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Top young prospects for MLS 2009
by Ridge Mahoney, January 8th, 2009 7AM
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[MLS] Into a sports landscape changed once again, by elimination of the MLS reserve system and widespread economic queasiness, nine college players have left school early to sign Generation adidas contracts.

Four midfielders, two defenders, two forwards and one goalkeeper make up the 2009 GA class. The nine players have been distributed amongst four squads to contest matches at the MLS Combine that begins Saturday in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Three members of NCAA Division I champion Maryland head the list: midfielder Jeremy Hall had 14 goals and seven assists, midfield mate Rodney Wallace started 25 games for the Terps, and defender Omar Gonzalez is a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist and adidas/NSCAA first team all-American.

The other GA defender is Kevin Alston of Indiana, an all-Big 10 selection who started 24 games for the Hoosiers.

Steve Zakuani (Akron) leaves school after leading the nation in goals with 20 as a sophomore. Like Gonzalez, he's an adidas/NSCAA first team All-American, as well as the the Soccer America Player of the Year. He is a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, the winner of which will be announced Friday.

Forward Peri Marosevic (Michigan) and midfielder Daniel Cruz (UNLV) are the youngest GA players at age 19, and both are former U.S. under-17 internationals. Cruz is a member of the U.S. U-20 team that will attempt to qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals later this year in Egypt.

Midfielder Baggio Husidic (UIC) and goalkeeper Stefan Frei (California) are the two oldest GA players and two more first team All-Americans to sign with MLS. Husidic, 21, scored nine goals and added six assists; Frei, 22, started 21 games for Cal and had a 0.77 goals against average and earned his first team All-American selection in 2007.

Wake Forest defender Ike Opara rejected an MLS GA offer and is returning to school. As of Thursday, UCLA midfielder Mike Stephens had yet to decide whether to join the GA class.

By league rules, the salaries of GA players don't count against a team's salary cap, which is why many of them are taken with a team's first pick. They also receive bonuses from adidas, stipends to continue their academic studies, and often command higher starting salaries than most seniors taken in the SuperDraft, which will be held next Thursday in St. Louis.

In last year's draft, the first three picks as well as six of the first eight were Generation adidas players, but two - Eric Avila and Josh Lambo - slipped into the second round. The eight GA players available in the 2007 SuperDraft were selected in the first 14 slots, with Dallas taking 15-year-old forward Abdus Ibrahim with the first pick of the second round. (There were 13 MLS teams in 2007 and 14 last year.)

New league rules regarding rosters are in place; teams can list either 18, 19 or 20 players on their regular rosters, and the number of developmental slots has been chopped from 10 to four.

With a bit more pressure to obtain players who can crack the lineup sooner rather than later, MLS teams may adjust their approaches as they scout talent at the Combine and prepare for the SuperDraft. The knock-on effect of where the nine GA players are selected will be an intriguting factor in the third and fourth rounds, since like the Reserve Division, MLS has terminated the Supplemental Draft.

Pos. Age Hometown College National Team Experience
Kevin Alston D 20 Silver Spring, Md. University of Indiana U.S. U-17s
Danny Cruz M 19 Glendale, Ariz. UNLV U.S. U-20s
Stefan Frei GK 22 Berkeley, Calif University of California Swiss U-15
Omar Gonzalez D 20 Dallas University of Maryland US U-17
Jeremy Hall M 20 Tampa University of Maryland US U-17
Baggio Husidic M 21 Libertyville, Ill. University of Illinois-Chicago
Peri Marosevic F 19 Rockford, Ill. University of Michigan US U-17
Rodney Wallace M 20 Rockville, Md University of Maryland
Steve Zakuani F 20 Akron, Ohio University of Akron


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