MLS SuperDraft Preview: Options abound for West teams

[MLS] The Western Conference provided six of the eight playoff teams last year and two more West Coast teams, Portland and Vancouver, are beefing up the league’s presence on the West Coast. For a rundown of how the West stacks up heading into the MLS SuperDraft Thursday in Baltimore ...

One Western team is supposed to shift over to the East for 2011, but with the league playing a balanced 34-game schedule, there really isn’t any need to jam in a ninth team; that will occur anyway, next year, when Montreal comes aboard as the 19th franchise.

So as of now, the Western Conference consists of 10 teams, two of which – Portland and Vancouver – are brand new. Of the other eight, only two – Houston and Chivas USA – failed to reach the playoffs last year, and two others – Colorado and FC Dallas – met in MLS Cup 2010. Colorado looks much the same, unless Omar Cummings’ trial in England turns into a transfer. FCD, on the other hand, is counting on a few 2010 backups to step into the spotlight this season.

Starting with Vancouver, holder of the top pick, here’s a rundown of how the West stacks up heading into the MLS SuperDraft Thursday in Baltimore:

VANCOUVER. Ex-Quakes keeper Joe Cannon and U.S. defender Jay DeMerit lend some stability in the middle, but as Cannon stated last week, “We need some players, man. I think we traded away half of our expansion picks.”

The Whitecaps actually dealt four of those 10, and kept Shea Salinas, Atiba Harris, Jonathan Leathers and John Thorrington. They all have a fair dose of MLS experience, as do goalie Jay Nolly and defender Greg Janicki, who are making the jump back up from the second division. The ‘Caps can keep the No. 1 pick, of course, but with a later first-round selection they could also swap it for a couple of proven players.

In a draft rife with promising defenders – any of whom should blossom alongside the energetic, experienced DeMerit – the ‘Caps could trade the top pick and gamble that one of those young studs will still be around at No. 8, or they could drop down a few notches and still be confident of snagging one. On the other hand, Akron wonder-forward Darlington Nagbe may be too good to pass up.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 1, 8, 19, 37.

PORTLAND. The Timbers could wind up with Darlington Nagbe, or former Dallas forward Kenny Cooper, both of them, or neither of them. They hold the first allocation spot following Vancouver’s use of its top pick on DeMerit, and thus could acquire rights to Cooper, who is negotiating a move away from German club 1860 Munich, as well as Nagbe if the 'Caps or whichever team acquires the top pick passes on him.

There’s a lot of bargaining power in holding three of the top 22 picks and Portland’s willingness to deal has already been established. It traded five of its 10 expansion picks, signed former Arsenal outside back Kirrea Gilbert, and nabbed Jeremy Hall, Troy Perkins, Jordan Graye and Rodney Wallace in trades. Coach John Spencer played (Colorado) and coached (Houston) in MLS and has a keen eye for proven talent.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 2, 20, 22.

CHIVAS USA. There are myriad needs to fill but with only one high pick, unless it can swing a trade, a Chivas USA play for Kofi Sarkodie or Greg King or Michael Tetteh to replace Jonathan Bornstein makes sense. (Remember, though Ante Jazic is still on the roster.) A talented rookie to slot into a back line anchored by veteran Jimmy Conrad is a nice building block, and securing the middle with A.J. Soares also makes sense.

Recently appointed head coach Robin Fraser is all too aware of how impotent the Chivas USA attack was last season (second-worst with 31 goals), and he will put offseason acquisitions Alan Gordon, Alejandro Moreno and Tristan Bowen through severe tests as reliable partners for Justin Braun.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 4, 40.

HOUSTON. The SuperDraft cupboard looks mighty bare and after its worst-ever season since moving to Texas from California prior to the 2006 season, the Dynamo has numerous needs: a forward to partner with Brian Ching, a defender or two, and a right mid in case former U.S. under-20 Danny Cruz can’t replace Brian Mullan, though lefties Brad Davis and Corey Ashe have played on the off-wing.

Whether Coach Dominic Kinnear plays Geoff Cameron as a playmaking mid or drops him back into the defensive role he filled so excellently in 2009 will shape the team. This draft is deep enough that Kinnear can’t really go wrong by opting for one of the defenders, or a forward, or even convert a creative spark like Michael Farfan or Anthony Ampaipitakwong into a second forward. But as for depth, that is a long-term process.
SuperDraft picks: No. 7.

SEATTLE. Free agent Erik Friberg has been added to the midfield mix, where Nathan Sturgis and Sanna Nyassi no longer roam in Rave Green. Trading for O’Brian White might make Nate Jaqua expendable, as Blaise Nkufo is the preferred partner up front for Fredy Montero and Alvaro Fernandez will be counted on to play a lot and produce a lot.

There’s a lot of second-round picks for Coach Sigi Schmid to play with and though he can probably nab a pretty good player even at No. 11, one of those second-rounders could be packaged in a trade to move up.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 11, 21, 27, 29, 47.

REAL SALT LAKE. Defender Chris Schuler filled in nicely last season, so RSL’s need for defenders isn’t so acute as many of its foes. The addition of Arturo Alvarez can add speed and width to what is normally a tucked-in diamond midfield that often featured Andy Williams floating wide last season.

The club has already locked down young Brazilian striker Paulo Junior, previously on loan, to a deal and had to pony up a lot of acquisition money to upgrade Alvario Saborio to Designated Player status and a long-term commitment. RSL may opt for the best GA player available to groom for the future while it saves salary-cap space, yet it also has enough talent on the roster to trade up.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 14, 52.

SAN JOSE. Departed Brazilians Eduardo and Geovanni failed to provide much jogo bonito, but Andre Luiz – who missed most of last season because of injury – can return to anchor the middle, where the Quakes have retained Brandon McDonald, Sam Cronin and Brad Ring. A flank spot could be open: Arturo Alvarez is now in Salt Lake City, and former USL Player of the Year Joey Gjertsen struggled through injuries and mediocre form in his first MLS season, which is one reason Chris Wondolowski played so much at right mid. San Jose hit the jackpot last year in the draft with Ike Opara, who would have been a serious Rookie of the Year candidate if not for a broken leg suffered in midseason. Might Jalil Anibaba, who played up the road at Santa Clara before transferring to UNC, drop this far? The top forwards will probably will gone and so might keeper Zach MacMath, who can be groomed as Jon Busch’s backup.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 15, 33.

LOS ANGELES. Defenders Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin and A.J. DeLaGarza give the Galaxy an enviable record in recent drafts, and it has also acquired veteran Frankie Hejduk and re-signed Gregg Berhalter as a player/coach. This draft finds LA needing replacements for the retirements of Chris Klein and Eddie Lewis, forward Edson Buddle landing a contract to play in Germany, and striker Tristan Bowen now with Chivas USA.

Talks with Juan Pablo Angel proceed, so Ecuadorian Joao Plata, collegians Corey Herzog and CJ Sapong, and U.S. under-20 Omar Salgado are all draft possibilities pending the outcome of those discussions. Juninho, if he returns, and Michael Stephens can counteract the age of over-30s Dema Kovalenko and Chris Birchall.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 16, 34, 50.

FC DALLAS. Of the eight playoff participants, no team lost more than FCD: Dax McCarty and Atiba Harris in the Expansion Draft and free agent Jeff Cunningham, along with backup goalie Dario Sala.

One intriguing idea is that Coach Schellas Hyndman might trade one or two of the Generation adidas players (not Brek Shea, of course) FCD has stockpiled the past few years and a veteran and/or draft pick to move up. Its strong Latino flavor has served it well the past two years and those connections could come into play with four South Americans in the draft pool. Teenager Omar Salgado could blossom in the FCD system but Dallas needs instant production to replace Harris and Cunningham.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 17, 35, 53.

COLORADO. There’s no speedy, powerful forward on the roster to replace Omar Cummings (on trial in England) or Macoumba Kandji (rehabbing a knee injury suffered in MLS Cup). College products Andre Akpan (Harvard) and Quincy Amarikwa (UC Davis) haven’t proved they can be dependable regulars up top. Coach Gary Smith has been scouting in England and will test a few prospects when the Rapids cross the Atlantic during preseason.

Though defenders Danny Earls and Julian Gaudet were traded to Seattle, veteran Tyrone Marshall came to Colorado via the Re-Rntry Draft and the Rapids retained left back Anthony Wallace after Portland claimed him in the Expansion Draft. There’s more depth, and youth, in midfield with Joseph Nane (Toronto) and Sanna Nyassi (Seattle) arriving via trades. Nyassi can liven up the flanks, Nane can provide cover in central midfield.
SuperDraft picks: Nos. 18, 36.

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