In a surprising move, the San Jose Earthquakes selected Michigan State senior Fatai Alashe with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 MLS Super Draft Thursday afternoon.
Alashe, 20, was a four year starter for the Spartans as a defensive midfielder and was named a NSCAA second team All-American last month, after scoring eight goals and notching eight assists in 2014.
Alashe did not feature at the recent MLS player combine due to a groin injury.
Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear talked about the decision to select Alashe in a press release:
“Fatai is a good all-around midfielder with a lot of range. He can play in the holding role or a little farther up the field, so we are very happy to get him. We interviewed a number of players at the combine and he impressed us there as well. He is a player with a lot of promise and we are looking forward to seeing him when training camp opens.”
Interestingly, San Jose’s first choice was to trade up for New York City FC’s second overall pick, using allocation money to sweeten the deal. Something ultimately fell through, according to comments made by Dominic Kinnear during the Super Draft broadcast.
This was likely an attempt to select Oregon State standout Khiry Shelton, as Kinnear also mentioned the club is still looking to sign a forward with “pace to break away and threaten defense.” NYCFC selected Shelton at second overall.
The decision to select Alashe at fourth overall was not wholly unexpected, as mlssoccer.com did project him as a potential target for San Jose. It was still curious, considering the Earthquakes already have three defensive midfielders on their roster in Sam Cronin, Jean Baptiste-Pierazzi and JJ Koval.
Cronin is out of contract but was assumed to be returning after San Jose protected him in the recent expansion draft. Pierazzi was less then spectacular in his first season with the club, but is highly valued by the front office, and his $240,000 price tag would prove hard to offload while his stock is low. Koval is coming off a nice rookie campaign and, though he is currently training in Portugal with FC Benfica, is expected to return.
Despite the the bodies, defensive midfield — and the midfield in general — was a weak spot for the Earthquakes last season.
Neither Pierazzi nor Cronin were consistently effective, mostly due to the fact that their skill sets were not complementary enough to make for an effective pairing. Koval showed flashes early in the season, but he didn’t get enough consistent playing time to make a serious impact.
Alashe is a different type of player. A physical and hard tackling midfielder that Kinnear believes is versatile enough to both slot in at center back or move up the pitch as a distributer, something his goal/assist totals in college reinforce.
With two aging CM’s in Pierazzi and Cronin, San Jose may see Koval and Alashe as the midfield partnership of the future. Exactly when that future starts remains to be seen.
Depending on San Jose’s ability to offload one of those veterans, it could be sooner rather than later.