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The New Year is almost here, which means the 2010 MLS Draft is also almost upon is.
Three weeks remain before 16 Major League Soccer teams select reinforcements from the 2010 MLS Draft and the league's success in landing many of its top Generation adidas targets has the draft shaping up to be potentially as strong as the 2009 draft.
The additions of Danny Mwanga, Tony Tchani and Andrew Wiedeman (and the new additions of Ike Opara and Corben Bone) to the draft pool has teams in the first half of the draft excited at the increased value of their draft picks, while teams with multiple picks in the Top 20 suddenly have that much more to be excited about.
Here is this week's MLS Draft Big Board, which will be our next to last Big Board before the MLS Combine takes place in Florida a week from now. These players rankings are based on our own observations and research as well as with input from several coaches, general managers and scouts throughout MLS.
SBI 2010 MLS Draft Big Board
(*Generation adidas signing. For player profiles, click on each player's college)
1. IKE OPARA*, Wake Forest, D
Has signed a Generation adidas contact. Opara is consider by many scouts to be the top pro prospect in the draft. A prototypical central defender with an impressive combination of speed and size. Would have been a Top Three pick in 2009 draft. Widely-regarded as top talent in draft, but it is starting to look like Philadelphia will look elsewhere with the No. 1 overall pick. Didn't have the best College Cup, but scouts still love him and he's a lock Top Two pick.
2. DANNY MWANGA*, Oregon State, F
Has moved up amid word that Philadelphia is coveting him with the No. 1 overall pick and after his somewhat surprising Generation adidas contract signing. He possesses similar size-speed combination to Bunbury, though he is faster and regarded by some as the more dangerous forward. Produced 14 goals this season. The Congolese-born striker had been linked to a move to Europe, but signed with MLS after a sizeable offer was made.
3. TEAL BUNBURY*, Akron, F
Moves down a notch with the inclusion of Mwanga. Didn't have the College Cup Tournament you would have expected from a star forward, but still showed enough to merit being one of the first players taken in next month's draft. He's got the size-speed (6-foot-2) combo at forward that clubs love, not to mention a nose for goal he clearly inherited from his father, Canadian national team legend Alex Bunbury.
4. TONY TCHANI*, Virginia, M
Didn't dominate the College Cup, but still did more than enough to move up the Big Board. His strength on the ball was impressive, as was his ability to cover ground. Tchani's season started slowly due to injuries, but no player has boosted their stock more in the past month than Tchani. A 6-foot-4 playmaker who combines strength, a deft passing touch and goal-scoring ability, Tchani is at the top of some team's draft boards and could be first midfielder taken.
5. CORBEN BONE*, Wake Forest, M/F
Has signed a Generation adidas contract. Wasn't the impact player some expected in the College Cup, but he did show flashes of the attacking qualities that have him so highly-rated. The most dangerous attacking player in the draft, Bone is a dynamic playmaker with great vision and a terrific motor. Has played predominantly on the wing for Wake Forest, but he's more likely a central midfielder on the pro level.
6. TONI STAHL, UConn, M
Strong, smart, tall (6-foot-3) and technically sound, Stahl is widely-regarded as the best defensive midfielder in the draft and potentially someone who can step in and start in year one like Sam Cronin did for Toronto FC. The Finland-born midfielder has signed a deal with MLS and can solidify his place as the most highly-regarded senior with a strong MLS Combine.
7. ANDREW WIEDEMAN*, California, F
A productive goal scorer in the mold of Taylor Twellman, Wiedeman is considered polished enough to play minutes in MLS now and could be seen as a year-one contributor at forward. Rated below Mwanga and Bunbury, Wiedeman should still be a Top 10 pick and could be this year's Chris Pontius. He has signed a Generation adidas deal.
8. AMOBI OKUGO*, UCLA, M
The nation's best freshman is also one of the players whose stock has increased the most during the NCAA Tournament. He's still just 18, and could stay in school since he's just a freshman, but MLS teams are already drooling over his box-to-box midfielder tools and upside. He is on the verge of signing a Generation adidas contract.
9. DILLY DUKA*, Rutgers, M
Regarded by many as the most impressive of the U.S. Under-20 World Cup participants, Duka boasts good skill, touch and a surprising bite. He left Rutgers a year ago, but the U-20 World Cup was enough to shoot him up draft boards across the league. He was a member of the Red Bulls academy program during his Rutgers years, so New York is a good bet to try and move up and take him with a second first-round draft pick.
10. ANDRE AKPAN, Harvard, F
An athletic and polished forward who has been linked with moves to MLS for years, Akpan has the tools to step in and play in year one. A Generation adidas target for the past two years, Akpan recently signed with MLS and should move up draft boards now that it is clear he will be playing in the league (There had been concern he might bolt if he didn't like his draft position or contract).
11. AUSTIN DA LUZ, Wake Forest, M
Already a highly-regarded prospect, Da Luz boosted his stock more than any other player at the College Cup. His vision, touch and ability to work the left flank had scouts impressed. Should challenge Andre Akpan as second senior taken after Stahl.
12. LUIS GIL, U.S. Under-17, M
One of the more enticing long-term prospects in the pool. Gil is just 16, but he's a bundle of skill who could blossom into a star if he's groomed properly. The question is where in the draft do you take a young talent who is a few years away from contributing? He has been approached with a considerable offer by MLS but has yet to sign. The last high-profile Generation adidas prospect not to sign.
13. BLAIR GAVIN*, Akron, M
A gifted central midfielder who is adept at sparking attacks from deep in midfield with sharp passes, Gavin didn't exactly dominate in the College Cup but still showed enough flashes to lead MLS to offer him a Generation adidas deal. Gaven has the technical ability, but questions remain about his physical attributes. That won't stop him from going in the mid-to-late first round of the draft.
14. ZACH LOYD, North Carolina, M/D
A highly-regarded prospect even before the NCAA Tournament, Loyd's performance in the College Cup semifinals vs. Akron has catapulted him up the rankings and helped make him one of the first seniors signed by MLS. He's natural defensive midfielder who played central defense for UNC this season because the team needed him there. All Loyd did was establish himself as one of the best defenders in the college game. Now scouts see him as a midfielder who can also provide depth in the back, versatility that has boosted his value.
15. JACK McINERNEY*, U.S. Under-17, F
While Dilly Duka's stock jumped after the Under-20 World Cup, McInerney's dropped. That said, he's still an exciting prospect with a nose for goal and good touch and moves. McInerney has signed with MLS as a Generation adidas player and now we will see just how early he will go in the draft given the fact that he is 17 and isn't going to help right away. There are other more experienced players on the board who could go higher if teams are looking for help right away, but McInerney is still a quality prospect who should go in the first round.
16. OFORI SARKODIE, Indiana, D
The best fullback available in the draft, Sarkodie is a left back prospect who should garner serious attention on draft day. Experienced at multiple positions in defense, Sarkodie should be one of the first seniors taken and could wind up going early if a team in need of fullback help bypasses the Generation adidas prospects to draft him.
17. KYLE NAKAZAWA, UCLA, M
Injuries have plagued Nakazaway throughout his UCLA career, but the former U.S. youth international put together a solid senior season that catapulted him up the rankings. There are still concerns about his health, but he will have a chance to ease some of those concerns at the MLS Combine.
18. ZACH SCHILAWSKI, Wake Forest, F
Showed some good speed and movement in the College Cup, but he didn't finish chances and lost some ground to teammate Da Luz. Wake Forest's leading goal scorer should still be a popular prospect come draft time and should go in the late-first, early-second round range, though a strong MLS Combine could improve that.
19. KWAME WATSON-SIRIBOE, UConn, D
In a draft light on central defenders, Watson-Siriboe is a prototypical big back who has the tools and resume to have teams paying close attention come draft day. Arguably the second-best central defender after Opara, Watson-Siriboe is 6-foot-3, was a three-year starter at UConn and is poised to move into the first-round range with a strong MLS Combine.
20. SEAN JOHNSON*, Central Florida, GK
While he isn't an MLS-ready goalkeeper like Stefan Frei was last season, Johnson's physical attributes (a quick 6-foot-4, 220) have goalkeeper coaches in MLS drooling at the thought of being able to work with such a talented young specimen. A back-up on the U.S. Under-20 national team, Johnson has signed a Generation adidas deal according to SBI sources and should be the first goalkeeper off the board come draft day.
21. MICHAEL STEPHENS, UCLA, M
A skillful yet small central midfielder, Stephens was very highly-regarded after his junior season, but just missed out on a Generation adidas contract. Unfortunately for him, he is now a senior in a draft class loaded with Generation adidas talent and he's coming off a somewhat subpar season at UCLA. Could wind up being a second-round steal.
22. BRIAN PERK, UCLA, GK
Smallish but athletic and brave goalkeeper who has impressed as a U.S. youth international. The success of RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, another quick but small goalkeeper from UCLA, should have teams looking past Perk's lack of size and appreciating his potential. He should go somewhere in the second round.
23. COLLEN WARNER, Portland, M/F
Under the radar outside of the Pacific Northwest, Warner's stock is rapidly rising as scouts learn more about this creative, fast and tough midfielder. He didn't play against the best competition in college, but a standout performance at the MLS Combine could catapult him close to the first round.
24. JOVAN BUBOJNA, Illinois-Chicago, GK
A player who would probably have been the second goalkeeper taken in last year's draft, Bobojna is coming off a disappoint year that raised some questions about his readiness. A strong combine would help ease some concerns and push him toward the first round as arguably the goalkeeper most prepared to step in and play.
25. ROSS LaBAUEX, Virginia, M
A tenacious defensive midfielder, LaBauex didn't show much on the ball to impress scouts, but his athleticism and work rate are impressive. He's also versatile and could wind up being converted into a fullback or central defender.
26. NICK CARDENAS, San Diego State, D
A 6-foot-5 centerback who is dominant in the air and dangerous on set pieces, Cardenas would be ranked much higher if not for question marks about his footwork and touch.
27. CHRIS SCHULER, Creighton, D
Tough and mature, Schuler has intangibles that coaches love and the make-up to be a long-time pro. One of the better defenders available.
28. RONNIE BOUEMBOUE, North Carolina State, F
Speedy forward who could be a game-changer off the bench in year one, Bouemboue stood out in the tough ACC and should be a second-round selection.
29. NELSON BECERRA, St. John’s, M
Skillful playmaker who also saw time on the left wing, Becerra is another player who's stock was much higher a year ago. He will need to serious impress at the Combine if he wants to stay in the first two rounds.
30. PHIL EDGINGTON, Louisville, D
Another tall central defender who could provide depth, Edgington isn't known as the kind of set-piece threat that Cardenas is, but he will have a chance to test himself against the likes of Mwanga and Bunbury at the Combine.
We will extend the SBI MLS Big Board to 40 players next week so stay tuned for that.
For now, feel free to share your thoughts on this week's SBI MLS Draft Big Board in the comments section below.