[MLS SPOTLIGHT] A SuperDraft cut down to just two rounds can't offer much in quantity, and it's safe to assume a lot of players will be anxiously awaiting the four-round Supplemental Draft next week. Yet the general consensus is this year's pool might be one of the richest in attacking talent, and that will be one of the intriguing subplots Thursday (noon ET, ESPN2) in Kansas City, along with how quickly are taken the nine Generation adidas players, whose salaries don't count against each team’s salary-budget charge.
Here’s a look at the most glaring needs of teams heading into the SuperDraft and which players can address those issues (Generation adidas players are marked by an asterisk*).
FORWARDS. The obvious candidates are not hard to discern and while teams will often opt for international players to carry the goalscoring burden, there’s always a place for a collegiate product with a knack for scoring goals and/or setting them up.
Chivas USA has aging veterans Juan Pablo Angel (unsigned) and Alejandro Moreno, who could figure prominently in Venezuela’s World Cup qualifying campaign. The loss of Brian Ching in the Expansion Draft puts a lot of pressure on Houston’s Will Bruin, an honest worker who netted five goals in his rookie year but doesn’t yet exude the persona of a go-to guy. There remains the possibility Ching goes back to Texas in a trade but he’ll be 34 in May, anyway.
Two teams have lost DP forwards: New England (Milton Caraglio) and Columbus (Andres Mendoza) and the Revs apparently have also lost Rejko Lekic. If Omar Salgado’s development doesn’t accelerate, Vancouver will need backup for Eric Hassli and Camilo (combined they scored 22 of the Whitecaps’ 35 goals in 2011). Montreal’s accumulation of talent and No. 1 pick might prompt a selection at this position to add further value in a trade.
Top choices: 1. Chandler Hoffman* (UCLA) 2. Darren Mattocks* (Akron) 3. Casey Townsend (Maryland) 4. Ethan Finlay (Creighton) 5. Dom Dwyer* (South Florida) 6. Sam Garza* (UC Santa Barbara).
PLAYMAKERS. At the Combine, coaches spoke of more skillful and creative players on display than in past years, while also mentioning the caveat of teams splashing out money, smart and otherwise, on international talent.
A lot of teams seem to be constantly in search of a No. 10 and rarely do they dip into the college ranks with any great conviction, no matter what might be said publicly. And not every college playmaker is suited to either a more workmanlike, two-way role, or life on the flank.
Yet many MLS teams have converted college forwards to wide mids -- Brian Mullan, Patrick Nyarko, and Steve Zakuani come to mind – and this could be the case for someone like Garza or Dwyer if a team has better options at forward.
Columbus needs to decide if Eddie Gaven can be the primary playmaker whether or not he plays wide or in the middle, and San Jose could use a few more creative thoughts, particularly if Simon Dawkins – on loan last year from Tottenham – doesn’t return. Philly needs creative cover in the middle in case Freddy Adu struggles through an Olympic Games year, and could also use a left-sided player to replace Justin Mapp in case Gabriel Farfan can’t hold down that spot.
Top choices: 1. Enzo Martinez* (North Carolina) 2. Kelyn Rowe* (UCLA) 3. Luis Silva (U.C. Santa Barbara) 4. Nick De Leon (Louisville) 5. Aldo Paniagua (Paraguay) 6. Luke Holmes (Akron).
MIDFIELDERS. While many teams have specific midfield roles to fill, others need to simply get more guys on the field who can do things with the ball whether or not they can also win it. Most of those eight teams that missed the playoffs can point to a dearth of overall competence in midfield as among the causes of their failures. Toronto FC can point to the duo of Julian da Guzman and Torsten Frings as one of its few strengths, the other stragglers have issues in this part of the field
Kirk Urso captained North Carolina to the NCAA title last month. Box-to-box types seem well-suited to the MLS game, and a year ago Steven McCarthy came out of the same school with a similar reputation to play 21 games for the Revs. Calum Mallace (Marquette) is another cut from this mold, and like Urso, brought consistency along with impressive moments to his games at the Combine. Others, like Tony Cascio (UConn) are candidates for MLS employment on the flanks who may need defensive improvement to garner regular playing time.
Top choices: 1. Kirk Urso (North Carolina) 2. Calum Mallace (Marquette) 3. Greg Jordan (Creighton) 4. Jason Banton (Blackburn/England) 5. Tony Cascio (UConn) 6. Kohei Yamada (Thespa Kusatsu/Japan).
DEFENDERS. Vancouver just signed Frenchman Martin Bonjour and already has Jay DeMerit and a few other centerbacks but if Montreal passes on Duke’s Andrew Wenger, rated as can’t-miss by just about everybody, the ‘Caps might nab him anyway.
Toronto FC could use a young stud to complement Adrian Cann, who made significant strides to be named team MVP in 2010 before a torn ACL in his right knee sidelined him last May. The Revs, the Quakes, the Timbers, the Red Bulls, etc., should also be in the market for back-line bolstering, and even if Leonardo recovers sufficiently to man the Galaxy middle, another heavy load of domestic and international games can strain a unit deprived of Omar Gonzalez. Ditto FC Dallas if George John’s pending loan to West Ham turns into something more.
This SuperDraft appears a thinner along the back line than in previous years but a peculiar run of results at the Combine (3-2 and 4-2 games along with 0-0) isn’t indicative of a greater depth in the collegiate ranks that wasn’t necessarily represented in Florida. Man-child Andrew Jean-Baptiste (UConn) is a project at age 19 who will take some grooming but as a GA player is almost assured of going in the first round even though he trails a handful of colleagues on the development curve.
Top choices: 1. Andrew Wenger* (Duke) 2. Hunter Jumper (Virginia) 3. Tyler Polak* (Creighton) 4. Matt Hedges (North Carolina) 5. R.J. Allen (Monmouth) 6. Austin Berry (Louisville).
GOALKEEPERS. Most teams are set in goal, which is good, for a position often filled in MLS by college products isn’t well-stocked this year. A few keepers did well enough at the Combine and during their college seasons to merit consideration, and others might have doomed their slim chances –at least at this point in their careers – in Florida by conceding soft goals, especially on savable low shots. Also, as usual, no Generation adidas contracts were given to goalies.
Coaches at the Combine know the keepers are playing behind makeshift back lines and won’t be as decisive and commanding as they would be in actual games with their teams, but shot-stopping is a constant they can evaluate. The conference tournaments attended by many coaches offers opportunities to see players in more natural conditions yet under greater pressure than at the Combine, and this is especially important in assessing goalkeepers.
Top choices: 1. Ryan Meara (Fordham). 2. Brian Holt (Creighton) 3. Chris Blais (South Florida) 4. Doug Herrick (St. Mary’s) 5. Scott Angevine (Coastal Carolina) 6. Alec Kann (Furman).