Photo by Tony Quinn/ISIPhotos.com
The countdown to the MLS Draft has reached three weeks and the crop of 2011 draft prospects is shaping up to be a strong one.
With MLS closing in on finalizing its Generation adidas class of standout underclassmen signings, we now have a better idea of just what the top end of the draft will look like. As it stands, here is what the Generation adidas class should be:
Omar Salgado, Darlington Nagbe, Perry Kitchen, Zarek Valentin, Zac MacMath, Will Bruin, Corey Hertzog, Kofi Sarkodie, Michael Nanchoff
Of the above players, all but Kitchen and Sarkodie have signed, with Kitchen and Sarkodie still negotiating deals. If one or both of them doesn't come to terms, California goalkeeper David Bingham and Maryland striker Casey Townsend are leading candidates to be added to the Generation adidas class.
The newest SBI MLS Draft Big Board is out a bit later than expected, but with the Generation adidas class coming together I decided to hold off until I could remove some more names from the board of underclassmen who won't be coming out. Some really quality prospects won't be coming out, including Notre Dame midfielder Dillon Powers and Duke midfielder/defender Andrew Wenger, but one thing we can already see is that the 2012 MLS Draft class will also be a strong one (and I will be posting a list of 2012 Draft Players to Watch soon).
For now, we're focusing on the 2011 class. Here is SBI's MLS Draft Big Board, Version 3.0:
SBI MLS DRAFT BIG BOARD 3.0 (*-Underclassman)
1. *PERRY KITCHEN, Akron, Defensive Midfielder
Capable of playing defensive midfield, centerback or even right back, Kitchen is arguably the best long-term prospect in the draft. Currently in negotiations with MLS, Kitchen is a U.S. Under-20 standout and lock Top Three pick.
2. *DARLINGTON NAGBE, Akron, Forward/Midfielder
Speedy and skillful striker who can also play on the wing. Some think he can be better than Steve Zakuani and Teal Bunbury. The Liberian-born standout has signed with MLS.
3. *ZAC MACMATH, Maryland, Goalkeeper
Top-flight goalkeeper is a U.S. Under-20 starter and best goalkeeper available. Signed with MLS.
4. *ZAREK VALENTIN, Akron, Right Back/Centerback
U.S. Under-20 defender is capable of playing centerback or right back. Doesn't boast the attacking qualities of Kofi Sarkodie, but is a better defender. Signed with MLS.
5. *KOFI SARKODIE, Akron, Right Back
Best attacking fullback to come out of college in years. His ability to get forward from the right back position has teams drooling. Signed with MLS.
6. OMAR SALGADO, Gen Adidas, Forward
A teenage 6-foot-3 target striker with good feet and worlds of potential. He's more of a long-term project and is thought by some to have the most upside in the draft.
7. *COREY HERTZOG, Penn State, Forward
Fast, fearless and a clutch finisher, Hertzog has quietly climbed the charts this fall. Philadelphia tried unsuccessfully to land him as a Homegrown Player. He has signed with MLS.
7. *WILL BRUIN, Indiana, Forward
Strong striker who has been one of the best finishers in college, he will draw serious interest from teams looking for a physical presence up top.
9. *MICHAEL NANCHOFF, Akron, Left winger
Might have improved his draft stock more than any player at the College Cup, Nanchoff is a skillful left winger whose passing, work rate and service from the flank has scouts very interested. Akron head coach Caleb Porter has been raving about Nanchoff since pre-season and now many squads have joined the fan club.
10. *DAVID BINGHAM, California, Goalkeeper
Considered a prospect on par with Zac MacMath, Bingham is a first-round talent who may not be available in the draft after initially being bypassed for a Generation adidas contract. If he stays in school (and Bingham could pursue Europe if MLS passes), Bingham could be a Top 3 pick in 2012. He could still sign with MLS if Kitchen doesn't.
11. A.J. SOARES, California, Central Defender
Tall (6-foot-2) and skilled central defender who is also a threat on set pieces, Soares is regarded by some as the best centerback in the draft. He could be this year's Tim Ream. Hasn't signed with MLS yet, but is expected to have a deal in place before the Combine.
12. ANTHONY AMPAIPITAKWON, Akron, Midfielder
His versatility, quickness and passing touch make him a very attractive prospect, and he also impressed scouts with his toughness at the College Cup.
13. JUSTIN MERAM, Michigan, Forward
Three months ago Meram might not have even been invited to the MLS Combine. After scoring a ton of goals in the final weeks of the college season, and thoroughly impressing at College Cup, Meram has catapulted himself into the first-round conversation.
14. MICHAEL FARFAN, North Carolina, Midfielder
A skilled attacking midfielder considered by some as the most talented senior in the draft, Farfan has great one-on-one ability and is one of the best passers in the draft. He has signed a senior MLS contract.
15. *CASEY TOWNSEND, Maryland, Forward
A top-notch prospect two years ago, Townsend had a strong comeback season to earn a place here. He's a fearless and fast forward who could still be a part of the Generation adidas class if Kitchen doesn't sign.
16. JALIL ANIBABA, North Carolina, Defender
A dominant physical presence at centerback, Anibaba could be considered this year's Ike Opara (though he isn't quite as physically gifted). Rivals Soares for title of best centerback in the draft. If he has a good combine he could lead a team to make an early first-round play for him. He has signed a senior MLS contract.
17. JASON HERRICK, Maryland, Forward
A mature, quick and a good finisher, Herrick is one of the better seniors available and good bet to go in the first round.
18. STEVEN MCCARTHY, North Carolina, Midfielder
A 6-foot-4 central midfielder who scouts have had eye on since his days at Santa Clara. He passes extremely well for his size and is a legitimate aerial threat on set pieces. Has already signed a senior MLS contract.
19. DANIEL KEAT, Dartmouth, Midfielder
A polished soccer player with skill and work rate to be effective two-way player. New Zealand-born midfielder plays well centrally, but also floats out to provide dangerous service.
20. COLE GROSSMAN, Duke, Midfielder
Overshadowed by standout Duke underclassmen Andrew Wenger and Ryan Finley, Grossman has won over his share of scouts with his attacking qualities.
21. MICHAEL BOXALL, UCSB, Defender
The New Zealand-born centerback is arguably a more mature defender than the other top prospects, Boxall is a tough player and good leader. A strong Combine could push him into the first round.
22. ASHLEY MCINNES, Tulsa, Forward/Midfielder
23. TYLER LASSITER, North Carolina State, Defender
24. JEFF ATTINELLA, South Florida, Goalkeeper
If David Bingham doesn't sign, Attinella could wind up as the No. 2 goalkeeper on the board on draft day. Carried an underachieving South Florida team at times and his physical qualities make him a standout prospect.
25. BOBBY WARSHAW, Stanford, Midfielder/Defender
Tough and talented defender who looks more suited to defensive midfield role in MLS. A former U.S. youth national team player, Warshaw has a good skill set, but stands more to gain from a strong combine than most.
26. J.T. MURRAY, Louisville, Defender
A marauding left back with a natural left foot and good attacking qualities, Murray is the best player at his position in the draft. A strong combine could lead a team to reach for him in the first round.
27. RICH BALCHAN, Indiana, Midfielder
A smart and skilled defensive midfielder who could be a second-round steal. Balchan impressed scouts with his poise and ability to disrupt opposing attacks.
28. RYAN KINNE, Monmouth, Forward
One of the better attacking players in college last season, Kinne was inexplicably excluded from the MLS Player Combine but several teams are aware of his goal-scoring ability and creativity.
29. LEVI HOUAPEU, UMBC, Forward/Midfielder
With speed to burn and a keen passing eye, Houapeu is intriguing scouts who could see him as an impact winger or fast option up top. He'll need to impress at the Combine to prove that his small school background isn't hiding a lack of ability.
30. DIEGO RESTREPO, Virginia, Goalkeeper
A national champion as a junior, Restrepo enjoyed one of the best goalkeeping careers in college history but still managed not to get invited to the MLS Combine. His size (6-foot) is a concern to some scouts, but Restrepo has trained with MLS clubs before and is set to trial with Colombian side America de Cali. Could be a draft-day steal.
31. ERNESTO CARRANZA, Sacramento State, Forward/Midfielder
32. JOSUE SOTO, SMU, Midfielder
33. EDDIE ABABIO, North Carolina, Defender
34. BRYAN MEREDITH, Monmouth, Goalkeeper
35. BRAYAN MARTINEZ, Seton Hall, Forward/Midfielder
36. JUAN LEONE CRUZ, SMU, Defender
37. GREG KING, UConn, Defender
38. AMANI WALKER, Forward, UC-Irvine
39. DAVIS PAUL, California, Forward/Midfielder
40. JOSH FORD, Connecticut, Goalkeeper