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One week down and three to go as we slowly move toward the 2009 MLS Draft in St. Louis and every passing week produces more information, more names and more scenarios we could see come draft day on Jan. 15th.
Among the latest developments SBI has been informed about regarding the draft, here are some of the most interesting:
Highly-touted Wake Forest defender Ike Opara, the No. 2 pick in last week's SBI MLS Mock Draft 1.0, is leaning toward staying in school. In a year when several teams are in dire need of a central defender, Opara would be a Top Three lock in this year's draft, with several teams (FC Dallas among them) ready to do what it takes to move up to take him if he were to come out.
Skilled University of Illinois-Chicago playmaker Baggio Husidic looks set to explore options in Europe rather than signing with MLS. A projected first-rounder (No. 8 in Mock Draft 1.0), Husidic was regarded as the top attacking midfielder in the draft, a distinction that could fall to UCLA's Michael Stephens if Husidic does not sign.
Speaking of Stephens, he is close to finalizing a Generation adidas deal, but has yet to be signed. A creative midfielder who can play on the flank as well as his natural central midfield, joins College Cup MVP Graham Zusi in what is a thin field of attacking midfielders.
Teams looking for fullbacks have received a boost with word that Maryland's Rodney Wallace (pictured) and Indiana's Kevin Alston will both be in the Generation adidas pool. Wallace has signed his deal already and Alston is in the process of signing his.
Here are some more developments, as well as the SBI MLS Mock Draft 2.0, and a new addition to the Mock Draft series, the Draft Best XI, which will track the top players at each position:
If you are wondering why you haven't heard anything about U.S. Under-20 striker Felix Garcia being signed as a Generation adidas player, it is because his rights are owned by the Laredo Heat, which wants a transfer fee if the 17-year-old makes the move to MLS. Also complicating matters is Garcia's desire to be placed with one of the league's Texas teams, FC Dallas or Houston. That combination of issues could keep the talented playmaker out of the draft.
The growing buzz is that Toronto FC is looking to part with some, if not all, of its first-round picks. A team poised to make serious noise in 2009, TFC is looking for veterans who can contribute immediately rather than rookies who will need time to develop. The club also already has three young prospects it rates highly in Abdus Ibrahim, Johann Smith and Brian Edwards, so fitting three more rookies on a roster that only has four developmental roster spots would be difficult.
TFC isn't the only team ready to unload first-round picks. FC Dallas is loaded with young talents to go along with its two first-round draft picks, so don't be surprised to see picks and prospects to move up to a Top 3 spot to try and grab Omar Gonzalez (though I hear Ike Opara is the player they really covet).
Let's get to the mock draft. A few points first. I will not be incorporating potential trades into the mock draft, at least not until the week of the draft. While we may see a boatload of trades before the draft, most deals aren't likely to be made until the week of the draft. Also, for those wondering, the ratings are based on my own research and conversations/interviews with various coaches, scouts and talent evaluators.)
Now, without further ado, here is the the SBI MLS Mock Draft (v 2.0). Enjoy:
2009 SBI MLS Mock Draft (version 2.0)
1. Seattle Sounders- Steve Zakuani, F, Akron
While Tracy has long been considered the top attacking prospect in the draft, there is a growing consensus that Zakuani is the more skilled and polished player. Sources tell me Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid is very high on Zakuani (having no doubt seen him play a few times during his time as Columbus head coach) and will take him if he keeps the No. 1 pick.
2. Toronto FC- Omar Gonzalez, D, Maryland
This pick stands a very good chance of being dealt, with Tracy and Gonzalez the most coveted players by potential trade partners. Toronto could certainly use a central defender and Gonzalez is the best of the bunch. If Mo Johnston uses this pick, you can almost certainly bet that picks No. 4 and 13 will be dealt.
3. Los Angeles Galaxy- Yohance Marshall, D, South Florida
If the draft plays out with Gonzalez off the board, Opara not in the draft and Tracy still on the board, Bruce Arena will have an interesting decision to make. Does he go with the need pick and take Marshall, the consensus best central defender after Opara and Gonzalez? Or does he trade the pick for a package including a player and pick. Even if Gonzalez is available, LA might be tempted by a Dallas package including the No. 5 and a player or allocation, which would allow the Galaxy to still take Marshall.
4. Toronto- Marcus Tracy, F, Wake Forest
So how would Tracy go from top pick material to No. 4? While I don't think he will slide this far (a trade would likely help him land higher) we shouldn't forget that Patrick Nyarko was considered a No. 1 pick candidate before sliding to No. 7 in last year's draft.
5. FC Dallas- Rodney Wallace, D, Maryland
The Hoops are in dire need of a central defender after the disaster that was the Duilio Davino acquisition, but taking one here with Gonzalez and Marshall off the board would be a reach. Dallas can either package a player or two and a pick to move up a few spots to guarantee getting Gonzalez, or it can stay put and grab Wallace, the clear-cut best left back in the draft.
6. D.C. United-Kevin Alston, D, Indiana
Another team that would love to land a center back in this draft, D.C. will be using high picks for the first time in years and will be in position to boost a roster that needs some new blood. With starting right back Brian Namoff out of contract and unsigned, D.C.could suddenly replace him with a younger and more athletic alternative who wouldn't count against the salary cap.
7. D.C. United- Peri Marosevic, F, Michigan
D.C. went for need with its first pick, but will for value with its second pick, selecting the highly-regarded Marosevic, a U.S. Under-20 striker and Generation adidas player. It seems like ages since D.C. had an exciting young striker prospect in the fold and Marosevic would certainly fit that bill. It also wouldn't shock me to see D.C. grab goalkeeper Stefan Frei
8. Kansas City- Michael Stephens, M, UCLA
The Wizards need a boost of creativity from the center of the field and Stephens is the best equipped to provide that. A young American playmaker who would also be free against the cap via a Generation adidas contract, Stephens is just the type of skillful and young talent Curt Onalfo has stock-piled in recent years.
9. Chivas USA- Stefan Frei, GK, California
The Goats have struggled to fill Brad Guzan's shoes since he left and while Dan Kennedy showed some promise, Frei has considerably more upside. Chivas USA could use some help defensively, but with the top defenders off the board, look for Chivas USA to try and recreate the success they had when they drafted Guzan.
10. New England- Jeremy Hall, M, Maryland
When the Revs let Khano Smith go in the expansion draft, you have to wonder if they could have imagined landing a better replacement than Hall, a speedy and skillful left winger who could help New England fans forget Smith pretty quickly. Another team that could use a defender, the Revs won't be able to pass on Hall and will likely try to address its defensive needs later in the round.
11. Dallas- Sam Cronin, M, Wake Forest
After landing a solid defender with its first of two picks, the Hoops grab the best available central midfielder in Cronin and smart and savvy player with the maturity to step in and play right away.
12. Real Salt Lake- Mike Grella, F, Duke
With a solid defense and set of goalkeepers in place, RSL can focus on trying to find a goal-scorer or wingers and Grella is as proven a striker as there is on the board. The cocky Duke product has been rumored to be itching to give Europe a try, and if he does look for RSL to give UCSB product Chris Pontius a look here.
13. Toronto- O’Brian White, F, UConn
As most folks are aware by now, White is recovering from ACL surgery, a surgery that has scared off plenty of teams as well as MLS itself. If TFC can't find takers for its draft picks, you can bet that Mo Johnston won't be scared to take a flier on a hometown player Toronto FC coveted greatly last year. If he recovers fully from surgery, Toronto could wind up with the steal of the draft.
14. New York- Calum Angus, D, St. Louis
The Red Bulls shopping list this off-season includes both fullback positions, with the club looking for players who can offer better attacking options from those spots. Angus excelled as a central defender for SLU, but should be a fullback on the pro level. Having excelled as a midfielder for his PDL team, Angus brings the versatility Juan Carlos Osorio likes. If Angus doesn't get the call, look for speedy Wake Forest left back Lyle Adams to get serious consideration.
15. New England- Chris Pontius, F/M, UC-Santa Barbara
The Revs have been looking for a reliable goal-scoring option to play alongside Taylor Twellman for some time and Pontius has been a goal-scoring machine for UCSB. New England could go in any number of directions here, be it goalkeeper (hometown kid Zach Simmons), midfielder (College Cup star Graham Zusi) or striker. Pontius has played at forward, in central midfield and on the wing, so he fits a number of needs. Another name to consider is Indiana central midfielder Brad Ring, especially if New England decides to move Jeff Larentowicz to central defense to fill the void left by the departure of Michael Parkhurst.
Mock Draft (v. 2.0) Notes
The two big absences from this Mock Draft are Ike Opara and Baggio Husidic. As I stated above, sources tell me Opara is leaning toward staying in school while Husidic is believed to be preparing to test the waters in Europe. If Opara is simply posturing for a better Generation adidas deal then he obviously vaults into the Top Three. Husidic would also stand a very good chance of being a Top 10 pick of he entered the draft.
Players missing from the mock draft who could easily be in the first round are Graham Zusi and Michael Lahoud. Zusi was in last week's mock draft and was in this one as well until the very end of my tinkering. Lahoud was also close to staying in, and I had him going to the Red Bulls, but the Red Bulls are more likely to go defense with its first-round pick.
Now, here is the formation of the best players in the draft at every position (with right wing being the one position with no true standout. Pontius can play there and gets the nod):
MLS Draft Best XI (Version 1.0)
———-Marcus Tracy———–Steve Zakuani————-
Jeremy Hall————————————-Chris Pontius
Rodney Wallace———————————Kevin Alston
————Omar Gonzalez—-Yohance Marshall———–
The next SBI MLS Mock Draft will come on Jan. 1, New Year's Day. For now, feel free to share your thoughts on all of these developments and the version 2.0 of the mock draft in the comments section below.