Photo courtesy of University of California
By IVES GALARCEP
The 2014 MLS Draft is a little less than a month away and while figuring out which players specific teams have their eyes on is an exercise in futility, we can start piecing together around where top players are likely to go once names start being called next month in Philadelphia.
As always is the case, the MLS Combine will provide a final push or drop in stock for many prospects, but we can already get a sense of which players are good bets to be first-round picks, and which positions are the deepest in this year’s draft.
Centerback is an especially deep position this year, with as many as six or seven central defenders potentially being selected in the first round this year.
The Generation adidas class has yet to take shape, but SBI has already worked to identify who the leading candidates are for GA contracts for the 2014 draft.
Plenty will change over the next three weeks, from the players who actually wind up making up the Generation adidas class, to trades that could shake up the draft order. For now, here is a look at what the 2014 MLS Draft could look like based on where teams, and players, stand now:
SBI 2014 MLS Mock Draft (Version 1.o)
(*-Generation adidas player)
1. D.C. UNITED
*Christian Dean, California, Centerback
The departure of Dejan Jakovic, and recent additions of Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola make choosing a centerback over a forward the more reasonable move. There’s also the fact that far more teams in the league consider Dean the top prospect in the draft than any other player.
So why might D.C. not grab Dean? There is growing sentiment that they are tempted to select Patrick Mullins, but the more likely scenario would see D.C. United trading down and still selecting Mullins, who isn’t a lock to be a top three pick. If they keep the pick, it’s tough to see D.C. United passing on a Generation adidas player for a senior who will count against the salary cap right away.
*Leo Stolz, UCLA, Midfielder
The Union have two early picks and need an infusion of attacking talent. With Michael Farfan off to Mexico, the need for an attacking midfielder is even greater. Enter Stolz, who brings vision and creativity to central midfield.
The big question with Stolz is whether he will actually be in the draft. The German-born midfielder is a junior, and the belief after the recent college season was that he would stay in school. The right Generation adidas offer could change that though, and if he does enter the draft, Stoltz won’t last long on the board.
3. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Steve Birnbaum, California, Centerback
The Whitecaps have a new coach, but the same question marks about their defense. Vancouver could be tempted to grab Canadian-born striker Cyle Larin, but in Birnbaum the Whitecaps would be landing arguably the most pro-ready player in the draft. A player who could step in and start from day one.
Larin is intriguing, but the Whitecaps are already stocked at forward. With two picks in the first seven, Vancouver could be tempted to hold off on grabbing a centerback, but Birnbaum is too good to pass up.
4. COLUMBUS CREW
*Cyle Larin, UConn, Forward
Another very promising prospect who could be in the draft, Larin was just a freshman at UConn in 2013 but his combination of size, speed and skill had scouts drooling already. He has been offered a Generation adidas contract, but there is no guarantee he will take the deal.
Taking a forward might seem a strange one here, but for a team looking for some cap relief, grabbing a Generation adidas player with major upside wouldn’t be a bad move, though the Crew could be tempted to trade down and grab Wisconsin centerback A.J. Cochran.
5. FC DALLAS
*Schillo Tshuma, Maryland, Forward
He didn’t have the best sophomore season, but Tshuma’s outstanding freshman campaign wasn’t easily forgotten and he remains one of the most explosive attacking players in the pool, which is why he is still a top Generation adidas target. For an FC Dallas team that can use some speed up top, Tshuma makes sense.
FC Dallas could be tempted to grab a Patrick Mullins here, or even trade down to pick up allocation money and select a forward or defensive midfielder later.
6. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Patrick Mullins, Maryland, Forward/Midfielder
After tearing up the college ranks for a second straight season it might seem crazy to see Mullins slide this far, but the reality is pro scouts aren’t sure just where Mullins fits on the next level. He lacks the explosiveness to be a big-time pro forward, but the Union will have a hard time passing on him if he’s available here.
If Mullins is already gone, the Union could consider A.J. Cochran, or even Georgetown’s Steve Neumann. One potential option could also be Coastal Carolina midfielder Pedro Ribeiro, who might be a reach this early.
7. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
*Andre Blake, UConn, Goalkeeper
The Whitecaps parted ways with back-up goalkeeper Brad Knighton, but could grab a goalkeeper of the future in Blake, who is clearly the top player in the draft at his position.
The Jamaican-born Blake is a safe bet to sign a Generation adidas deal, and would join fellow Jamaican Darren Mattocks on the Whitecaps.
8. CHICAGO FIRE
*Marlon Hairston, Central Midfielder, Louisville
The Fire don’t have a pressing need at centerback, and Jalil Anibaba has been a competent right back, so the Fire can focus on midfield depth and Hairston is a young central midfield option with big upside.
Chicago could take Eric Miller to compete with Anibaba at right back, and potentially provide depth at defensive midfielder, but Hairston’s potential will be difficult to pass on.
9. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
*Eric Miller, Creighton, Fullback
Steven Beitashour’s departure makes right back a major need, and Miller could slide right into the starting lineup. The U.S. Under-20 defender has had his share of injury issues, but Miller has the talent to be a very effective pro fullback.
If Miller is off the board, San Jose could consider a player like central midfielder Pedro Ribeiro, who would help fill the void left by the departure of Rafael Baca. There are some good center backs on the board, but San Jose’s top pick last year was centerback Tommy Mueller.
10. MONTREAL IMPACT
*A.J. Cochran, Wisconsin, Centerback
The Impact will be happy to be able to grab one of the draft’s best centerbacks at this selection, and Cochran has the tools to potentially step in right away and contribute. The question now is whether MLS will offer him a Generation adidas contract or hold off given the considerable centerback depth that already exists in the draft pool.
If Cochrane isn’t available, the Impact would be a good bet to grab a centerback like Kevin Cope.
11. COLORADO RAPIDS
Kevin Cope, Michigan State, Centerback
The Rapids don’t have many glaring needs, so grabbing the best available player is a good route and Cope would help provide some good depth at centerback.
12. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Steve Neumann, Georgetown, Forward/Midfielder
Though he could go as high as sixth overall, we can see Neumann sliding to the Revs, who would be happy to grab a player who has shown a real nose for goal, even if forward may not be his most natural position.
13. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Pedro Ribeiro, Coastal Carolina, Central Midfielder
A Generation adidas prospect a year ago, Ribeiro is a tall and skillful central midfielder who could see his stock dip due to his status as a Brazilian citizen. Seattle might not want to spend a foreign player slot on rookie, but the departure of Mauro Rosales makes adding some central midfield creativity a priority.
14. LA GALAXY
Jared Watts, Wake Forest, Defensive Midfielder
The Galaxy have enough depth at centerback, and could use a defensive midfield prospect. Though Georgetown’s Joey Dillon is on the board, the Galaxy grab the bigger and more imposing Watts.
15. TORONTO FC
Kyle Venter, New Mexico, Centerback
Opinions vary on Venter, who some teams rate as a top 10 prospect, but others see as a lower-tier centerback in this year’s talent pool. For TFC, adding some central defense depth is a need and Venter would be a very good value at No. 15.
16. HOUSTON DYNAMO
Grant Van De Casteele, Notre Dame, Centerback
Losing Bobby Boswell makes centerback a definite need area and Van De Casteele is the best one on the board at this pick. He boasts impressive size and good feet for a big centerback.
17. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Ben Sweat, South Florida, Left Back
A centerback would be a good pick here if any of the top ones slide, but with six already off the board, Caleb Porter grabs a very promising left back prospect in Sweat, who could easily wind up going several picks earlier.
18. REAL SALT LAKE
Romena Bowie, VCU, Defensive Midfielder
With Kyle Beckerman potentially seeing plenty of U.S. national team duty in 2014, picking up some defensive midfield depth could definitely help new head coach Jeff Cassar.
19. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Joey Dillon, Georgetown, Defensive Midfielder
The Revs spent the second half of the 2013 season playing without a true defensive midfielder, so grabbing one in the draft should be a priority for Jay Heaps’ squad. Dillon was a four-year starter for Georgetown and has the work rate and poise on the ball to be a successful pro.
20. CHIVAS USA
Marco Franco, UC-Irvine, Right Back
21. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Nikita Kotlov, Indiana, Left Winger
22. NEW YORK RED BULLS
Luca Gimenez, Wake Forest, Right winger
23. COLUMBUS CREW
Robbie Derschang, Akron, Left Winger
24. FC DALLAS
George Fochive, UConn, Defensive Midfielder
25. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Joe Sofia, UCLA, Centerback
26. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Taylor Peay, Washington, Centerback
27. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Mamadou Diouf, UConn, Forward
28. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Fifi Baiden, UCSB, Defensive Midfielder
29. MONTREAL IMPACT
Nick Hagglund, Xavier, Centerback
30. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Eric Stevenson, Akron, Midfielder
31. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Mackenzie Pridham, Cal Poly, Forward
32. HOUSTON DYNAMO
Kristopher Tyrpak, Houston Baptist, Forward
33. COLORADO RAPIDS
Alex Martinez, North Carolina State, Attacking Midfielder
34. NEW YORK RED BULLS
Victor Chavez, UCLA, Forward
35. COLORADO RAPIDS
Rafael Diaz, St. John’s, Goalkeeper
36. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Mark Sherrod, Memphis, Forward
37. REAL SALT LAKE
Reinaldo Brenes, Akron, Forward
38. SPORTING KC
Jacob Bushue, Indiana, Defender/Midfielder
(NOTES– The 32nd pick was originally Akeil Barrett, but he’s still only a junior and therefore won’t be in the draft. He is replaced by Kristopher Tyrpak of Houston Baptist.)