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MLS Draft 2017: Timbers, NYCFC trade big assets to move up and snag top forwards

NYCFC and Portland are gambling on the upside of Jonathan Lewis and Jeremy Ebobisse by making big trades to get them.

MLS: Combine Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The MLS SuperDraft got off to an intriguing start on Friday, with three of the top four picks turning out to be forwards, and two of those picks being made after teams traded significant assets to acquire them.

Minnesota United started the day off by taking Abu Danladi with the first overall pick, then New York City FC and the Portland Timbers both traded up into the third and fourth picks, respectively, taking Jonathan Lewis and Jeremy Ebobisse to make the top end of the draft very attack-heavy.

NYCFC acquired the third pick from the Chicago Fire for $250,000 in allocation money — the first-ever trade we’ve been given official word on the allocation money value thanks to a new MLS rule put in effect on Friday — to acquire Lewis. The former Akron striker opened a lot of eyes at the recent draft combine, and plays with a slick style up top coupled with smart, heads-up play not often seen from a forward of his age. $250,000 may not sound like a lot of money in the wider soccer stage, but in MLS that’s quite a lot of allocation money that teams could use on a few different players to help their salary cap, so that’s a huge chunk of resources that New York just used to go and get Lewis.

Portland didn’t give up as much allocation money to get Ebobisse, but the $100,000 they sent to the Houston Dynamo is still a notable amount of financial resources, and they also gave up roster flexibility in the form of an international player slot to acquire the fourth overall pick. That said, many will feel that Ebobisse is worth the cost — he was projected as the first overall pick by many outlets, and the ex-Duke forward’s tremendous talents represent a huge value where Portland got him. Ebobisse also already has some professional experience with the Charleston Battery of the USL. The Timbers needed to add depth, youth, and talent up top in a bad way this winter, and Ebobisse gives them that in spades.

Minnesota may not have spent huge resources to get Danladi, but if rumors from earlier in the day are to be believed, they did turn down the chance to acquire significant assets to make him their first-ever draft pick as an MLS franchise. There was significant talk early on Friday that Minnesota were in position to make a trade out of the first selection with picks and a lot of allocation money coming their way, but instead they elected to stay put and take one of the biggest wild cards in the draft in Danladi. Nearly everyone agrees that he’s the biggest talent in the 2017 draft, but injuries and some inconsistencies at UCLA left some wondering if he should go first overall or in the fifth-to-10th range because of the questions as to how sure it is that he can reach his potential.

None of these three players are guarantees, and it’s entirely possible that all three teams ultimately regret their decisions to give up the assets that they did to get these players. But when you look at the talents they acquired, the sheer upside that Danladi, Ebobisse and Lewis bring to the table, you can definitely understand why these teams decided to roll the dice. We very often see MLS teams play a more conservative game when it comes to the draft, so seeing this kind of risk-taking is a refreshing change of pace, and perhaps a sign of wider change in the league.