with his teammates and get acclimated to his new surroundings.
“We’re glad he was able to join us on the first day of preseason. Sometimes when you get rookies, when they’re able to come in and join straight away it gives them more time to adjust and adapt to their new environment, their new situation, their new club, get their apartment situation sorted so they can concentrate on soccer,” said Burns. “We feel like he’s off to the start we’re hoping for.”
For Revolution fans, they will hope Polak continues on and fills one of the team’s major holes from last season. Left back isn’t an easy position to fill at any level. It requires a special person and player who can work defend and track wingers while having the pace and skill to go forward and play the ball out of the back. With the 22nd pick, the Revs may have lucked out and got one of the many missing puzzle pieces at a cheap price, which will allow them to work on the next step: finding a forward to score goals.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at email@example.com.