Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
PHILADELPHIA– The MLS Combine is a distant memory, and the best players in the 2014 MLS Draft pool have converged here to learn their fates on Thursday as the 2014 MLS Draft kicks off.
Projecting just where players are going to go is probably as difficult as it has been in years, with wheeling and dealing taking place and teams facing tough decisions as they look at a draft pool loaded with talent in some areas, but starving for options in other areas.
As much as Mock Drafts are a crap shoot, the SBI MLS Draft Big Board is a much better barometer of just where players are being rated heading into the draft. We have consulted with head coaches, assistant coaches, general managers as well as players, to identify those players who head into the draft well regarded, and those who are seeing their stock plummet.
Wondering just where players stand heading into Thursday’s MLS Draft? Here is the final SBI 2014 MLS Draft Big Board:
2014 MLS Draft Big Board (Version 4.0)
1- ANDRE BLAKE, UConn, Goalkeeper
Best talent in the draft. Considered the best goalkeeping prospect in a decade.
2- CHRISTIAN DEAN, California, Centerback
A 6-foot-3, left-footed centerback with a Generation adidas contract. That combination has some teams drooling, even after a subpar MLS Combine.
3- STEVE BIRNBAUM, California, Centerback
The senior defender is the most pro-ready player in the draft. Could wind up stepping in and starting right away, wherever he lands.
4- SCHILLO TSHUMA, Maryland, Forward
The most dynamic attacking talent in the draft, Tshuma’s sophomore struggles have some teams wary, but he showed flashes of what make him special at the MLS Combine.
5- PATRICK MULLINS, Maryland, Forward/Midfielder
Questions about just where he will be most effective position-wise hurt his overall value, but if you want a player who looks like a sure thing to have a long pro career, few seem like a safe bet than Mullins.
6- PEDRO RIBEIRO, Coastal Carolina, Central Midfielder
The tall Brazilian playmaker is impressive on the ball, and can pass as well as anyone in this draft, but conerns about his ability to be a 90-minute player in the pros
7- MARCO FRANCO- UC-Irvine, Right Back
Crazy to think he wasn’t even originally invited to the MLS Combine. The most polished fullback in this draft, Franco has scouts buzzing about his ready-for-MLS skill set. He can get forward well, pass sharply, defend solidly and has some good speed.
8- ERIC MILLER, Creighton, Right Back
Still could be the first fullback taken due to his Generation adidas status and versatility, Miller is a former U.S. Under-20 World Cup defender who boasts good size and technical ability at fullback.
9- KEVIN COPE, Michigan State, Centerback
Not as physically-imposing as some of the other centerback options, Cope is an intelligent and composed defender who consistently puts himself in good positions and isn’t afraid to get physical.
10- KYLE VENTER- New Mexico, Centerback
Prototypical 6-foot-3 enforcer in the back, Venter impressed at the MLS Combine with his communication skills in the back, and his dominance in the air. Doesn’t have the quickest feet, but checks most of the other boxes needed for a centerback.
11- A.J. COCHRAN, Wisconsin, Centerback
A young and big left-footed centerback with a Generation adidas contract, Cochrane could go in the top half of the first round. Some question his quickness on the ball, but he should be among the first centerbacks off the board.
12- MAMADOU DIOUF, UConn, Forward/Midfielder
Though he could wind up slipping in the draft, Diouf is one of the best attacking talents in a draft with few of them. An injury-hit senior year dropped his stock, but a healthy Diouf could be one of the best players in this draft.
13- NICK HAGGLUND, Xavier, Centerback
Already a well-regarded centerback before the MLS Combine, Hagglund boosted himself into serious first-round consideration after turning in one of the better performances in Florida. Quick and athletic and confident, Hagglund has the poise to make a smooth transition to the pros.
14- GRANT VAN DE CASTEELE, Notre Dame, Centerback
Could easily be slotted a few spots higher on this list, Van De Casteele has all the attributes to be a good pro centerback in his first year. He has size (6-foot-2), good feet, strong qualities in the air, and the experience of being a four-year starter at a top program like Notre Dame.
15- BEN SWEAT, South Florida, Left Back
The only true left back prospect worth drafting in the first two rounds of the draft, Sweat brings impressive athleticism to his game, even if he does lack some technical quality. His upside is probably limited because of that, but position scarcity earns him a spot this high on the Big Board, and will likely earn him a place in the first round.
16- STEVE NEUMANN, Georgetown, Forward/Midfielder
Had mixed results at the Combine, and failed to answer questions about just where he is best-suited to play in a formation. He’s smart, a good passer, moves well and can finish, so there should be a place for him in the first round.
17- ANDRE LEWIS, Jamaica, Central Midfielder
The most exciting prospect at the MLS Combine, his quickness, tireless work rate, confidence on the ball, and trickiness in the final third make him a player who several teams are interested in grabbing in the first round.
18- TESHO AKINDELE, Colorado School of Mines, Forward/ Right Winger
A 6-foot-2 forward/winger with speed and quick first step, Akindele showed well at the MLS Combine, beating people off the dribble and standing out in a draft with few quality wing options.
19- DAMION LOWE, Hartford, Centerback
There are centerbacks who are better than Lowe right now, but not many who have his potential. The 6-foot-3 defender is only 20, and has the frame to develop into a truly imposing figure. Teams that emphasize developing young talent are definitely intrigued by the son of former Kansas City and Jamaica striker Onandi Lowe.
20- J.J. KOVAL, California, Defensive Midfielder
Went into the Combine as one of a handful of defensive midfield prospects who could play their way into, or out of the first round, and while none of them really were outstanding, Koval was the best of the bunch. Good passer with an affinity for putting himself in good positions to combine with teammates, Koval looks poised enough to earn some minutes as a rookie.
21- MARLON HAIRSTON, Louisville, Central Midfielder
Struggled badly at the MLS Combine before showing some better signs on the final day. Is very much a long-term project, but his Generation adidas status could make him worth a gamble for a team with patience and a need for some salary cap relief.
22- JARED WATTS, Wake Forest, Defensive Midfielder
A physical defensive midfielder with good size, Watts failed to really stand out at the MLS Combine and might have cost himself a place in the first round. That doesn’t mean he can’t still be a good pro. He still has the qualities to develop into a starter.
23- RICHIE MARQUEZ, University of Redlands, Centerback
Another small-school wonder who wowed at the MLS Combine, Marquez combines size and athleticism like few others, and he tested off the charts at the Combine. Is still likely to not be among the top 10 centerbacks taken, but has the qualities to wind up being a draft-day steal.
24- JOEY DILLON, Georgetown, Defensive Midfielder
An extremely quiet MLS Combine hurt Dillon’s draft stock, but teams that have done their homework won’t have forgotten that Dillon just finished an accomplished career as a four-year starter at Georgetown.
25- RYAN NEIL, California, Right Winger
One of the players who boosted his stock the most, Neil was one of the more impressive wide players at the Combine, and showed off his speed and ability to combine from the flank. He did enough to catch the attention of several teams that liked his quickness and crossing ability.
25- VICTOR CHAVEZ, UCLA, Forward
Big forward with a nose for goal and ability to put himself in good positions.
26- TAYLOR PEAY, Washington, Centerback
Tall and athletic, though not as technical as some other centerbacks.
28- JOE SOFIA, UCLA, Centerback
Lack of MLS Combine invite hurt him, but Sofia makes up for in toughness and intelligence what he lacks in athleticism and upside.
29- ROMENA BOWIE, VCU, Defensive Midfielder
Didn’t have an outstanding MLS Combine, but remains a quality defensive midfielder. Status as a Jamaican international hurts his stock a bit.
30- MARK SHERROD, Memphis, Forward
A big target forward who could work on his technical quality and passing skills as a holding forward.
31- AODHAN QUINN, Akron, Central Midfielder
Has the soccer smarts to make plays, but uncertainty about just where he would be best suited to play in the pros coupled with questions about his lack of athleticism hurt his stock a bit. Is apparently heading to Europe for some trials.
32- JUSTIN PORTILLO, Coastal Carolina, Right winger/Forward
Smallish but quick and very technical and also showed his toughness when forced to play left back at the MLS Combine.
33- THOMAS MCNAMARA, Clemson, Central Midfielder
Gets more attention for his mullet than his soccer ability, but McNamara is a good player and his maturity and fearlessness on the ball make him an intriguing prospect.
34- RONNY MENDOZA, Ecuador, Centerback
If you can’t land one of the Top 10 centebacks, you can do worse than this 6-foot-4 Ecuadorian, who plays a smooth game for his size.
35- REINALDO BRENES, Akron, Forward
Skillful forward who has some teams interested, but his status as a Costa Rican citizen hurts his value to teams not wanting to spend international slots on rookies.
36- ALEX MARTINEZ, North Carolina State, Central Midfielder
Very good on the ball, and in tight spaces, but doesn’t look ready to be a starter on the next level. has the talent to be a squad midfielder.
37- LUCA GIMENEZ, Wake Forest, Right winger/Forward
Anyone judging him strictly on the MLS Combine would think he should be much lower on this list, but Gimenez remains a viable prospect after showing so well playing in the ACC. He did flashes his quickness at times at the Combine, but he is a Brazilian citizenship, which hurts his stock as a youth international.
38- VICTOR MUNOZ, UCLA, Central Midfielder
Another foreign-born player, the Spanish midfielder impressed scouts with his passing in the final third and his quickness, but looks to be more of a later-round grab than first-round option.
39- ROBBIE DERSCHANG, Akron, Left Winger
A lackluster MLS Combine hurt his draft stock, but in a draft with so few wingers, Derschang should still get a look from teams looking for help on the flanks.
40- A.J. CORRADO, Indiana, Attacking Midfielder
Some good passing skills but lacks a true position for the next level.
41- GEORGE FOCHIVE, UConn, Defensive Midfielder
42- NICK WALKER, Centerback, FDU
43- PETE CARINGI, UMBC, Forward
44- JIMMY OCKFORD, Louisville, Centerback
45- FABIO PEREIRA, Michigan, Attacking Midfielder
46- KINGSLEY BAIDEN, UCSB, Central Midfielder
47- KEES HEEMSKERK, College of Charleston, Goalkeeper
48-QUINTON CHRISTINA, Suriname, Forward/Defender
49- MACKENZIE PRIDHAM, Cal Poly, Forward
50- MICHAEL KAFARI, New Mexico, Defensive Midfielder
51- NIKITA KOTLOV, Indiana, Left Winger
52- PATRICK SLOGIC, Cornell, Centerback
53- ERIC STEVENSON, Akron, Left Back/Left Winger
54- ANDY LUBAHN, Wake Forest, Forward
55- RAFAEL DIAZ, St. John’s, Goalkeeper
56- KADEEM DACRES, UMBC, Left Winger
57- ZACH BOLDEN, University of Denver, Right Winger
58- KRIS TYRPAK, University of Houston, Forward
59- PIERRE OMANGA, Southern New Hampshire, Forward
60- BLAKE WISE, San Diego State, Midfielder
61- ZACH BARNES, Defensive midfielder, Creighton
62- ENRIQUE CARDENAS, UC-Irvine, Central Midfielder
63- ADNAN GABELJIC, Saint Louis, Forward
64- BRYAN CIESULKA, Marquette, Central Midfielder
65- WOJCIECH WOJCIK, Forward, Bradley
66- CHRIS DUVALL, Wake Forest, Right Back
67- JACOB BUSHUE, Indiana, Defender/Midfielder
68- TOMISLAV ZADRO, Wisconsin, Attacking Midfielder
69- OMAR MATA, Tulsa, Left winger/attacking midfielder
70- SUNNY JANE, Maryland, Right Winger
71- ALEC SUNDLEY, California, Central midfielder
72- PAUL DILLON, Marquette, Left Back
73- HARRISON PETTS, Indiana, Right winger
74- MIGUEL GONZALEZ, Seattle University, Forward
75- MICHAEL CALDERON, New Mexico, Attacking Midfielder
76- FABIAN OTTE, North Carolina State, Goalkeeper
77- ACHILLE CAMPION, UCSB, Forward
78- JASON PLUMHOFF, Lasalle, Attacking Midfielder
79- SAGE GARDNER, Ohio State, Left Back/Left Winger
80- JAKE PACE, Maryland, Forward