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MLS Draft: The Hot List
January 31st, 2000 12AM

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The 12 most talked-about prospects in the SuperDraft

A mantra repeated every year around draft time in the other American professional sports: "We'll take the best player available when our number is called." In Major League Soccer, however, that phrase is seldom heard.

Coaches and general managers have so many factors to consider ùpositional needs, experience vs. youth, salary cap, foreign status ùthat drafting is never as simple as ranking the available players by ability and picking the highest one remaining.

Rebuilding teams such as New England and the MetroStars need to select players who can start immediately or trade their picks for players who can. Established squads such as D.C. United, Los Angeles and Dallas are more likely to invest their picks in future prospects.

With the college and supplemental drafts merging this year to form a "SuperDraft," these questions become exponentially more complicated. Rating top A-League players against Division III standouts is like comparing apples to orange marmalade.

Assembling a "best available" list is nearly impossible. In fact, it is doubtful any MLS gurus have bothered to do so with the entire field of players.

But that is precisely why we've tried it.

Soccer America took an informal poll of MLS coaches and general managers across the league in an attempt to identify the 12 most highly regarded players. What follows is the result of that poll with a brief scouting report on each of the top 12 and another 12 whose names surfaced frequently.

College defenders dominate list

It is a defender-laden cast with the top four backs ù Carlos Bocanegra, Dan Califf, Nick Garcia and Steve Shak ù being listed in a different order by almost every person polled. The list is also dominated by college players.

Did MLS brass refrain from mentioning more USL or non-Division I college players for fear of revealing a hot tip? Probably. Will this list come anywhere close to matching the actual first round? Probably not. Is it fun to speculate anyway? Definitely.

1. Adin Brown (G, William & Mary). The only unanimous top-five pick, he seems the surest bet to become an MLS starter. Since teams are not likely to draft him as a backup, he may fall to a team that needs a starting keeper (like Colorado) or be traded shortly after getting picked.

2. Steve Shak (D, UCLA). Consistently rated highly by scouts for his speed, technical ability and composure under pressure, but may lose tiebreaking decisions with the three Project-40 defenders because they do not count against a team's roster or salary cap.

3. Dan Califf (D, Maryland). The youngest defender in the Olympic pool just completed his sophomore season in college. A big, physical marker who has played centrally and outside back. Also attractive are his distribution and threat to score on set plays.

4. Carlos Bocanegra (D, UCLA). A proven man-marker with fine ball skills. Despite being left-footed, some question his ability to play left back at the next level. Not making the Olympic squad could be seen as an advantage ù he'll miss fewer games and may be out to prove something in MLS.

Guile and finishing not overlooked

5. Aleksey Korol (F, Indiana). Did not dazzle at this year's College Cup but few have forgotten the fireworks he set off the year before. His combination of guile and finishing touch will not be overlooked. MLS coaches are hoping Korol is assigned "youth international" status so he does not occupy a foreign slot.

6. Nick Garcia (D, Indiana). Two national championship rings glitter on his resume, yet he remains unproven in many MLS eyes because he played so deep in college. Some question his technical ability, but all praise his intangibles: competitiveness, grit and leadership. Can play defensive midfield.

7. Sasha Victorine (M, UCLA). The Missouri Athletic Club Player of the Year is versatile ù he played everything from sweeper to center forward for the Bruins. His vision and creative talents are listed as his assets, while speed may be a liability.

8. Mike Burke (F, Charleston Battery). Extremely quick and capable of beating players on the dribble. The 1998 A-League Rookie of the Year had six goals, eight assists last season. Some view him as a dangerous flank player in MLS.

9. Eric Denton (D, Santa Clara). A left-sided player who fits well into a 4-4-2 system and can overlap on the flank. Small in stature, but has good acceleration and speed. Several see him a year away from becoming a reliable professional back.

10. Peter Byaruhanga (F, UAB). The Ugandan striker's foreign status will shy some teams away, but can definitely add spice to an attack. His unpredic-tability makes him tough for defenders to stop but also tough for teammates to read. An opportunistic goal poacher.

11. Yuri Lavrinenko (M, Indiana). One of the mysteries in the draft, he raised himself into first-round consideration with a brilliant College Cup showing. His understanding of the game and combination play are unparalleled among draft prospects, but whether he is physically capable of holding down a precious center midfield slot in MLS remains to be seen.

12. David Wright (D, Creighton). Does not have the exposure of some of his defensive draft mates, but has all the tools ù good in the air, responsible with the ball and a solid one-on-one defender.

by Soccer America associate editor Will Kuhns



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