With the MLS Draft a mere 9 days away, it is time to evaluate the other of the Tar Heels’ two senior captains. An earlier look at Scott Goodwin revealed that while Goodwin faces a lot of competition and has seen less hype than his competitors, he’s a certain draft choice in the supplemental and may see an MLS club invest in his icy nerves and ability to make a win with a high Superdraft pick. Jordan Gafa is in a similar situation.
The MLS combine was host to 14 defenders, and many of whom more highly regarded than Gafa. Like Goodwin, what Gafa has going for him are his performances at Carolina. Gafa came to Carolina without a lot of aplomb but forced his way into the squad and proved himself a valuable commodity. He came up big time in the National Championship run in 2011 and came to be a real leader, as he was captain alongside Goodwin for the 2012 season.
Gafa isn’t particularly athletic but has lovely technical skills and is perfectly suited to play the attacking right- back’s role. He started his UNC career as a midfielder and in his final season looked like he could end up playing that role again, such was his attacking forte. This is not to diminish his defensive skills, which he showed with assurance in the National Championship game to preserve a game winning lead and continued to display to throughout out his last year. His gorgeous goal against Duke was not only a clutch overtime game- winner, but it was also one of the best goals of the season. Like Jordan McCrary, he’s great at getting forward and being both incisive and responsible on the ball, and he could force is way into an MLS squad’s fullback slot just as he did at North Carolina.
Just like Goodwin, Gafa has his greatest merits in his potential. Goodwin can sit on the bench for a year, then take over immediately for an injured (or misbehaving) goalkeeper without a hitch. Gafa has the same ability. He’s smart, adaptable, and has the technical skills to fit right in. Plus he has that invaluable virtue of determination; the will to succeed that can turn a “maybe next year” guy into a “big time performer today”. A lot of young pros come into the league with a lot of physical ability but with room to grow with their touch on the ball. Gafa is just the opposite. He could be a year and a half’s body work away from an elite young player.
For this, I think that there’s no chance that he’ll miss out on the supplemental, but he still has a chance of going in the Superdraft. He’s not quite there yet, but he has the ability to succeed in the league as well as the attitude to turn into a top professional. He’s been aptly described as a poor man’s Steve Cherundolo (whose autograph I coincidentally possess) and has that same leadership quality as Cherundolo. An MLS club could easily chance a big pick on him, knowing that he’s the type of player who will perform and could grow into a team captain and a talisman.