The 2023 MLR draft has concluded, and Old Glory has selected five new player who will get to take a shot at professional rugby in the nation's capital. It was a big night, with Old Glory drafting more players tonight than they had in both of the previous drafts combined.
- University of British Columbia
- Round 1, Pick 3 (3rd overall)
- Highlight reel
Old Glory clearly had a strategy in the draft of focusing on the tight five: props, hookers, and locks. That showed in their first pick, which was third overall in the draft, when they selected the excellent UBC prop Cali Martinez. Described by America's Rugby News as a destructive scrummager and capable of having an immediate impact, Martinez was a key part of a very successful Thunderbirds side. He's eligible for both the US and Canada, and played for the Canadian u20 team.
For Old Glory, Martinez answers a question mark that has been lingering for a while: who to put behind Jack Iscaro on the loosehead side. While Iscaro is a fantastic player, he can't play every minute of every game. Last year, various players took turns covering Iscaro off the bench, but no one truly convincing in the role. If he's up to it, there are good minutes of the bench up for grabs.
- United States Military Academy
- Round 2, Pick 2 (15th overall)
- Highlight reel
OGDC's second pick, coming fifteenth overall, was Collin Grosse. The 6'3" lock started for the current national championship winning side, Army. While undeniably talented, it could be a moment before we see him break through into the matchday lineup. He has been drafted into an interesting place. Lock is one of Old Glory's strongest position, with the trifecta of Stan South, Tevita Naqali, and Api Naikatini taking almost all of the minutes at the position, with Felix Kalapu covering in case of injury, and that's before we get to David Beach.
However, there are still reasons to draft a top-quality lock. The team has long depended on foreign players to fill the position, accounting for almost a third of the foreign player cap, so domestic talent could help free up space in other positions. Furthermore, Kalapu is very young and talented, which could lead to him getting poached by an overseas club, while Naikatini is 37 and likely going to retire in the near future. Having a quality domestic lock will come in handy down the line. Originally that was supposed to be Casey Renaud, but since he left unexpectedly last off-season, Grosse is the new replacement.
- University of California, Berkeley
- Round 2, Pick 6 (19th overall)
Old Glory is pretty lucky that their third choice, Jack Manzo, was still available halfway through the draft. The Berkeley product was widely regarded as the best available hooker in the draft and was the captain of the USA u23 team. He has clear leadership potential and while a little on the small side, should be able to step up in a position that has been a mixed bag for Old Glory.
The hooker position has yet to be secured by anyone since Mikey Sosene-Feagai left for France at this time last year. Rob Irimescu and Mo Katz traded the job on and off, with neither able to stake a clear claim to the starting job, while Uruguayan international Facundo Gattas after less than 80 minutes of match time. Manzo will have the opportunity to compete for good playing time if he can prove himself, although it likely won't happen in year one.
- Queen's University of Charlotte
- Round 2, Pick 13 (26th overall)
A less heralded pick, Alex Balladares wasn't on many mock draft boards in the lead up to the event. Attending one of the less well-known rugby schools, Balladares didn't immediately jump out as a top prospect, However, he wasn't unknown to the OGDC coaching staff. The Maryland native has strong ties to the program, having participated in the Young Glory u23 academy side earlier this year. Clearly, the coaches liked what they saw and wanted to secure him with a late draft pick.
Where Balladares fits into the depth chart at prop is still a little unclear. There are a number of young and developing props on the OGDC roster, and they have been frequently moved from one side of the scrum to the other. It makes it difficult to predict whether there will be much playing time left for Balladares, certainly in the next year or two. Regardless, he is likely a longer-term development prospect who could pay off in the coming years.
- Dartmouth College
- Round 3, Pick 2 (28th overall)
- Highlight reel
Old Glory's last pick was another lucky one. They took Mike Weir, a flyhalf out of Dartmouth who was widely expected to go in the first round. At 5'10", 175lbs, Weir is admittedly small for a flyhalf, which is likely why himself as a scrumhalf in the draft. However, his vision and game sense are superb, as is his accuracy off the tee. With the main goal of securing tight five talent accomplished, this pick has the feel of being one that the coaches simply couldn't resist. OGDC assistant coach James Willocks has had frequent contact with Weir over the years, first coaching him at Dartmouth and then remaining in contact when he went to the Free Jacks.
Weir doesn't have a clear place in the current lineup, assuming most player return next year. He's clearly not ready to start at flyhalf - no American player is straight out of college. It's a very demanding position in the MLR, both technically and physically. Weir will likely need to bulk up before he has a shot at that role, but we could well see him run out at wing or fullback in the meantime to get him some experience. I think the goal should be to turn him into a star domestic flyhalf, as those are a rare commodity in the MLR. His vision is there and his height won't be an impediment. After all, he has an extra inch on Jason Robertson, who was a star at Old Glory and now plays top-flight rugby in France.
Overall, this was a very successful draft for Old Glory. With five new talented players coming into the program (and some of them real steals considering the picks Old Glory had), we can feel a bit better about the future of OGDC.