Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
The 2013 MLS Combine is now just a month away, and as we draw closer to that important event, we are seeing plenty of shifting and maneuvering on the SBI MLS Draft Big Board.
Today features our third edition of the Big Board, and we have some new additions to the board after some players previously considered Homegrown Players for MLS teams were made available in the draft. Georgetown’s Ian Christianson (Chicago Fire) and West Virginia’s Uwem Etuk (D.C. United) are on the board now and should draw strong interest on draft day.
The Generation adidas class situation hasn’t changed all that much since the update we provided two weeks ago. The same group of players are at the top of the GA radar, though at the moment it looks as though Patrick Mullins is the odd man out, which a chance of making the cut if one of the other targets doesn’t sign. I’m hearing that Andrew Farrell isn’t a lock to come out, but as the projected No. 1 pick it feels a bit like posturing. That would make sense if, as expected, MLS is trying to shrink Generation adidas contracts.
With MLS sticking to a small GA class, players like Mullins, Indiana’s Eriq Zavaleta, Coastal Carolina’s Pedro Ribeiro and UCSB freshman standout Ema Boateng look set to miss out on 2013. If they do, the quartet would be among the elite members of the 2014 draft, which is shaping up to be a stronger draft than the 2013 draft.
Zavaleta’s exclusion from the current Generation adidas conversation may surprise some, but MLS scouts aren’t convinced he is the finished product, and there is still a big question about just where he is best suited (whether at forward or centerback). He had an outstanding NCAA Tournament, but at the moment it doesn’t seem like it was enough to earn him a place in the 2013 MLS Draft.
So who are the most highly-rated players in the MLS Draft at the moment? Here is the latest SBI MLS Draft Big Board, ranking the top 50 draft prospects:
2013 MLS DRAFT BIG BOARD (Version 3.0)
1- *ANDREW FARRELL, Louisville, CB
Originally a midfielder, Farrell has developed into a standout centerback with the kind athleticism and technical ability scouts love. Widely-regarded as the top prospect in the draft and is, at this point a lock Generation adidas signing (assuming he signs) and a safe bet to be the No. 1 pick.
2- *WALKER ZIMMERMAN, Furman, CB
U.S. Under-20 centerback has the tools and upside to develop into a standout. A 6-foot-3 aerial force, Zimmerman is young and may not be ready to play right away, but his potential is enough to make him one of the first players taken. Expected to sign a Generation adidas deal, and is second only to Farrell on most team’s draft boards.
3- *MIKEY LOPEZ, North Carolina, CM
A freshman starter on UNC’s national championship team, he impressed with his motor and passing ability and has earned a place on the U.S. Under-20 team. Hasn’t dominated the college game this year as he was expected to, but scouts still rave about his skills. Given Chivas USA’s emphasis on having more of a Mexican influence on the roster, Lopez could be a natural selection for the Goats at No. 2 overall.
4- *J.J. JOHNSON, VCU, F
Combining power and speed, Johnson is a physical forward who could be able to transition smoothly into the pro game. The buzz surrounding his overall qualities has him looking like a sure-fire Top Five pick, which would make it very likely he signs a Generation adidas deal.
5- *DESHORN BROWN, Central Florida, F
If teams go into the draft looking for someone to mimic Darren Mattock’s difference-making pace, Brown could be that prospect that draws extra attention. Arguably the fastest player in the draft, Brown is a burner who should cement his status as a top prospect at the Combine. Among the small group of players offered Generation adidas deals.
6- *KEKUTA MANNEH, FC Solar, F
A star on the Youth Soccer circuit as a goal-scoring machine on the Development Academy circuit, Manneh is a Gambian-born striker with good speed and strength. Scouts rave about his tools and potential, which led MLS to sign him as a teenager out of high school. A sure-fire first-round pick, Manneh should go in the top-half of the first round, especially if he shows well at the MLS Combine.
7- CARLOS ALVAREZ, UConn, CM
The best pure playmaker in the draft, Alvarez has been the driving force in UConn’s attack since arriving for years ago and the recent success of college-developed attacking midfielders in MLS should lead to Alvarez having a chance of going early in the draft. Will challenge Powers for ‘first-senior taken’ title.
8- DILLON POWERS, Notre Dame, CM
Two years ago Powers was a highly-rated U.S. Under-20 player who would have been a first-round pick if he had signed with MLS. Two years later, Powers is more mature, more polished and more ready to step in and contribute right away. A central midfielder who can play in a deeper role as well as a box-to-box role, Powers should be one of the first seniors off the board.
9- ERIK HURTADO, Santa Clara, RM/F
A dangerous forward who could also project as a wide player in the pros, Hurtado’s nose for goal and versatility make him a highly-rated draft prospect. The Portland Timbers put a Homegrown Player claim on him, but sources tell SBI that claim has been rejected and Hurtado will be in the draft.
10- BLAKE SMITH, New Mexico, LM
A need for natural left wingers in MLS should make Smith a popular option come draft day. He boasts pace, a willingness to go at defenders and an ability to provide good service from the left flank. Impressed with his performance against UConn in the NCAA Tournament and looks like the best pure winger in the draft.
11- JOHN STERTZER, Maryland, CM
Big attacking midfielder with good feet and a striker’s finishing eye, Stertzer turned heads with his goal-scoring in 2011, and while he hasn’t scored as many in 2012 he remains a quality midfield prospect with a strong resume. He didn’t have the best College Cup performance, which could hurt his stock, but he is still highly-regarded enough to be a mid-first round selection.
12- ASHTON BENNETT, Coastal Carolina, F
Hasn’t had as big a senior season as a junior campaign, but Bennett turned it on late in the season and has seen his stock rise closer to his 2011 standing. Boasting impressive speed and shiftiness to elude defenders, Bennett His strong second half, and showing vs. Maryland, has his stock rising again. It should be noted he has Canadian residency.
13- RYAN FINLEY, Notre Dame, F
The top forward in the Big East in 2012 despite not being a starter, Finley didn’t let coming off the bench stop him from scoring goals in bunches against top competition. The former Duke standout has an uncanny nose for goal and combines strength with deceptive quickness. Stock took a hit with Notre Dame’s early exit from the NCAA Tournament.
14- ERIC SCHOENLE, West Virginia, CB
A skilled left-footed centerback who drew Generation adidas consideration in 2011, Schoenle has some teams very interested while some still question his strength and ability to adjust to the increased physical level of the pros. Good in the air, and a sharp passer out of the back, Schoenle could see a major boost if he goes to the Combine and shuts down the forwards he faces there.
15- TAYLOR KEMP, Maryland, LB
A highly-skilled left back who may be more attacking threat than defensive specialist, Kemp drew some Generation adidas consideration last season, and this year he’s had injuries cost him playing time. That still won’t stop teams in need of left back help from seriously considering him with a first-round pick.
16- TOMMY MULLER, Georgetown, CB
Polished centerback with good size and and an ability to read the game well, Muller is the leader of the Hoyas defense and has the kind of poise that pro scouts love seeing in a central defender. Impressed in the NCAA Tournament, vaulting himself into the first-round range, and now some teams see him as the best senior centerback available.
17- WILL BATES, Virginia, F
A torn ACL late in the 2011 season ended his season and chances of a Generation adidas contract (though he was still a bit of a long-shot to be offered one). Bates is a physical target forward who has made an impressive return from knee surgery to put together a solid senior season. Teams looking for a traditional center forward will have to consider him. as a first-round option.
18- IAN CHRISTIANSON, Georgetown, M
The Georgetown senior makes his debut on the big board after MLS denied the Chicago Fire’s Homegrown Player claim on him, making Christianson eligible for the draft. A tireless defensive midfielder with poise and good passing skills, Christianson is going to be a popular target for teams looking for defensive midfield help.
19- EMERY WELSHMAN, Oregon State, F
The Canadian-born striker boosts a good combination of size and quickness, had a dangerous shot and is also a skilled passer. He finished his senior season with 10 goals and 4 assists, and while he did play for the Portland Under-23 team, Welshman is very much a draft prospect and not a Homegrown Player.
20- GREG COCHRANE, Louisville, LB/LM
Whether as a left back or a left midfielder, Cochrane has the technical quality on the wing to be a contributor on the next level. Projects more as a left back, an area of need for several MLS teams, which could help him go earlier in the draft.
21- MACHAEL DAVID, UCSB, CM/DM
Teams looking for a tenacious central midfielder will have an eye on David, who can deliver the hard tackle, go box-to-box and also deliver a good pass. He does face the scrutiny that comes with dealing with multiple injuries during his college career, which is why his stock has slipped.
22- KORY KINDLE, CSU-Bakersfield, LB
Want a speedy left back who can get forward and whip in good service? Kindle is your guy. Plenty of scouts are aware of him and he could be a player who skyrockets up the board with a strong combine against top level competition.
23- UWEM ETUK, West Virginia, LM
Whether playing wide left, or centrally, the highly-skilled Etuk can create chances for teammates and cause problems for defenders in one-on-one situations. With skilled left-footed players at a premium, the former D.C. United Academy player should generate plenty of interest, particularly if he can impress at the MLS Combine.
24- PAOLO DEL PICCOLO, Louisville, DM
A defensive midfielder this year for Louisville, DelPiccolo can play a variety of position along with providing a polished passer and tenacious presence in a deep-lying midfield role.
25- RYAN HOLLINGSHEAD, UCLA, LM
Combining good size with a tireless motor and ability to make things happen in the final third, Hollingshead is more of an effort player than skill player. Can play as a left winger or second striker, though some scouts have visions of Hollingshead being converted into a defender role. Could definitely wind up being a late first-round pick at this point.
26- KYLE BEKKER, Boston College CM
An attacking midfielder who can also play in a more central role, Bekker played his senior season with some injury issues that slowed him down. He remains a highly-regarded prospect and has had the chance to train with some MLS teams. His status as a Canadian could cause him to slip a bit, but a Canadian team could snag him late in the first round.
27- JIMMY NEALIS, Georgetown, LB
Few players boosted their stock more in the NCAA Tournament than Nealis, a talented and tireless left back who boasts good pace and quality service from the left wing. There are quite a few quality left backs in the 2013 MLS Draft Pool, but Nealis has done enough to thrust himself into the conversation. A strong MLS Combine could push him to the fringe of the first round.
28- DONNIE SMITH, Charlotte, LM
If the name sounds familiar, it is because Smith is the left winger who turned heads in the 2011 NCAA Tournament during Charlotte’s run to the final. He showed outstanding one-on-one attacking skills and good speed, and while he didn’t exactly light it up for Charlotte in 2012, he remains an intriguing prospect who scouts are eager to see perform at the MLS Combine.
29- FERNANDO MONGE, UCLA, CM
A versatile attacking soccer player who could contribute as a second striker or central midfielder, Monge could also project into a defensive midfield role in the pros. Scouts love his technical skill and tireless motor and while his versatile might be seen by some as a lack of a true position, his ability to play in multiple spots only adds appeal to his draft profile.
30- CHRIS THOMAS, Elon, F
The nation’s leading scorer in 2012 with 23 goals, Thomas turned heads with his productivity, particularly given Elon’s tough non-conference schedule. He boasts an eye-catching combination of size and speed, and scores with both feet. Will need a good MLS Combine to have any chance of climbing past forwards from bigger schools.
31- JOE FRANCO, Cal-State Northridge, RB
If you’re looking for an athletic and technically savvy right back you could do worse than Franco. While comparisons to Sean Franklin (another Cal-State Northridge right back) are misguided, Franco definitely is a good fullback prospect in a year when there aren’t many top right back options in the draft.
32- ANTHONY ARENA, Wake Forest, CB
A left-footed centerback who could potentially also contribute at left back, Arena has spent time training with the Seattle Sounders and playing for their Under-23 team. At 5-foot-11 he isn’t your prototypical centerback, but his skills as a left-footed defender, and versatility, make him an intriguing prospect.
33- MARC CINTRON, Providence, LM/F
The only player on this Big Board who can count a goal against World Cup champions Spain on his resume, Cintron is one of the best left-sided attacking players in the draft and a player who could skyrocket up the board if he turns heads at the Combine. He already has the attention of MLS teams because of that Spain goal, but next month he’ll be able to show the skills behind that impressive accomplishment.
34- DYLAN TUCKER-GAGNES, Washington, CB
Looking for a big centerback who is strong in the air and a threat on set pieces? Tucker-Gagnes fits the bill, and as one of the better centerbacks available he is a player who could climb up for a team in need of central defense depth. He’s 6-foot-3 and finished the year scoring eight goals for a surprising Washington side.
35- JOSE GOMEZ, Creighton, AM
Gifted playmaker was a key force behind Creighton’s run to the College Cup semifinals, and his success was rewarded with a place as a Hermann Award finalist. So why isn’t he higher on the list? Scouts aren’t sold on him being an MLS attacking midfielder. There’s no doubting his passing touch, but he seems destined to be a second-round pick who could wind up surprising if he lands with the right team.
36- DON ANDING, Northeastern, F
Northeastern isn’t a high-profile school, but Anding still caught the eye of MLS scouts with his 14 goals and seven assists. Projects more as a Supplemental Draft player, but can play his way into the MLS Draft’s second round with a good Combine.
37- YANNICK SMITH, Old Dominion, F
Athletically gifted forward who had his season hampered by injuries, but what scouts saw from him early in the season was enough to earn him an MLS Combine invitation. He boasts some impressive speed, and isn’t easily pushed around. Has a good understanding of the game and how to combine with teammates.
38- PAUL WYATT, JAMES MADISON, CM
Extremely talented midfielder who would be higher on this list if not for two reasons. One, he’s the oldest player attending the MLS Combine (he’s 23). Two, he’s an international player (he’s from the UK). Despite those two strikes against him, Wyatt impressed scouts with his overall game and he projects as a skilled central midfielder.
39- KOFI OPARE, Michigan, CB
A 6-foot-2 centerback who hails from Canada, first made an impression as a starter on the Michigan team that reached the NCAA Final in 2010. He needs to show he has the strength to deal with bigger forwards, something he’ll have the chance to show at the MLS Combine. His Canadian citizenship shouldn’t hurt him too much, particularly with all three Canadian teams in the market for some centerback depth.
40- CHARLIE RUGG, Boston College, F
Injuries plagued Rugg during his senior season, but his combination of strength and speed helped him make a real impression during his junior season. Well equipped physically to make the transition to the pro level, Rugg also carries the reputation for being one of the ACC’s better forward over the past two years when healthy. Unfortunately for him, his injury-plagued senior season cost him an MLS Combine invitation, but he did enough during his career to remain on the draft radar.
41. DEVON SANDOVAL, New Mexico, F
A big, bruising forward with good feet, Sandoval showed an improved overall game during his senior season, but it is his quickness and overall speed that remains the question mark for scouts.
42- LARRY JACKSON, Santa Clara, GK
Former U.S. Under-17 National Team goalkeeper is regarded by some as the top goalkeeper in the draft pool.
43- JORDAN GAFA, North Carolina, RB
Originally a midfielder, Gafa developed into a very solid right back for the Tar Heels and was a starter on the 2011 NCAA championship team.
44- COLETON HENNING, Furman, F
The Southern Conference player of the year as a junior, Henning recorded eight goals for the Paladins and took advantage of the many scouts who went to Furman to see Walker Zimmerman. Whether as a forward or wide midfielder, Henning makes things happen.
45- DANNY WENZEL, Wake Forest, CB
Talented former U.S. Under-17 defender who has quietly developed into a strong centerback. He has good size (6-foot) and could also contribute at right back.
46- JACK BENNETT, St. John’s, LB/LM
Talented left-sided player who flourished in the tough Big East, but didn’t earn an invitation to the MLS Combine. His international status (he’s from England) hurts his MLS chances, but his career accomplishments (including being the Big East Tournament Offensive MVP in 2011) should help him get drafted at the very least in the MLS Supplemental Draft.
47- LUIS SOFFNER, Indiana, GK
NCAA Championship winning goalkeeper impressed scouts during the tournament run, and could propel himself up the board with a strong combine.
48- JAMES BELSHAW, Duke, GK
Quick and athletic goalkeeper who can make the dynamic save but has two strikes against him. He’s from England (and thus an international player) and he’s not that big. If he were only dealing with one of those two he would be ranked higher.
49- CHRIS RITTER, Northwestern, CB
Skilled centerback with good size, though athleticism is the question surrounding the Big Ten first-team selection.
50- DANIEL WITHROW, Marshall, GK
He finished his career at Marshall holding every goalkeeping record in the school’s history, but being at a small school hurts his profile, especially compared to some of the goalkeepers in this draft. That hasn’t stopped some MLS scouts from saying he could be the best goalkeeper in the draft.