The 2011 MLS Draft is two weeks away. That's right, just two weeks away, and the reality is that MLS teams are far from finished trying to figure out which players to move up and move down their draft lists.
Wondering who your team might take when the draft takes place? Over the course of the past three years we have made the SBI MLS Mock Draft a regular part of the lead-up to the Draft and while it's impossible for anybody to know how the draft will actually go, we're confident this Mock Draft is a good measure of where the draft's top prospects project, and which needs teams will be looking to fill.
Wondering what last year's first SBI MLS Mock Draft looked like? Here it is. Of the 16 players I had going in the first round, a total of 11 wound up actually going in the first round. Danny Mwanga wasn't a part of that Mock Draft because at that point he looked unlikely to sign with MLS (that was before MLS through a big-money offer to seal the deal).
So who is the top pick? Vancouver could wind up keeping the pick or trading it, but either way I think Akron standout Perry Kitchen will edge out teammate Darlington Nagbe for the honor of being the first player chosen.
Now, here is our first 2011 SBI MLS Mock Draft:
SBI MLS MOCK DRAFT (Version 1.0)
1. Vancouver Whitecaps- PERRY KITCHEN, M/F, Akron
The Whitecaps can go in a few different directions but will find it hard to pass on Kitchen's versatility and potential. Capable of playing centerback or defensive midfield, Kitchen also boasts good leadership qualities. With a tireless work rate and mature understanding of the game well beyond his years, Kitchen should be able to play right away. It should be noted that Vancouver won't rule out tradng this pick, and D.C. United covets Kitchen and could make a play to move up here.
2. Portland Timbers- DARLINGTON NAGBE, F, Akron
The Timbers already have some forwards signed, such as Eddie Johnson and Bright Dike, but John Spencer can't pass on the best attacking player in the draft. Nagbe's power and pace, combined with a sharp passing eye, make him a threat both as a striker and as a midfielder.
3. D.C. United- ZAREK VALENTIN, D, Akron
Having already added a quality young defender in Maryland standout Ethan White (who signed as a Homegrown Player), D.C. United could be tempted to turn to a striker with this pick, but defensive needs will lead the club to grab Valentin, a U.S. Under-20 centerback who could also slot in at right back. Having Valentin and White together would give D.C. a great defensive nucleus to partner with young goalkeeping standout Bill Hamid.
4. Chivas USA- OMAR SALGADO, F, U.S. Under-20
The club doesn't have a coach in place but the club is aware of its needs, and one of them is strikers. Enter Salgado, who is one of the best long-term prospect in the group. A 6-foot-3 forward who is just 17, Salgado boasts a unique combination of size and ball skills and his Mexican-American heritage and history with Chivas de Guadalajara make him the easy pick. Kofi Sarkodie and Will Bruin could also tempt the Rojiblancos.
5. Philadelphia Union- COREY HERTZOG, F, Penn State
A speedy player with a nose for the goal, Hertzog would make a great addition to a young forward line including Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney. The Union tried to land Hertzog as a Homegrown Player before being turned down by MLS, but Peter Nowak gets the chance to add a player with local ties and plenty of talent.
6. New England Revolution- ZAC MACMATH, GK, Maryland
The Revolution has plenty of needs and could go for a striker like Will Bruin or a defender like A.J. Soares, but Steve Nicol will be hard-pressed to pass on a franchise goalkeeper like MacMath. Matt Reis just re-signed, but MacMath would be an ideal successor. If MacMath is off the board, the Revs would be a good bet to pounce on Will Bruin.
7. Houston- WILL BRUIN, F, Indiana
Dom Kinnear would probably have jumped all over Kofi Sarkodie if Houston hadn't just signed Hunter Freeman. That being the case, the Dynamo can add a strong forward in Bruin, who can learn from Brian Ching and potentially partner him in year one. Knowing Houston, a trade wouldn't be a surprise here either.
8. Vancouver- KOFI SARKODIE, D, Akron
In his last year as D.C. United head coach, Tom Soehn was able to draft Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius. This time around, Soehn is the Whitecaps technical director and he will jump for joy of he can land both Kitchen and Sarkodie, two teenage talents who could start for years. This might seem a bit low for Sarkodie, a player with Top 5 talent, but he only slips because the three teams picking before this already have right backs.
9. Chicago- A.J. SOARES, D, California
The Fire need central defense help after the departure of Wilman Conde and retirement of C.J. Brown and Soares can provide that. He's a threat to score on set pieces and he's a good passer out of the back, which will work well in the possession game head coach Carlos de Los Cobos wants to play.
10. Sporting KC- JALIL ANIBABA, D, North Carolina
Replacing veteran defender Jimmy Conrad won't be easy, but KC will be happy to grab an athletic centerback like Anibaba, who has the talent to step in and start for the club formerly known as the Wizards.
11. Seattle Sounders- ANTHONY AMPAIPITAKWONG, M, Akron
It's no secret the Sounders lacked a bit of midfield creativity, and Seattle also lost Sanna Nyassi in the off-season. Ampaipitakwong can help address both those issues. He's quick, tireless and very creative, just the type of spark the Sounders attack needs.
12. Columbus Crew- MICHAEL NANCHOFF, M, Akron
Robert Warzycha could be tempted to go for UNC midfielder Stephen McCarthy as a potential replacement for Brian Carroll, but adding Ohio native Nanchoff, a dangerous left winger, would give the Crew a variety of lineup options.
13. New York Red Bulls- MICHAEL FARFAN, M, North Carolina
The Red Bulls come in looking for defensive depth and potentially a creative midfielder and forward. With two other picks in the Top 30 New York can wait for a central defender (especially if Soares and Anibaba are gone) so the Red Bulls grab one of the most creative players in the draft. The Red Bulls could also be tempted to grab Michigan striker Justin Meram.
14. Real Salt Lake- JUSTIN MERAM, F, Michigan
After losing Robbie Findley to Europe, RSL headed into the off-season needing a forward. If RSL can land Meram here it will be another positive step in a memorable winter. Meram is a dangerous goalscorer, someone who loves going at defenders and can score from anywhere. A good Combine performance could see Meram go even higher, but RSL would pounce if he's available here.
15. San Jose Earthquakes- COLE GROSSMAN, M, Duke
The Earthquakes can use some midfield depth, particularly of the attacking variety, and Grossman is one of the best available players to fit that description. He's a sharp passer, can score goals and has a good motor. Frank Yallop could also take a look at Maryland striker Jason Herrick here.
16. Los Angeles Galaxy- JASON HERRICK, F, Maryland
Bruce Arena dealt away Tristan Bowen, and Edson Buddle's future with the Galaxy is still uncertain, so the Galaxy really need to find a forward in the draft and Herrick is one of the better ones available.
17. FC Dallas- STEPHEN McCARTHY, M, North Carolina
Daniel Hernandez isn't getting any younger and McCarthy is one of the most highly-regarded defensive midfield prospects around. He's 6-foot-4 with good feet and he's also a good set piece threat. McCarthy could easily wind up going higher with a good Combine showing.
18. Colorado Rapids- ASHLEY McINNES, M/F, Tulsa
The Rapids can use some speed and depth on the wing and McInnes can give the MLS champions just that. A forward and midfielder, McInnes has the speed, passing ability and versatility to help the Rapids right away.
I will post our next Mock Draft (a two-rounder) next week, before the Combine, and the final Mock Draft (a full three rounds) will post the day before the 2011 MLS Draft.
What do you think of these picks? Like the players your team ended up with? Any pick you particularly love or hate?
Share your thoughts below.