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MLS Preseason Prospectus
by Ridge Mahoney, February 4th, 2008 6:29PM

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TAGS:  mls


A strong crop of defenders marked the 2008 MLS SuperDraft but none went in the first five picks, kicking off a day of surprises and disappointments.

This MLS SuperDraft was a case of some with many and others nearly bereft.

After San Jose traded the No. 1 pick to Kansas City in exchange for defender Nick Garcia, that left five teams - the Wizards, FC Dallas, Chicago, Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake, each with two picks - holding 10 of the 14 first-round selections. None of the teams traded away those picks.

With another round of expansion looming next year when Seattle and another team enter the league, Generation adidas players grew in importance. They do not count against the cap or the regular-roster limit, and are automatically protected from being claimed by expansion teams. They comprised 10 of the first 19 picks.

More liberal foreign-player rules - each team can field eight of any age, Toronto gets 10 - didn't manifest itself in the SuperDraft. Of the 56 picks, only five are not U.S. citizens.

Here's a look at each team following the SuperDraft and heading into preseason training. The teams are listed in order of their 2007 postseason finishes, and then by regular-season record.

HOUSTON DYNAMO (15-8-7, MLS Cup champion)

Much has changed in Dynamo-land, and head coach Dominic Kinnear will once again be tested in his ability to revamp and rebuild.

After a quiet 2007 SuperDraft, he acquired Joseph Ngwenya, Richard Mulrooney and Nate Jaqua in trades, and all three played vital roles: Ngwenya tied for the team lead with seven goals, Jaqua scored six, and the addition of Mulrooney (28 games) turned out to be a masterstroke when MLS suspended Ricardo Clark in October for kicking Carlos Ruiz.

Well, it's déjà vu all over again. He can start up front, since Ngwenya is headed to SK Austria Kaertnen, and Jaqua was also pursuing a spot in Europe. Both are free agents.

In December Houston released Scottish forward Paul Dalglish, limited by injuries to just 259 minutes last year. He had scored two goals in six games during the 2006 regular season and added two more in the playoffs.

Defender Ryan Cochrane, at his request, was left unprotected in the expansion draft and is back in San Jose. The only chips Kinnear could play in the SuperDraft were the final picks in third and fourth round, which he used on midfielders Geoff Cameron and Jeremy Barlow, respectively.

A staggering workload of league matches and international competitions (CONCACAF Champions Cup and SuperLiga, to start) awaits, so Kinnear needs several more dependable players. Chances are he'll find them, but it might take a few months as other teams shake out their rosters.

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (14-8-8, runner-up)

Troubles for the Revs were just beginning last November when they lost a third straight MLS Cup and their fourth in four appearances.

New England went into the 2008 SuperDraft a bit shook up. San Jose grabbed James Riley in the expansion draft, the Revs allowed Pat Noonan's contract to expire, and Taylor Twellman groused about an aborted transfer to Preston of the English League Championship (second division).

By sending allocation money to Los Angeles in exchange for right back Chris Albright and using the No. 13 overall pick on rugged defender Rob Valentino, are the Revs laying the groundwork for switching to a four-man back line, or just building depth in case Michael Parkhurst heads to Europe?

The Revs used their second-round picks on Duke midfielders. They acquired the rights to Michael Videira - who has passed up MLS, so far, to take a shot in Europe, and also nabbed a very heady player - Joe Germanese.

CHIVAS USA (15-7-8, semifinalist)

A dearth of prolific strikers in the draft - plus the fact he had just one pick, the first slot in the fourth round! - prompted head coach Preki to swing trades with Real Salt Lake. Atiba Harris and Alecko Eskandarian bring depth he didn't have last season when injuries to Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo short-circuited the Western Conference champion's attack.

Discussions between MLS and Glasgow Celtic regarding goalkeeper Brad Guzan have been in the news for months. San Jose nabbed backup Preston Burpo in the expansion draft, so heading into preseason a position that has been one of the team's strong points the past two seasons might be a black hole.

The one pick is midfielder Keith Savage. More talent is needed in this area, since Sacha Kljestan will miss games to play with the U.S. U-23s and Francisco Mendoza is maddeningly inconsistent. Jonathan Bornstein's national team commitments also need to be addressed.

CHICAGO FIRE (10-10-10, semifinalist)

Longtime assistant Denis Hamlett has inherited a team in transition. Former head coach Juan Carlos Osorio bolted for New York after reviving the team in his five months on the job. Linchpin midfielder Chris Armas has retired and a man who could replace him, Wilman Conde, may wind up following Osorio to New York.

Generation adidas attacker Patrick Nyarko (Virginia Tech) fell down the ladder far enough for Hamlett to take him at No. 7, and at No. 12 he claimed Tulsa goalkeeper Dominic Cervi. Starting keeper Matt Pickens played out his contract and went on trial at Norwich City (English League Championship) while dickering for a new contract. All-American midfielder Peter Lowry (Santa Clara) adds a savvy presence.

"Obviously there will be an adjustment as far as going from the college level to the professional level," says Hamlett. "But I feel from watching [Nyarko] throughout the years at Virginia Tech and at the combine, and when [assistant coach] Mike Jeffries was at Duke they played Virginia Tech several times, that he brings some different qualities that Calen [Carr] does: his passing, his ability to see things. He's the complete package and it's going to take some time to make the adjustment but we're excited that he was able to fall that far."

Chicago has also assembled a most impressive support staff for Hamlett. Armas is one of his assistant coaches; the other is Jeffries, a former Fire assistant who has three years of experience as head coach in Dallas. Former U.S. international and Chicago Storm (indoor) head coach Frank Klopas is technical director.

D.C. UNITED (16-7-7, quarterfinalist)

Yet another first-round playoff fizzle for the Eastern Conference champion, the concussions-forced retirement of midfielder Josh Gros, the transfer of goalie Troy Perkins to Norwegian club Valerenga, uncertainty regarding Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno, and the pending arrival of at least three South Americans radically alter the look of the 2007 Supporters' Shield winner.

Pending negotiations with Argentine forward Franco Niell, Colombian defender Gonzalo Martínez and Peruvian goalkeeper Jose Carvallo, the makeover will be extensive. At least one other South American is also on the team's shopping list.

With its only pick in the first two rounds of the SuperDraft, D.C. picked up midfielder Andrew Jacobson to fill a gap left by the departure of Brian Carroll, who wound up in Columbus via a trade after expansion San Jose claimed him. Forward Ryan Cordeiro and defender/midfielder Tony Schmitz came later.

D.C. needs reinforcements, and quick. It opens the CONCACAF Champions Cup Feb. 20.

FC DALLAS (13-12-5, quarterfinalist)

Three straight flame-outs in the first round prompted Coach Steve Morrow to nail down the services of former Mexican international Duilio Davino as a Designated Player. If Davino can adapt to MLS at age 32, FCD may have the reliable central defender that it has recently lacked and that Clarence Goodson might have become if he hadn't departed.

Morrow drew three of a kind, all young, in the first and second rounds. He took the blistering pace and precise crossing of U.S. under-17 midfielder Brek Shea, a promising keeper in U-17 teammate Josh Lambo and the tricky skills of U-23 midfielder Eric Avila. All three are also Generation adidas players.

"Maybe Brek opened some eyes at the combine but we already had him very high on our list," said Morrow, of the blond, 6-foot-3 speedster. "He's knows the game very well, he's very technical and good in tight situations. He's able to see things and is a good passer. He just impressed me with all this qualities.

"We've got one on each side as well. It gives balance. Bret is obviously more left-footed, and Eric is more right-footed."

Shea and Avila also are possible replacements for Arturo Alvarez, who despite signing a new contract could be headed to San Jose, or overseas.

Avila played for 2006 NCAA Division I champion UC Santa Barbara, which supplied three of the first 19 picks.

NEW YORK RED BULLS (12-11-7, quarterfinalist)

After the SuperDraft, head coach Juan Carlos Osorio headed to Colombia, Brazil and Argentina to find and sign players. On his shopping list are a left-footed defender, a left-sided midfielder and a playmaker, but with DPs Claudio Reyna and Juan Pablo Angel tying up one-third of the salary cap (approximately $2.2 million) his chances of signing another big name are limited, unless the team can buy out the remaining year of Reyna's contract and get his salary off its cap number. One big name linked to New York was Argentine No. 10 Marcelo Gallardo.

Speaking of left-footed defenders, Eric Brunner - taken by RBNY as the No. 16 overall pick - fits the bill. A revolving-door policy in the back last season gives Brunner a chance to earn a starting spot depending on Osorio's success in the player market.

Also coming aboard are midfielders Luke Sassano and David Roth, who had been projected to go higher. They will vie for Joe Vide's spot. Osorio revamped Chicago in midseason last year with a few player moves and intense training sessions; given an entire preseason to work with, the Red Bulls might be unrecognizable - presumably for the better - come spring.

KANSAS CITY WIZARDS (11-12-7, quarterfinalist)

Success in luring South Americans Carlos Marinelli and Eloy Colombano to Kansas City last year prompted Coach Curt Onalfo to find Colombian striker Colombian Iván Trujillo as yet another Latin-style attacker. He also drafted Roger Espinoza with the second of his two first-round picks.

After trading Nick Garcia (San Jose) and Jose Burciaga Jr. (Colorado), Onalfo did dip into the defenders pool, sort of. The No. 1 overall pick, Chance Myers, might play right mid instead of the right back (UCLA) or left back (U.S. under-23s) positions he's filled recently.

While he was an assistant coach with the U.S. under-20 team, Kansas City technical director Peter Vermes worked with Myers.

"This year we were looking for wide play, because it's so important in this league to have that," said Vermes. "Chance is an attacking guy. It's our feeling in a 4-4-2 he can play as right defender or right midfield, and in a 3-5-2 he can play out wide."

Onalfo addressed his defensive issues in the second round by taking size and speed in 6-foot-4 Yomby William and Jonathan Leathers, respectively, but says returnees Tyson Wahl and Aaron Holbein get first crack at starting spots.

Kansas City, predominantly a 4-4-2 team last year, will tinker with a 3-5-2 in preseason so as to offer Marinelli more cover in the playmaker spot and lessen the pressure on holding mid Kerry Zavagnin, who turns 33 this season.

COLUMBUS CREW (9-11-10)

Former Nigerian striker Jay Jay Okocha, who discussed an MLS move last year, is on the club's radar screen, yet Crew coach Sigi Schmid used draftees to address needs up front and elsewhere. Andy Herron and Jacob Thomas were waived, Kei Kamara was traded, and defender Marcos Gonzales might be headed back to his native Chile.

After taking massive (6-foot-5) defender Andy Iro with the sixth overall pick, Schmid nabbed forwards George Josten and Haitian international Ricardo Pierre-Louis in the second round.

"We really felt we needed a couple of forwards who could fill a role," says Schmid, who as head coach of the Galaxy in 2002 drafted Brian Ching out of Gonzaga University, where Josten scored 34 goals in 70 games.

"I thought he was one of the best back-to-goal forwards in the combine. And if he does as well as the last guy from Gonzaga that I drafted, I'll be very happy."

None of the first five picks dipped into a deep pool of defenders, so Schmid had his preference. Iro, a native of Liverpool, started all 86 of his college games and helped UC Santa Barbara to the 2006 NCAA Division I title.

"We really had Andy and Julius James at the top of our lists," said Schmid. "Andy has more size and is left-footed, which means he can play with Chad [Marshall] or Danny O'Rourke and be comfortable. The last thing was, he's more outgoing on the field and talks and organizes a little bit more."

COLORADO RAPIDS (9-13-8)

The Rapids added Burciaga in a trade and tried to amass something between its No. 5 and No. 36 picks but were unsuccessful. Ciaran O'Brien, the first UCSB Gaucho taken, sparks up midfield yet is a long way short of replacing Kyle Beckerman, who was traded to Real Salt Lake last season.

Head coach Fernando Clavijo had hoped to grab either Myers or Shea as a possible impact player. O'Brien might fill an immediate need but the rest of the crop - defender Adrian Chevannes, and midfielders Brian Grazier and Scott Campbell - are long-termers. Rumors that Pablo Mastroeni might be headed out of town further roiled the Rapids.

"We have a very young player in a position we are weak, on the left side, that we need to address, but after that there are some talented projects, but we need more than projects to change the direction that we're going," said Clavijo.

The attack sputtered last year, with Jovan Kirovski's six goals the team high. Hercules Gomez faded after a bright start and Nicolas Hernandez plummeted from his 2006 stats (7 goals, 6 assists) to score just one goal.

LOS ANGELES GALAXY (9-14-7)

Head coach Ruud Gullit attended the combine but left the draft to others so he could move his family from Europe. Los Angeles spread its six picks around, getting players at all positions. But clearly this team still has moves to make and needs to add experience after also trading veteran Chris Albright to New England for allocation money.

Right back Sean Franklin and forward/midfielder Eli Allen were all LA had to show after the first two rounds. "Everything we did came with the blessing of Ruud," said president and general manager Alexi Lalas, who attended the SuperDraft with assistant coach Cobi Jones and director of soccer Paul Bravo.

Franklin's blazing pace and crossing accuracy will be tested in preseason. Last year, veteran midfielder Chris Klein replaced Albright most of the time.

"You have to play both sides of the ball, offense and defense," said Franklin, the third outside back taken in the first four selections. "At the right back position, it's important to get down the line and get crosses off and be productive in the offensive part of the game."

Bringing back Carlos Ruiz enables Los Angeles to field an attractive attacking triumvirate: Ruiz, David Beckham, and Landon Donovan, whose no-trade clause in his contract renders speculation he's headed elsewhere to accommodate a major foreign signing somewhat far-fetched. But in LA, anything can happen.

REAL SALT LAKE (6-15-9)

Holding three of the first 17 picks enabled RSL to bolster its skill set with former U.S. U-20 Tony Beltran and former U.S. U-17 Alex Nimo, as well as obtain an eventual replacement - possibly - for defender Eddie Pope in David Horst.

"We ended up making that selection on potential and upside, and we feel that David Horst has a huge, huge ceiling," says head coach Jason Kreis. "He was somebody we really, really liked and we were crossing our fingers that we could get him with that 14th pick. It probably surprised a few people but he may end up being the surprise."

Of Beltran he said, "We thought we needed a wide defender and we rated him. We rated him real high."

There's some reason for optimism in Salt Lake City. There's good American talent in Kyle Beckerman, Nathan Sturgis and Robbie Findley, plus the draftees; a potent foreign trio returning in Matias Mantilla, Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola; experience in Carey Talley and Ritchie Kotschau; and goalkeeping depth in Nick Rimando and Chris Seitz.

Yet one of the critical questions is how Kreis, less than a year into the job, can mix the elements in the franchise's fourth season and with a new stadium on course to open, perhaps by October.

TORONTO FC (6-17-7)

Despite having traded the No. 2 pick to FC Dallas, Toronto claimed three of the more highly regarded players available and also landed the rights to unsigned Notre Dame striker Joseph Lapira, who was on trial with Nottingham Forest of the English League Championship during the SuperDraft.

Taken back to back in the first round, defender Julius James and midfielder/defender Pat Phelan are instant candidates for starting jobs. Wake Forest keeper Brian Edwards, the last choice in the second round, excelled at the combine and could earn the backup spot.

TFC management cut off season-ticket sales at 16,000, so another year of raucous occasions at BMO Field is all but guaranteed. Head coach Mo Johnston took very little heat for a six-win season, and has a core of good players in midfielders Carl Robinson and Ronnie O'Brien, captain Jim Brennan, robust striker Danny Dichio and speedy striker Jeff Cunningham, Rookie of the Year Maurice Edu, and defender/midfielder Marvell Wynne.

That's way too much talent to finish with a single digit in victories, given a much kinder fate than last season's frightening run of injuries. Johnston is working his extensive contacts in Europe, and has two more international slots than his MLS rivals.

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (expansion team)

If anyone should know his defenders, it's former Canada international Frank Yallop, who manned the back line for Ipswich Town for more than a decade.

Yet eyebrows went up when he traded the No. 1 pick for Nick Garcia, a solid but hardly great defender for Kansas City the past seven seasons. The loss of Clarence Goodson, taken in the expansion draft and then lost to Norwegian club IK Start just days before the draft may have forced his hand. Other trades had left him with just one SuperDraft pick, the first selection in the second round, which he used on midfielder Shea Salinas.

San Jose looks thin up front with only Kei Kamara and Gavin Glinton on the roster, but a good spine of players has been built with keeper Joe Cannon, midfielders Ned Grabavoy, Ivan Guerrero and Joe Vide, defenders Ryan Cochrane and Garcia, and Mr. Dependable, James Riley.

When he took over the original Quakes just before the 2001 SuperDraft, Yallop parlayed Landon Donovan and a slew of sharp acquisitions into a league champion.

Yallop has no such budding star, yet, but that's what allocation money is for, and despite using some in the trades, he's still cash-flush.

(This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)

 

 

 



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