Our group is starting to use the term exponential, and we're trying to find pieces that are exponentially better than what we have, and thankfully it's becoming harder and harder to do that. —RSL general manager Craig Waibel
Real Salt Lake general manager Craig Waibel isn’t too worried heading into the MLS Draft on Friday at 1 p.m. (MDT) in Los Angeles.
With the 13th pick, Waibel knows there are numerous options that could play out well before RSL’s pick arrives, but even then he’s confident a quality player will still be available.
“We think there’s a number of good guys, and we’re hoping other people don’t feel the same way,” said Waibel.
Regardless of who RSL nabs at No. 13, Waibel said it’s already been a successful offseason in terms of stocking the roster with college talent.
Back in December, the club signed UCLA midfielder and former RSL-Arizona Academy player Jose Hernandez, 20, to a homegrown contract. Hernandez was Pac-12 Freshman of the Year two years ago, and last season was named Pac-12 Co-Player of the year. Waibel believes Hernandez was one of the top five players in college soccer last year.
“We consider (the 13th) pick to be our second-first round pick,” said Waibel.
In addition to the 13th pick in the first round, RSL owns the 35th overall pick in the second round. The third and fourth rounds of the MLS draft will be held next Tuesday via conference call. RSL has three additional picks, 48th, 57th and 79th overall.
With so many other mechanisms for MLS teams to sign players, the college draft is realistically all about the first pick.
RSL made four selections in the 2016 draft, but only fifth overall pick Omar Holness made the first team. The other three signed contracts with the RSL Monarchs.
Waibel said all the picks are important, but a lot of time is spent on getting the first one right.
“We are very focused on the way we prioritize and we do a lot of homework. We do a lot of homework before (the MLS scouting combine) and we watch a lot of college soccer cause we want to try and get this pick right every year,” said Waibel.
Real Salt Lake kicks off the 2017 preseason in Phoenix on Jan. 23, with the regular season kicking off on March 4 at home against Toronto FC.
Waibel believes it’s been a very productive offseason for RSL, and said the trend of the roster getting younger is great for the future of the club.
“If you look at where the roster is today, we’ve made a lot of decisions that represent a lot of commitment to our young guys. Not trying to overshadow them, not trying to handcuff them, and that’s something I consider to be a great stride forward with where we are,” said Waibel.
More signings may come before the season starts, but Waibel doesn’t view them as a must.
“Our group is starting to use the term exponential, and we’re trying to find pieces that are exponentially better than what we have, and thankfully it’s becoming harder and harder to do that,” said Waibel.
That's especially the case with trying to strengthen the roster through the MLS draft.