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Flurry of activity intensifies
by Ridge Mahoney, January 15th, 2009 7AM

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The clock is ticking, the laptops are clicking, and coaches have only a few hours left to nail down their picking for the 2009 MLS SuperDraft (TV: ESPN2, live, 2 pm ET).

As was the case last year, the defender crop is considered strong. The midfield class is regarded as solid, the forward group capable but far from outstanding, and the goalkeepers consist of Stefan Frei and a bunch of very promising question marks.

One wrinkle of last year's draft is that a good bunch of central defenders went unclaimed early as teams grabbed outside backs with three of the top four picks: No. 1 Chance Myers, No. 3 Tony Beltran and No. 4 Sean Franklin, who played centrally while earning Rookie of the Year honors for a very porous Galaxy. The first central defender taken was Andy Iro (Columbus) with the No. 6 pick, and Julius James went to Toronto at No. 9.

So take all the rave reviews about Maryland defender Omar Gonzalez warily, though Seattle -- holder of the No. 1 pick -- is far from set in the back with Nathan Sturgis, Tyson Wahl, Jeff Parke, and James Riley.

On the eve of the draft, here are some of the needs and issues each team is facing and which players could be chosen.

TOP OF THE CHARTS. Coach Sigi Schmid, flush with allocation money, can probably swing a trade or two to get the current MLS players he wants without having to sacrifice the No. 1 pick. Or he can flip places with a team (Toronto, Los Angeles, FC Dallas, D.C. United) behind him and still get a top prospect.

Seattle is reportedly willing to trade Khano Smith and can certainly use a forward (Peri Marosevic?) and midfielder (Sam Cronin?) out of the draft. Look for George John (Washington) to wind up with Seattle one way or another.

Seattle technical director Chris Henderson has said a few interesting offers for the No. 1 pick were presented prior to the Combine and the bidding is likely continue. One source said Seattle is leaning toward Akron forward Steve Zakuani if it doesn't trade the pick.

Still unconfirmed is the status of Deportivo Cali attacker Freddy Montero, tracked by Seattle for months only to be offered a deal by Spanish club Real Betis a month ago.

TRADE WINDS. The Red Bulls picked up former MetroStar defender Mike Petke on waivers, but holes left by the departures of Jeff Parke (expansion draft) and Diego Jimenez (loan deal with UAG expired) remain. The obvious solution is to somehow nick Wilman Conde away from Chicago and though the Fire has rebuffed such efforts so far, it can't keep a disgruntled player in so important a position forever.

Does head coach Juan Carlos Osorio hand the left-side midfield slot to Danleigh Borman in the wake of Dave van den Bergh's move to FC Dallas? Van den Bergh was also the team's best left back, so there's a need there as well.

New York traded for Dominic Oduro and signed Macoumba Kandji to a new contract, so it seems set up front, and Osorio can always dabble in the international market for a forward.

Chicago has no first-round pick and no selections at all until No. 28; New York moved up three slots to No. 11 by swapping places with Dallas in the van den Bergh trade. The Dallas makeover continued Wednesday with the signing of former Cal defender Steve Purdy, who bypassed MLS in 2007 to sign with German club 1860 Munich. The Galaxy picked Purdy in the 2007 MLS Supplemental Draft - he'd been projected to go in the SuperDraft but his European ambitions were well known - but its rights to him lapsed.

Unless it moves way up in the draft, Chicago won't pick up a central defender ready to step in if it loses Conde, and it also must decide what to do with veteran C.J. Brown and how to replace retired veteran Diego Gutierrez.

The Fire could use another forward, having traded Chad Barrett to Toronto to acquire Brian McBride and waived Tomasz Frankowski and Andy Herron. Patrick Nyarko, its top pick (No. 8) in last year's draft, has first claim on a starting spot, but the Fire could also return Chris Rolfe to that position and use Nyarko there or find someone else (Michael Lahoud?). Winger Calen Carr, taken by Chicago in the 2006 draft, must prove this season he deserves to stick around.

FREI IN TOP FOUR? Though he allowed a very stoppable goal on the final day of the Player Combine Tuesday, goalkeeper Stefan Frei has so impressed MLS teams he could be taken second or fourth, by Toronto, or third, by Los Angeles.

The advantage for Toronto is they can use the second pick on Frei and either keep him or use him in a trade, and still pick up a top prospect; the issue is trickier if TFC decides to trade one of the slots, or Seattle trades the No. 1. Let's face it, no matter how talented Frei is, rookie goalkeepers need time and experience to handle the demands of MLS, and Toronto has pressing needs in other areas.

LEFT UNSIGNED. D.C. United has signed defender Bryan Namoff to a new deal but is keeping Gonzalo Peralta hanging without a contract offer, presumably until it sees what comes of the draft. With the sixth and seventh picks, it can't be sure of getting Maryland's Gonzalez unless it moves up, but what can it offer to the teams higher up the chain? It missed the playoffs and thus does have a nice chunk of allocation money.

One of the teams not reported to be interested in former D.C. midfielder Christian Gomez is D.C. United, but the Rapids' efforts to move him will be determined by how much of his guaranteed $400,000 contract they are willing to eat. Dallas is one possibility to get Gomez. Another is Chivas USA.

Colorado is in the reverse situation of when it acquired Clint Mathis from Real Salt Lake in 2006; less than one-half of Mathis' $410,000 salary ($270,000 base) counted against Colorado's cap. It received a small slice of cap relief the following year, when it traded Mathis to New York.

D.C. is also monitoring another former Cal player, midfielder Andrew Jacobson, who signed with French club Lorient after D.C. took him in the second round a year ago. He's on trial in Denmark but is still under contract to Lorient.

His former college coach, Kevin Grimes, said Wednesday Danish club Esbjerg has tendered an offer to buy Jacobson from Lorient in the summer. Theoretically, D.C. might be able to steal in and buy him from Lorient, which is willing to let him go, but the unwritten rule in MLS is a second-round pick who opted not to sign with MLS normally gets the minimum salary upon his return, and that hardly puts D.C. in a strong bargaining position.


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