The San Jose Earthquakes announced today that they had acquired the rights to forward Billy Schuler in a weighted lottery conducted at MLS headquarters.
Schuler, who previously played for Swedish side Hammarby IF, was an All-American standout with the 2011 NCAA champions University of North Carolina. A sure-fire top-five pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Schuler eschewed a Generation Adidas contract offer from MLS to pursue a professional career overseas.
In two years abroad, the 5'11" forward scored two goals in 26 appearances with Hammarby while also spending time with the club's developmental team Nacka FF. Schuler's coach in Sweden, Gregg Berhalter, also moved stateside recently when he took the head coaching job with the Columbus Crew. Injuries limited Schuler's opportunities while with Hammarby, but he joins MLS with a clean bill of health.
Because his contract rights were never awarded within MLS, the league used its weighted lottery system to assign Schuler to a club. All MLS clubs except for FC Dallas, which won a weighted lottery last week for midfielder Brian Span, had a chance to enter the lottery, but only San Jose and Real Salt Lake chose to do so. Interestingly, the Crew declined the opportunity to win Schuler despite his obvious connection to Berhalter, but the Crew coach told Columbus Dispatch writer Adam Jardy that his squad was already set at forward. The Quakes capitalized on their 95.7% chance of winning Schuler against RSL's paltry 4.3%.
In their two previous weighted lottery wins, the Earthquakes held single-digit odds. David Bingham joined the team in early 2011 when the Quakes had only an 8.8% chance of landing the California goalkeeper. A year later, San Jose made out like bandits in garnering former Hermann Trophy winner Marcus Tracy with scant 4.6% odds. By virtue of winning the rights to Schuler, San Jose will be excluded from all subsequent weighted lotteries for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Was it the right decision to enter the Schuler lottery, especially without knowing what other potential players might be made available as the season wears on? After all, the addition of Schuler to San Jose gives the Earthquakes six forwards out of 21 players on their current roster. A big name that could eventually enter MLS through the same mechanism is Connecticut freshman midfielder Cyle Larin, who has flirted with signing a Generation Adidas contract ahead of this week's draft, but may elect to turn pro after the proceedings and be available via a weighted lottery. Did the Quakes pull the trigger to early in the year?
"Billy is a talented young player and we are looking forward to working with him," said Earthquakes head coach Mark Watson in a club statement. "He adds to a deep group of forwards that we have on the roster."
Prior to the addition on Schuler, the Quakes counted among their forward corps Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon, Mike Fucito, and Adam Jahn. Schuler's game is much more based on speed than any of those five, so he could add a wrinkle to the Quakes tactics. Recently added winger Atiba Harris is also much faster than the forward five, so plays a similar position to one imagined for Schuler. The decision to bring the former Tarheel aboard was clearly made in order to add depth on offense.
If Schuler were to start, would it be alongside Wondolowski? To do so would leave the possible target-forward duties to Harris off the wing. Or, Watson might use the faster line-up on offense to attack opponents on the ground. Add in the speed Shea Salinas brings from the opposite wing as Harris, and the Earthquakes could become very adept at stretching defenses and creating more opportunities for Wondolowski in front of goal. Used off the bench, Schuler's speed would allow him to exploit tired defenders and let more players come into the attacking third from their deeper positions.
With the addition of Schuler, it is unlikely Watson and general manager John Doyle will spend a high draft pick on another forward -- unlike one MLS mock draft that had San Jose selecting one with its round two pick. Instead the focus turns to the midfield and defense. And with up to nine more slots open on the club's 2014 roster, the Earthquakes will be pretty busy in the coming weeks. The Earthquakes begin their preseason training schedule on Monday, January 27.
Video Highlights of Billy Schuler at UNC: