By IVES GALARCEP
While it might still seem far away, the 2014 MLS Draft is actually less than two months away, meaning most MLS teams are well into their draft preparations as they try to identify the players to go after on draft day.
As is our tradition on SBI, we will be providing you with regular player rankings leading up to the draft, offering you the best measure of MLS draft prospects you will find anywhere. Our rankings aren’t perfect, but they should offer you a good sense of which players are attracting the most attention as we draw closer to the draft.
As always, the Generation adidas class is the center of attention, though it can be argued that this year’s class is one of the weakest in several years. There are no must-have prospects like year’s past, when the likes of Darlington Nagbe, Darren Mattocks, Omar Gonzalez and Perry Kitchen came into the draft very highly rated.
We will start off with our first SBI MLS Draft Big Board, which consists of 50 MLS Draft prospects. Please note that the list includes 12 underclassmen who are on the Generation adidas radar. The GA class won’t be that large, it is more likely to be in the 5-7 player range this year, but we’re listing 12 so you have a sense of the players currently in the conversation.
It should also be noted that this list does not include Homegrown Players. It is a list of players expected to be in the draft, or who could be in the draft via Generation adidas. As we find out more about Homegrown Player claims, we could see some names added (like Notre Dame’s Harrison Shipp, who Chicago has a homegrown claim on that is being disputed) and removed (like Indiana’s Thommy Thompson, who San Jose is apparently claiming as Homegrown) from this list.
Now, without further ado, here is the first 2014 SBI MLS Draft Big Board (which will be updated on a bi-weekly basis for the next two months):
2014 SBI MLS DRAFT BIG BOARD (version 1.0)
(*Generation adidas candidates)
*1. CHRISTIAN DEAN, California, Centerback
Left-footed centerback has scouts drooling. Has the size and technical ability to do very well on the next level.
*2. SCHILLO TSHUMA, Maryland, Forward
Having a down year after a terrific freshman year, but that isn’t scaring off scouts who see him as the attacking player with the most upside in the pool. Dynamic foward with speed and shiftiness to cause problems for opposing defenses.
*3. ANDRE BLAKE, UConn, Goalkeeper
He’s been the best goalkeeper in the nation the past two years, and has even been called up by the Jamaican national team. Boasts size and impressive quickness.
*4. LEO STOLZ, UCLA, Midfielder
Pac-12 Offensive player of the year boasts impressive skills in the middle of the park, but the German-born midfielder seems unlikely to leave school early. If he does, he’d be a sure-fire Top 10 pick.
5. PATRICK MULLINS, Maryland, Midfielder/Forward
Reigning Hermann Award winner is an outstanding player who will almost certainly go near the top of the draft, but questions about just what his best pro position will be could scare some teams off who don’t see him excelling at any one in particular.
6. STEVE BIRNBAUM, California, Centerback
Missed last year due to injury, but has made up for lost time by being the best defender in the nation this year. Very well could be the first senior off the board in the draft.
*7. TOMMY THOMPSON, Indiana, Forward/Midfielder
Speedy freshman forward helped carry Indiana this year, and has turned heads with his speed and quickness and fearlessness at such a young age. San Jose is trying to claim him as a homegrown player but sources tell SBI that claim isn’t the strongest. If he’s in the draft, he’s a Top 10 pick easily.
*8. CYLE LARIN, UConn, Forward
Another freshman who has caught scouts’ eyes with his size/skill combination and finishing ability. UConn players don’t generally leave school early so he may just stay in school, but if the Canadian forward leaves school early he’ll be a Top 10 pick.
*9. ERIC MILLER, Creighton, Right back/Midfielder
The U.S. Under-20 World Cup defender has endured his share of injuries during his college career, but there is little disputing that he’s the best fullback in the college game. Also capable of playing in midfield, and should be a lock to score a Generation adidas deal.
*10. A.J. COCHRANE, Wisconsin, Centerback
A U.S. Under-20 national team defender, Cochrane has the size, strength and toughness to make a smooth transition to the pros, but the question is whether Generation adidas will sign two centerbacks? If so, Cochrane won’t last on the board too long.
11. KYLE VENTER, New Mexico, Centerback
The 6-foot-3 senior drew some Generation adidas buzz last year, and even though there is believe he had a bit of a down year by his standards, Venter is still one of the best seniors in the draft. Dominant in the air and physical.
12. PEDRO RIBEIRO, Coastal Carolina, Central Midfielder
Tall and rangy central midfielder with impressive vision and technical ability, Ribeiro would be higher on the board if he were American, but as all foreign players do, Ribeiro is likely to fall a bit in the draft. Still a sure-fire first-rounder.
13. STEVE NEUMANN, Georgetown, Forward/Midfielder
His unforgettable showing against Maryland in last year’s NCAA Tournament catapulted his name into the elite, but he is another player who scouts wonder about from a position standpoint. He’s talented, and makes things happen in the attack, but figuring out where he fits best on the next level is the big concern.
*14. MARLON HAIRSTON, Louisville, Midfielder/Forward
Another U.S. Under-20 player, Hairston was a composed central midfielder as a freshman, but stepped up into a more attacking role for the Cardinals as a sophomore. Still projects as a central player, and would probably be better off staying in school so he can mature physically a bit more, but has the tools and upside to draw first-round interest if he makes the Generation adidas cut.
15. MAMADOU DIOUF, UConn, Forward/Midfielder
Much like Tshuma, Diouf is enduring a down year after previously being unstoppable in the tough Big East in previous years. His struggles haven’t scared away scouts, who still see him as a first-round value.
*16. GIUSEPPE GENTILE, Charlotte, Forward
A prolific scorer since his freshman year, Gentile has matured into a well-rounded forward who is on the fringes of the Generation adidas conversation. Might have to wait another year to get drafted, but if he lands a GA deal, a first-round spot should be his.
17. KEVIN COPE, Michigan State, Centerback
The 6-foot-1 senior may not have the size of some of the other centerbacks in this pool, but Cope impresses scouts with his position and confidence on the ball.
18. JOEY DILLON, Georgetown, Defensive Midfielder
A player who has been overshadowed by attacking players at Georgetown the past few years, Dillon has impressed scouts with his ability to do the dirty work in central midfield and keep the ball moving, providing the perfect conduit between defense and offense.
19. BEN SWEAT, South Florida, Left Back
Teams needing a left back will look at Sweat first. He’s a top athlete, with the speed and strength to deal with the most physical of wing challenges, but there is still some rawness to his game so expecting him to step into MLS and start might be a stretch.
20. ROMENA BOWIE, VCU, Central Midfielder
Jamaican midfielder is a quality two-way player who has impressed for the past two years and would be much higher on this list if not for his international status.
21. NIKITA KOTLOV, Indiana, Left Winger
A left-footed player with some pace and ability to take defenders on, Kotlov is one of the best wing options in the draft pool and could very well wind up a first-round pick for a team willing to reach for a good wide option.
22. LUCA GIMENEZ, Wake Forest, Attacking Midfielder/Right Winger
A playmaker/second forward on the college level, Gimenez might not wind up in that sort of role on the next level, but scouts love his technical ability. He can set teammates up and create chances for himself as well.
*23. DYLAN MARES, Indiana, Attacking Midfielder
An example of a player who saw their stock tumble after a transfer. Mares never quite settled in after moving to Indiana, and probably would have been better served staying at Louisville. Now, he’s a longshot GA who will have to have a strong senior year to regain his status as one of the top playmakers in the nation.
24. ALEX MARTINEZ, North Carolina State, Attacking Midfielder
A central midfielder who has shown an ability to create chances for others as well as score goals of his own, Martinez saw his stock dip a bit during his senior year, though he did show off his playmaking ability.
25. AKEIL BARRETT, Tulsa, Right Winger
A fast and shifty winger, Barrett is the kind of player who could thrive playing wide in a 4-3-3 on the next level.
26. A.J.CORRADO, Indiana, Attacking Midfielder/Right Winger
27. JARED WATTS, Wake Forest, Defensive Midfielder
28. DAMION LOWE, Hartford, Centerback
29. MARK SHERROD, Memphis, Forward
30. GRANT VAN DE CASTEELE, Notre Dame, Centerback
31. NICK HAGGLUND, Xavier, Centerback
37. VICTOR CHAVEZ, UCLA, Forward
33. MARCO FRANCO, UC-Irvine, Right Back
34. RAFAEL DIAZ, St. John’s, Goalkeeper
35. ROBBIE DERSCHANG, Akron, Left Winger
32. JOE SOFIA, UCLA, Centerback/RightBack
36. NICK WALKER, FDU, Centerback
38. FIFI BAIDEN, UCSB, Defensive Midfielder
39. REINALDO BRENES, Akron, Forward
40. CHRIS RITTER, Northwestern, Defensive Midfielder
41. GEORGE FOCHIVE, UConn, Defensive Midfielder
42. MICHAEL CALDERON, New Mexico, Attacking Midfielder
43. AODHAN QUINN, Akron, Right Winger
44. TAYLOR PEAY, Washington, Centerback
45. HARRISON PETTS, Indiana, Right Winger
45. RYAN NEIL, California, Midfielder/Defender
46. TOMISLAV ZADRO, Wisconsin, Central Midfielder
47. THOMAS MCNAMARA, Clemson, Midfielder
48. SUNNY JANE, Maryland, Right Winger
49. OMAR MATA, Tulsa, Attacking midfielder/left winger
50. WOJCIECH WOJCIK, Bradley, Forward