Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press
New England defender Jay Heaps, right, gets an elbow from Real Salt Lake forward Tino Nunez.

The MLS SuperDraft has proven to be a crapshoot since the league's inception in 1996. It stands to reason then that the secondary Supplemental Draft, held a week later, is an even bigger gamble.

Of the 48 players taken in the inaugural Supplemental Draft in 2005, Real Salt Lake's first year in the league, only six are still in the league. Eight of the 2006 crop are still around, while 16 players from the 2007 supplemental draft are still on MLS rosters.

For players bypassed in the more prestigious SuperDraft, they have approximately a 50 percent chance of making an MLS roster their first year. Within two years, there's about a 15 percent chance they'll even still be around.

Real Salt Lake forward Tino Nunez is hoping to defy those daunting odds.

Taken with the 17th pick in the Supplemental Draft, after 56 players were already snagged in the SuperDraft, expectations weren't that high for the Southern California native.

To make matters worse, he came into training in February a little out of shape and overweight. The coaching staff never lost faith, though. Several coaches on RSL's technical staff had seen Nunez play during his college days at UC Santa Barbara, and they all raved about his abilities. Despite being only 5-foot-8, he was still a strong target forward who played much bigger than his frame would seemingly allow.

Now, five months after being drafted in a spot that guaranteed him nothing more than a shot to prove himself in training camp, Nunez is getting regular minutes with Real Salt Lake's first team.

"I think he's done really, really well so far. His development's been fantastic," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "His soccer game improves every time he comes out, and now he's good enough to be in consideration to start for this team."

He hasn't been rewarded with that elusive first start yet, but he's appeared as a substitute in seven straight matches and scored the game-winning goal against New England on June 21. He's also coming off a two-goal performance in last weekend's reserve game.

Like most young players, Nunez's first opportunity was made possible by injuries. Almost simultaneously this season, RSL forwards Yura Movsisyan and Fabian Espindola went down with injuries, bumping Nunez up the forward depth chart behind Robbie Findley and Kenny Deuchar.

Kreis chuckles when recounting how scared Nunez looked when he was inserted into his first match on May 31 against San Jose. In the month since, the fear has gradually subsided with each opportunity he's been given.

"I'm getting good support from the older guys, and they give me that confidence to be able to play with them," Nunez said. "Right now things are going well for me, and I'm confident. I'm able to play more relaxed."

With Movsisyan and Espindola both close to being match fit again, playing time for Nunez is going to be even tougher to come by.

He's OK with that. He's already proven to be a student of the game, and he's hoping to make it in Major League Soccer for more than just a year or two like the majority of the Supplemental Draft picks before him.

Jared Larentowicz is the perfect example of how talent can slip through the cracks. Taken in the fourth round of the Supplemental Draft in 2005, he's now a regular for the league-leading New England Revolution.

"Hopefully, I keep getting more opportunities. It's tough with the good group of forwards we have on this team. I just try and learn as much as I can, especially my first year, and try and survive in this league," Nunez said.

Since scoring the winning goal in the 60th minute against New England, Nunez has been given opportunities in the past two matches but failed to goal as RSL lost at Kansas City and had a 0-0 draw against Houston.

It's not alarming for Kreis.

"A lot of what happens for him is going to be about service, if somebody gets him that ball inside the box to get a chance to score," Kreis said. "Last (Saturday) there was one half chance I thought he could've slid and knocked that in, but other than that I don't think he really had any chance to score."

At least he's getting a chance to play, which few would've expected from a second round Supplemental Draft pick.


E-mail: jedward@desnews.com