The growing investment in and importance of MLS academies have taken away much of the best domestic talent out of the league’s draft, but international talent that stands out in college can still be plentiful in the draft.
Three of the first five picks and six of the first 12 in the 2018 draft were foreign-born players. The Fire traded up to snag two of those players, Jon Bakero and Mo Adams. Both went through the academy systems in their native countries before journeying across the Atlantic to college and now in MLS. Not counting Jack Harrison, who was traded within minutes of being the top pick in the 2016 draft, the Fire hadn’t drafted a player born outside the U.S. in the first round since 2008 (Patrick Nyarko).
Bakero’s story has received more attention because the Spanish-born player is the son of a former FC Barcelona and Spanish national team player, Jose Mari Bakero. He joined Wake Forest after not having any pro prospects in Spain and turned into a Hermann Trophy winner this fall, capping off a four-year career that included an appearance in the College Cup final in 2016.
“I think I’ve been able to learn the Spanish system, the American system and I think that having three and a half years in college allowed me to fully develop as a player, as a person and I think I’m ready now to start my professional career,” Bakero said during the first week of the Fire’s preseason training.
Bakero completed his college career, but Adams left after two years at Syracuse, another ACC powerhouse program. The defensive midfielder played for the academies of Nottingham Forest and Derby County before being offered a professional contract at Blackburn. However, Adams was unable to sign the deal due to injury.
“That was kind of a point where I didn’t know what to do next,” Adams said. “There’s different agencies that sort of release players with scholarships in the States. I kind of decided to take that route. It’s something different, a new chapter that you can learn from. Two years at Syracuse and now I’m here on the professional level.”
When asked about Dom Dwyer, Orlando City’s English-born forward who played collegiately and has since played for the U.S. national team, Adams said Dwyer was someone who helped him make the decision to come stateside.
Adams noted the differences between the way the English and American games are played. He said in the U.S. the game is “more aggressive and intense” but has shortcomings in other areas.
“I think in England the speed of play is maybe quicker, but I think is less intense in that aspect,” Adams said. “The guys think quicker, but not necessarily move as quick. Here you can see the ball and you’ve got two, three guys closing you down straight away. You’re playing against guys who are a lot bigger, more physical and stuff like that. I think that it’s good that I’ve experienced both sides of things.”
As the Fire’s roster currently stands, both players should have a good opportunity to snag regular minutes. Bakero is likely in line to be the first choice attacking midfielder behind, or even potentially alongside, striker Nemanja Nikolic if the Fire don’t add any players at that spot in the next month. Adams could be a leading candidate to fill the minutes lost with Juninho’s departure after his loan expired at the end of 2017.