By IVES GALARCEP
The 2013 MLS Draft is now just a week away, and all 19 teams have converged on Fort Lauderdale, Florida for the MLS Combine, where they will put the finishing touches on their player draft rankings.
The Generation adidas class is now set, with all seven projected targets formally announced as signed. MLS has also added several new players to the MLS Combine list, picking up some prospects who would have been considered clear-cut snubs if they had been left off.
Then there are the international players, with MLS inviting just four foreign non-college players into the Combine.
While most teams do the bulk of their college scouting during the season, there is still plenty on the line for the Combine participants over the course of the next week. Whether you are a GA signing who could play your way into the Top five, or a fringe player working his way into being a selection in the two rounds of the regular draft, there is plenty to play for.
So what does the 2013 MLS Draft pool look like heading into the Combine? Here is our final look at the player pool in the latest installment of the SBI MLS Draft Big Board:
2013 MLS DRAFT BIG BOARD (Version 4.0)
(*-Generation adidas, %-Not attending combine)
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 a safe bet to be the No. 1 pick. The teams pursuing Toronto FC for a trade to the top spot are eyeing Farrell.
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 (19) and may not be ready to play right away, but his size and skill combination make him an enticing long-term prospect. He 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. That said, of Chivas USA doesn’t take him, Lopez could slip down a few slots.
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.
5. *ERIQ ZAVALETA, Indiana, F/D
One of the more intriguing prospects in the draft. Originally a highly-regarded central defender, Zavaleta moved to forward as a sophomore at Indiana and promptly turned into a goal-scoring force who helped lead the Hoosiers to a national title. Despite his goal-scoring ways, more teams see him as a long-term centerback option. He is only 19, and at an athletic 6-foot-1, Zavaleta is an aerial force who will be a good bet to be a Top Ten selection.
6- *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. Was finally added to the Generation adidas class formally on Thursday.
7- 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.
8- 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.
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. He boasts good speed and an ability to score with either foot. The Portland Timbers put a Homegrown Player claim on him, but sources tell SBI that claim was rejected.
10- 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, but the fact that he signed an MLS senior contract already suggest scouts have seen enough to rate him highly.
11- 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.
12- ASHTON BENNETT, Coastal Carolina, F
Boasting impressive speed and shiftiness to elude defenders, Bennett turned it on in the second half of his senior year to remind scouts of the quality he showed as a goal-scoring machine as a junior. His showing against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament impressed, and helped bring him back into the conversation of best senior forwards. It should be noted he has Canadian residency.
13- *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 has dropped in the power rankings because while there are some teams that really like him, several teams are wary of taking a young player they don’t know much about. The MLS Combine will be very important for him to try and move into the Top Ten.
14- 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.
15- ERIC SCHOENLE, West Virginia, CB
A skilled 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.
16- 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.
17- 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.
18- 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 MLS signed him to a pre-draft senior contract, meaning at least one MLS team has intentions of making him a first-round selection.
19- 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 late first-round option.
20- 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.
21- 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.
22- 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.
23- 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.
24- 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.
25- 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.
26- 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. His stock is rising steadily as more teams become familiar with his qualities.
27- % 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. His stock could take a hit because of his decision to skip the MLS Combine and go on trial with German club Eintracht Frankfurt. Even with that, it is a safe bet that some team will spend a pick on him to secure his rights.
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- 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.
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- 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.
32- 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, or his college success translating to the pros. 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.
33- 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.
34- 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.
35- % 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. So why isn’t he ranked higher if he’s the best right back in the draft? He suffered a torn ACL in his final college game of the season. A smart team will take a chance on him at some point in the second round.
36- 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.
37- 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.
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, though he originally played as a forward.
39. 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.
40- 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.
41- 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.
42- 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.
43- 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.
44- 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- % 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. So why is he so far down on this list? He has passed on attending the MLS Combine and is expected to stop playing soccer to do missionary work. He would be 20 spots higher on this list if not for that recent development, so don’t be surprised if a team takes a chance on selecting him.
47- 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.
48- 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.
49- 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.
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.
51- %ADAM JAHN, Stanford, F
52. %ANDY HUFTALIN, Marquette, F
53. %CHRIS RITTER, Northwestern, CB
54. DAN DELGADO, San Diego, AM
55. %ANDY REIMER, Georgetown, F/M
56- %JACOB BARRON, Penn State, DM
57- BRENTON GRIFFITHS, South Florida, CB
58-COLIN MURPHY, Boston College, DM
59- %GRANT VAN DE CASTEELE, Notre Dame, CB
60- LEBO MOLOTO, Lindsey Wilson, F
61- STEPHEN OKAI, Mobile, CM
62- %JOSSIMAR SANCHEZ, UConn, RB/DM
63- %ANDREW RIBEIRO, Creighton, CB/DM
64- DAVID MEVES, Akron, GK
65. T.J. NELSON, SMU, RB/RM
66- SCOTT GOODWIN, North Carolina, GK
67- JOHN GALLAGHER, Penn State, LB
68- JONATHAN MENDOZA, Stetson, AM
69- BEN FISK, Washington, CM
70- %JOSE ALTAMIRANO, San Diego State, AM
71- LESTON PAUL, South Florida, CM
72- %MICHAEL ROSE, Notre Dame, RM
73. LUKE SPENCER, Xavier, F
74. DYLAN REMICK, Brown, LB
75. %MAX WASSERMAN, UConn, RB
76. %STEPHANE DIOP, UConn, F
77. %KYLE SOROKA, Villanova, F
78. %TONY SALCICCIA, California, CM
79. %ANTONIO AGUILAR, DePaul, AM/LM
80. DREW BECKIE, Denver, LB
81. %AUSTIN SAVAGE, Clemson, F
82. %SHADOW SABELE, West Virginia, M/F
83. JOHNNY RAJ, Fairfield, RB
84. %CHRIS HEGNGI, Ohio State, F
85. RYAN CLARK, Monmouth, CM/LB
86. %EVAN RAYNR, UCLA, M
87. %CALEB KONSTANSKI, Indiana, CB
88. %DION ACUFF, UCSB, F
89. MICHAEL BUSTAMANTE, Boston, AM
90. BRIAN FEKETE, Tampa, LB/CB
Some more notes on the Big Board:
This list is a compilation of rankings based on a variety of factors. The foundation being lengthy conversations and interviews with MLS coaches, general managers, technical directors and scouts, as well as college coaches and players. All that combined with my own observations during the college season, which included watching all or part of more then 75 college games, mostly via internet.
There are no such things as perfect rankings when it comes to the MLS college scouting set-up. It’s virtually impossible to watch enough games to do rankings on your own, which is where a lot of people fall into a trap. Of course there are some who simply fashion their rankings based on rankings that are already out in the public eye. We have done our rankings for six years now and the process is one I feel helps provide as clear-cut a listing as you will find in terms of how MLS scouts view the class.
On the player front, Justin Luthy would be on the list but there seems to be some uncertainty about whether the Columbus Crew still might make a Homegrown Player claim on him.
I left this Big Board at 90, but will make it an even 100 for the final MLS Big Board, which will be released on the Wednesday morning before the draft. I’m sure there are some players who slipped through the cracks who should be on a 90-player list. I will do my best to incorporate those into the final 100-player list.
That’s all for now. Be sure to follow all of SBI’s MLS Combine and MLS Draft coverage over the next week.
Feel free to share your thoughts on our final big board, including which players you like seeing on the list and any you think should be on the list, in the comments section below.