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Who will be No. 1 draft pick?
January 16th, 2008 6:45AM

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Ridge Mahoney on the MLS Draft
Sometimes after the fact it appears MLS has "stacked" one of its four Combine teams, and after adiPure won its third straight game by a convincing 4-1 scoreline, that case could certainly be made.

George Josten (Gonzaga) upped his Combine tally to three goals by scoring twice and defender Eric Brunner (Ohio State) raised his stock a notch by dribbling forward to drill home a 25-yard shot.

AdiPure also fielded U.S. under-17 Alex Nimo, whose runs and dribbles on both flanks sparked scoring chances, and midfielder Peter Lowry, who finished the Combine with a goal and two assists.

In six games spread over four days, here's a quick look at the standouts, the possible washouts, and a sleeper or two to keep an eye on.

GOALKEEPERS
Wake Forest keeper Brian Edwards, after posting shutouts for adiPure in his first two games, finally conceded a goal but for the entire weekend displayed the coolness and shot-stopping ability that helped the Demon Deacons win their first soccer title last month.

Of the goalkeeping set, he and U.S. under-18 goalie Josh Lambo of adidas Trofeo probably set the bar highest. Both are certain to be picked but must be rated as backups, at best, at this point. Andrew Kartunen (Stanford) didn't disappoint but neither did he dazzle.

Los Angeles, San Jose, Columbus, Toronto and Red Bull New York are among the teams with at least some goalkeeping issues to resolve.

DEFENDERS
The defender-rich Combine displayed the ruggedness and savvy of Julius James (Connecticut), Andy Iro (University of California-Santa Barbara), Pat Phelan and Julian Valentin (Wake Forest) and Jon Leathers (Furman). The disjointedness of playing with unfamiliar teammates and hastily learned systems occasionally plagued even the best of them. Pace may be an issue for Valentin.

On the final day of the combine Matt Hatzke (Santa Clara) and Mike Zaher (UCLA) set up goals by pushing forward and engaging in combination play; in league always short on quality outside backs, these two and Sean Franklin (Cal State Fullerton) will rate some consideration on draft day. Zaher also scored a great goal against Santa Clara in the NCAA playoffs. Generation adidas signee Chance Myers (UCLA), who is right-footed but can play on the left, is also going to land somewhere.

MIDFIELDERS
U.S. under-17 Brek Shea blew away the spectators, and a few opponents, with raw speed but also showed a knack for crossing. Lowry is a classy, smart playmaker who sees the field well and by netting a pair of goals won't be hung with the "can't finish" label bestowed upon collegiate attackers who freeze up when they hit the pro level.

Uruguayan Jonathan Sabbatini has all the marks of a South American No. 10 but adjusting to MLS teammates, and vice versa, won't happen overnight. Ciaran O'Brien (UC Santa Barbara) is a deep-lying midfielder who can secure the middle and spray a variety of balls. David Roth (Northwestern) has done enough to earn a shot out wide.

Andrew Jacobson (California) seems to have the smarts and skills to hold central midfield. Nimo is small but extremely quick and dangerous. Roger Espinoza (Ohio State) signed an MLS deal very late and soon enough displayed the same cleverness and savvy that helped the Buckeyes reach the NCAA final. He's also a GA.

Pat Healey (Towson) has the goods to play as a two-way midfielder in MLS and is one of the sleeper picks. Stephen King (Maryland) comes from one of the best programs in the country and has at least a glimmer of the same qualities as last year's No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year Maurice Edu, but is much smaller at 5-foot-8.

Injury sidelined Tony Beltran (UCLA) during the Combine but as a GA he's bound to wind up somewhere. Eric Avila (UC Santa Barbara) just destroys defenders with a feints and cutbacks and can control the ball at high speed. He could be tested up front.

FORWARDS
Another sleeper is NAIA Player of the Year Ricardo Pierre-Louis (Lee University) who scored a goal for adiPure with a sharp shot into the corner and later set one up for Josten. Xavier Blac (Ohio State) has a big left foot and some guile and in the right system can blossom. Patrick Nyarko (Virginia Tech) is more direct than Avila; as Generation adidas players whose salaries don't count against the cap, they could be the first two attackers drafted, though El-Hadj Cisse (North Carolina State) is a potent force with impressive skills and a nose for goal.

 



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