Going into the draft, New York City had three areas of concern: defensive midfield, left back, and forward. If New York City is going to play in a diamond formation, they need a defensive midfielder to serve as the base of that diamond.
Of the six midfielders New York City had on the roster, two were midfield shuttlers — Ned Grabavoy and Mehdi Ballouchy. Two were box-to-box midfielders — Matthew Dunn and Andrew Jacobson. The last two, Tommy McNamara and Sebastian Velasquez, are attacking midfielders, though McNamara can play on the right.
Given that need, most MLS observers figured New York City would select University of Washington midfielder Cristian Roldan. While Roldan played attacking midfield in college, the young midfielder is a crafty playmaker who can play anywhere in the midfield, and he's a dynamic option who can break down opposing attacks.
His size, though, was seen as an issue — he’s 5-8. Moreover, his youth meant that it could be a while before he could contribute regularly to the team.
New York City was set to pick…and then they took a five-minute timeout. Coaches and front office personnel shuttled back and forth across the convention center floor; Jason Kreis got on his phone, then off it. A huddle hunched together at New York City’s table, then decisively broke apart.
As it turned out, San Jose offered New York City a hefty - but undisclosed - amount of allocation money for the second overall pick. New York City said no.
With that pick, the team selected Oregon State forward Khiry Shelton. At 6-3 and 180 pounds, Shelton has the size of a target forward, but over the course of his college career, he’s demonstrated uncanny vision and passing ability as well. In his four year career with the Beavers, he played midfield and forward, and his statistics bear out his distributive ability.
This past year, Shelton’s soft feet and creativity on the ball helped him score 10 goals and create 12 assists in 20 games. His junior year, he had nine goals and 12 assists. Shelton’s dribbling ability and speed give him the confidence to run at players with the ball, while his scoring touch and size let him play as a target forward. With his speed, Shelton can also play wide on either side of the field. Those gifts made him the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Going into the draft, most people rated him the best senior forward available. Given New York City’s need for forwards, picking Shelton over Roldan was easy to do, especially since the team needs someone who can step in and contribute right away.
New York City then had to wait until the second round for its next pick. With the 23rd pick overall, they selected University of San Diego midfielder Connor Brandt. His selection came as a bit of a surprise; the Top Drawer Soccer Big Board had him ranked 50th on their list of MLS draft prospects. While Brandt is listed as a midfielder, at the start of the MLS Combine in Florida, he was asked to play left back, and he acquitted himself well in that position. That’s where we’re projecting he’ll play for Jason Kreis.
Brandt has an excellent left foot, and can play anywhere on the left from back to front; he’s the kind of defender with attacking chops that Kreis likes. In a sense, you can think of him as a Robbie Rogers-type player with a little more size. One of the concerns for New York City is Chris Wingert’s age; at 32, Wingert is probably on the downslope of his career, so it doesn’t hurt to start polishing Brandt as his understudy and eventual replacement.
As a Gaucho, Brandt became a clutch player for the team, finishing fourth in his career with nine game-winning goals. He was named the West Coast Conference’s Player of the Year in 2014 after finishing with seven goals and six assists, and was a two-time all-conference selection. He played 64 games in three years, finishing with 16 goals and 15 assists.
With today’s draft selections, New York City addressed two areas of need with players who can contribute right away, particularly up top with Shelton. They still need a defensive midfielder, though. While Grabavoy could fill that role — and has in the past, for Real Salt Lake — it’s more likely that New York City signs someone; Javier Calle, whom various reports have linked to the club, might be that signing. Matthew Dunn could fill that role, but he’s more of a medium-to-long-term project as it stands right now.
Regardless, after today, the roster is looking much more complete than before. With preseason training starting next Saturday, it’s all coming together for New York City in the nick of time.