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The 2010 MLS Draft is drawing ever closer and each passing week helps provide some focus into what we might see happen when the league's 16 teams converge on Philadelphia to select from this year's crop of talent.
The first batch of Generation adidas and senior signings were announced by MLS early this week, giving us some more insight into which players will definitely be available and just how much talent we can start expecting to see at the MLS Combine in Florida next month.
Top prospects Teal Bunbury, Jack McInerney, Dilly Duka and Blair Gavin have all signed, but many of the very best draft candidates, such as Tony Tchani, Ike Opara, Corben Bone and Danny Mwanga, are still sorting out deals.
Here is the newest SBI MLS Draft Big Board, which is put together with the help and input of player personnel experts in and around MLS. The Big Board is supposed to be a measure of the MLS Draft prospects based on their ability and their value in the eyes of MLS scouts. This isn't the same as a Mock Draft, which is based on where players may go depending on which teams pick where (our first SBI MLS Mock Draft should post on Christmas Day).
There haven't been many outrageous changes from last week's Big board, though Gavin makes his debut while North Carolina senior Zach Loyd makes a big jump into the first-round range.
Now, without further ado, here is the latest SBI MLS Draft Big Board:
SBI 2010 MLS Draft Big Board
(*Underclassman. For player profiles, click on each player's college)
1. IKE OPARA*, Wake Forest, D
Close to signing a Generation adidas contract, Opara is consider by many scouts to be the top pro prospect in the draft. A prototypical central defender with an impressive combination of speed and size. Would have been a Top Three pick in 2009 draft, is a lock to be top two pick, though it is starting to look like Philadelphia will look elsewhere with the No. 1 overall pick. Didn't have the best College Cup, but scouts still love him and he's a lock Top Two pick if he comes out.
2. TEAL BUNBURY*, Akron, F
Has signed a Generation adidas contract and is starting to look like the favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick by Philadelphia. Didn't have the College Cup Tournament you would have expected from a star forward, but still showed enough to merit being one of the first players taken in next month's draft. He's got the size-speed (6-foot-2) combo at forward that clubs love, not to mention a nose for goal he clearly inherited from his father, Canadian national team legend Alex Bunbury.
3. TONY TCHANI*, Virginia, M
Didn't dominate the College Cup, but still did more than enough to move up the Big Board. His strength on the ball was impressive, as was his ability to cover ground. Tchani's season started slowly due to injuries, but no player has boosted their stock more in the past month than Tchani. A 6-foot-4 playmaker who combines strength, a deft passing touch and goal-scoring ability, Tchani is at the top of some team's draft boards, though he has yet to sign a Generation adidas deal.
4. CORBEN BONE*, Wake Forest, M/F
Wasn't the impact player some expected in the College Cup, but he did show flashes of the attacking qualities that have him so highly-rated. The most dangerous attacking player in the draft, Bone is a dynamic playmaker with great vision and a terrific motor. Has played predominantly on the wing for Wake Forest, but he's more likely a central midfielder on the pro level. There are rumblings that he is close to signing a Generation adidas deal.
5. DANNY MWANGA*, Oregon State, F
Possesses similar size-speed combination to Bunbury, and regarded by some as the more athletic prospect. Produced 14 goals this season. MLS is in hot pursuit but the Congolese-born striker is starting to look like the best bet to snub MLS for Europe.
6. TONI STAHL, UConn, M
Strong, smart, tall (6-foot-3) and technically sound, Stahl is widely-regarded as the best defensive midfielder in the draft and potentially someone who can step in and start in year one like Sam Cronin did for Toronto FC. The Finland-born midfielder has signed a deal with MLS and can solidify his place as the most highly-regarded senior with a strong MLS Combine.
7. ANDREW WIEDEMAN*, California, F
A productive goal scorer in the mold of Taylor Twellman, Wiedeman is considered polished enough to play minutes in MLS now and could be seen as a year-one contributor at forward. The buzz isn't quite as strong on his Generation adidas situation, but with Mwanga's plans in doubt, Wiedeman will be an even more enticing prospect for MLS to land.
8. AMOBI OKUGO*, UCLA, M
The nation's best freshman is also one of the players whose stock has increased the most during the NCAA Tournament. He's still just 18, and could stay in school since he's just a freshman, but MLS teams are already drooling over his box-to-box midfielder tools and upside. He is on the verge of signing a Generation adidas contract.
9. DILLY DUKA*, Rutgers, M
Regarded by many as the most impressive of the U.S. Under-20 World Cup participants, Duka boasts good skill, touch and a surprising bite. He left Rutgers a year ago, but the U-20 World Cup was enough to shoot him up draft boards across the league. He was a member of the Red Bulls academy program during his Rutgers years, so New York is a good bet to try and move up and take him with a second first-round draft pick.
10. ANDRE AKPAN, Harvard, F
An athletic and polished forward who has been linked with moves to MLS for years, Akpan has the tools to step in and play in year one. A Generation adidas target for the past two years, Akpan recently signed with MLS and should move up draft boards now that it is clear he will be playing in the league (There had been concern he might bolt if he didn't like his draft position or contract).
11. AUSTIN DA LUZ, Wake Forest, M
Already a highly-regarded prospect, Da Luz boosted his stock more than any other player at the College Cup. His vision, touch and ability to work the left flank had scouts impressed. Should challenge Andre Akpan as second senior taken after Stahl.
12. LUIS GIL*, U.S. Under-17, M
One of the more enticing long-term prospects in the pool. Gil is just 16, but he's a bundle of skill who could blossom into a star if he's groomed properly. The question is where in the draft do you take a young talent who is a few years away from contributing? He has been approached with a considerable offer by MLS but has yet to sign.
13. BLAIR GAVIN, Akron, M
A gifted central midfielder who is adept at sparking attacks from deep in midfield with sharp passes, Gavin didn't exactly dominate in the College Cup but still showed enough flashes to lead MLS to offer him a Generation adidas deal. Gaven has the technical ability, but questions remain about his physical attributes. That won't stop him from going in the mid-to-late first round of the draft.
14. ZACH LOYD, North Carolina, M/D
A highly-regarded prospect even before the NCAA Tournament, Loyd's performance in the College Cup semifinals vs. Akron has catapulted him up the rankings and helped make him one of the first seniors signed by MLS. He's natural defensive midfielder who played central defense for UNC this season because the team needed him there. All Loyd did was establish himself as one of the best defenders in the college game. Now scouts see him as a midfielder who can also provide depth in the back, versatility that has boosted his value.
15. JACK McINERNEY*, U.S. Under-17, F
While Dilly Duka's stock jumped after the Under-20 World Cup, McInerney's dropped. That said, he's still an exciting prospect with a nose for goal and good touch and moves. McInerney has signed with MLS as a Generation adidas player and now we will see just how early he will go in the draft given the fact that he is 17 and isn't going to help right away. There are other more experienced players on the board who could go higher if teams are looking for help right away, but McInerney is still a quality prospect who should go in the first round.
16. OFORI SARKODIE, Indiana, D
The best fullback available in the draft, Sarkodie is a left back prospect who should garner serious attention on draft day. Experienced at multiple positions in defense, Sarkodie should be one of the first seniors taken and could wind up going early if a team in need of fullback help bypasses the Generation adidas prosects to draft him.
17. KYLE NAKAZAWA, UCLA, M
Injuries have plagued Nakazaway throughout his UCLA career, but the former U.S. youth international put together a solid senior season that catapulted him up the rankings. There are still concerns about his health, but he will have a chance to ease some of those concerns at the MLS Combine.
18. ZACH SCHILAWSKI, Wake Forest, F
Showed some good speed and movement in the College Cup, but he didn't finish chances and lost some ground to teammate Da Luz. Wake Forest's leading goal scorer should still be a popular prospect come draft time and should go in the late-first, early-second round range, though a strong MLS Combine could improve that.
19. KWAME WATSON-SIRIBOE, UConn, D
In a draft light on central defenders, Watson-Siriboe is a prototypical big back who has the tools and resume to have teams paying close attention come draft day. Arguably the second-best central defender after Opara, Watson-Siriboe is 6-foot-3, was a three-year starter at UConn and is poised to move into the first-round range with a strong MLS Combine.
20. SEAN JOHNSON*, Central Florida, GK
While he isn't an MLS-ready goalkeeper like Stefan Frei was last season, Johnson's physical attributes (a quick 6-foot-4, 220) have goalkeeper coaches in MLS drooling at the thought of being able to work with such a talented young specimen. A back-up on the U.S. Under-20 national team, Johnson is nearing a Generation adidas deal (Central Florida has already removed him from the team roster on its website) and should be the first goalkeeper off the board come draft day.
21. MICHAEL STEPHENS, UCLA, M
22. BRIAN PERK, UCLA, GK
23. RONNIE BOUEMBOUE, North Carolina State, F
24. JOVAN BUBOJNA, Illinois-Chicago, GK
25. PHIL EDGINGTON, Louisville, D
26. ROSS LaBAUEX, Virginia, M
27. NELSON BECERRA, St. John’s, M
28. ALAN SANCHEZ, North Carolina State, M/F
29. NICK CARDENAS, San Diego State, D
30. BRIGHT DIKE, Notre Dame, F
What do you think of this week's Big Board? Share your thoughts below.