By IVES GALARCEP
The 2014 MLS Draft is less than two weeks away and chances are that, if you’re an MLS fan, you are already thinking about just what sort of players your team could grab up in Philadelphia on Jan. 16.
In the latest installment of The SBI 2014 MLS Mock Draft (Version 2.0), we increase the projected selections to including three rounds, for a total of 57 picks, and while it would be ambitious to think we can project that many picks correctly, keep in mind that mock drafts like these (at least past the first round) are more about gauging the type of talent that can be had with the picks rather than about pinpointing which specific players will go at which picks.
As we have stated before, the 2014 MLS Draft lacks star power, but is deep in talent that can make a roster. I would argue we could see more third-round picks make teams this year than ever before, though the number of players who could be seen as potential national team types, or future stars, is less than in past years.
Much like the 2014 SBI MLS Draft Big Board, our Mock Drafts are based on player valuations cultivated from discussions with several experts, including coaches and general managers in MLS and coaches and players from the college game. Nobody can watch enough college soccer to offer reasonable evaluations of the draft class without input from outside parties, and one of the failings of some other mock drafts and draft lists you will see is people relying too heavily on their limited amount of exposure to the college game.
Something else you might notice is some pretty highly-regarded college players who are ranked pretty low both on our Big Board and our Mock Draft. It is easy to get caught up in college stats, particularly compiled by players from smaller leagues. It is also easy to get enamored by attacking midfielders who thrive in the college game, which has a fraction of the on-the-ball pressure found in MLS. For that reason, MLS teams don’t traditionally burn high draft picks on senior college playmakers. That doesn’t mean such a player can’t develop and become a star (like Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi), but it does mean you are likely to see some highly-regarded college midfielders slide in the draft.
By no means is our mock draft perfect, and every year you will see a few players who are undervalued or overvalued, but you can look at our track record of past mock drafts and big boards and you’ll see that traditionally we offer as good a measure of where players are rated by MLS teams as any other place you will find. Also note that our Big Board and Mock Draft will be updated once more before the MLS Combine, on Thursday/Friday, then one final time on January 15, the day before the 2014 MLS Draft.
Now, without further ado, here is the latest SBI MLS Mock Draft, version 2.0, including picks for the first three of the four total rounds:
SBI 2014 MLS Mock Draft (Version 2.o)
(*-Generation adidas player)
1. D.C. UNITED
*Steve Birnbaum, 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.
So why Birnbaum over Christian Dean? Birnbaum is the better player right now and D.C. United is said not to rate Dean as highly as other teams do. D.C. United could choose to trade down and gather assets rather than be the first team in a decade to not use the No. 1 overall pick on a Generation adidas player. If a team trades up, the chances are very high that it would be to grab Dean.
*Christian Dean, California, Centerback
The Union could go in any number of directions thanks to having the No. 6 pick as well. Dean could offer some help in the long term, and provide cover in the event Amobi Okugo plays out his contract and leaves after 2014. Despite that, we can see the Union grabbing an extremely talented young forward in Larin, who could be groomed to eventually help replace Jack McInerney, who has two years left on his contract and isn’t close to signing a new deal.
3. 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 would join fellow Jamaican Darren Mattocks on the Whitecaps.
Centerback is a more pressing need, but with Birnbaum and Dean off the board, the Whitecaps can grab Blake here and go centerback later in the draft.
4. COLUMBUS CREW
*Cyle Larin, UConn, Forward
Forward isn’t a pressing need after re-signing Dominic Oduro and Jairo Arrieta, but the Crew would find it tough passing on a player with the upside of Larin, who could be the team’s striker of the future. The 18-year-old Canadian forward boasts good side, speed and technical ability and joining the Crew would allow him time to develop.
Larin has yet to sign a Generation adidas deal despite having been offered one, and if he’s not in the draft the Crew could consider a central midfielder like Marlon Hairston or Pedro Ribeiro.
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.. 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, and any team taking him is also taking a player who has signed a guaranteed six-figure deal that will count against the salary cap (unlike a Generation adidas contract).
All that said, the Union will have a hard time passing on him if Mullins is available here. If Mullins is already gone, the Union could consider A.J. Cochran or Coastal Carolina midfielder Pedro Ribeiro.
7. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Eric Miller, Creighton, Right Back
The retirement of Lee Young Pyo leaves a void at right back that Miller could help step in and fill. Adding a tandem like Blake and Miller, as well as a centerback in the later rounds, would not only boost the team’s defensive depth, but having two Generation adidas players would really help the team’s salary cap situation.
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.
9. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Pedro Ribeiro, Coastal Carolina, Attacking midfielder
Rafael Baca’s departure leaves the team with a need in central midfield and Ribero could come in and fill that void. The tall and rangy Brazilian midfielder has good vision and a deft passing touch.
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. Colorado could also consider local product Kyle Venter to help the team’s centerback depth.
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
Nikita Kotlov, Indiana, Left winger
Sigi Schmid is a coach who isn’t afraid to reach for a player he likes, as we’ve seen in past drafts, and we could see Schmid being interested in a quick left winger like Kotlov, who can provide service and also score goals. This is early for Kotlov to go, but Schmid has done this before.
14. LA GALAXY
Jared Watts, Wake Forest, Defensive Midfielder
The Galaxy have enough depth at centerback, and could use a defensive midfield prospect. Bruce Arena could go with Joey Dillon at this pick, or trade out of the first round, but we’ll go with Watts to provide some central midfield depth.
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.
It should be noted the Dynamo could sign highly-rated centerback Sebastian Ibeagha to a Homegrown Player deal, which could allow team to consider Ben Sweat at this pick.
17. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Marco Franco, UC-Irvine, Centerback/Right Back
Caleb Porter loves technical defenders and there isn’t a more technical one in the draft than Franco, who is small for a centerback at 5-11, but would work well in Porter’s system. He could also help provide depth at right back as well.
18. REAL SALT LAKE
Ben Sweat, South Florida, Left Back
RSL can use depth at left back and Sweat is the best in the draft at the position. With Chris Wingert turning 32 this year, Sweat could be his natural successor at the spot. Fast and athletic, Sweat can use some seasoning and can be brought along slowly by RSL.
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
Mamadou Diouf, UConn, Forward
21. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Joe Sofia, UCLA, Centerback
22. NEW YORK RED BULLS
Romena Bowie, VCU, Defensive Midfielder
23. COLUMBUS CREW
Robbie Derschang, Akron, Left Winger
24. FC DALLAS
Alex Martinez, North Carolina State, Attacking Midfielder/Forward
25. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Luca Gimenez, Wake Forest, Right winger
26. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Mark Sherrod, Memphis, Forward
27. PHILADELPHIA UNION
George Fochive, UConn, Defensive Midfielder
28. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
J.J. Koval, Stanford, Central Midfielder
29. MONTREAL IMPACT
Nick Hagglund, Xavier, Centerback
30. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Taylor Peay, Washington, Centerback
31. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Reinaldo Brenes, Akron, Forward
32. HOUSTON DYNAMO
Mackenzie Pridham, Cal Poly, Forward
33. COLORADO RAPIDS
Kingsley Baiden, UCSB, Defensive Midfielder
34. NEW YORK RED BULLS
Victor Chavez, UCLA, Forward
35. COLORADO RAPIDS
Rafael Diaz, St. John’s, Goalkeeper
36. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Eric Stevenson, Akron, Left Wing/Left Back
37. REAL SALT LAKE
Bryan Ciesulka, Marquette, Central Midfielder
38. SPORTING KC
Thomas McNamara, Clemson, Central Midfielder
39. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Jimmy Ockford, Louisville, Centerback
40. CHIVAS USA
Victor Munoz, UCLA, Midfielder
41. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Aodhan Quinn, Akron, Right winger
42. COLUMBUS CREW
A.J. Corrado, Indiana, Attacking Midfielder
43. FC DALLAS
Ryan Neil, California, Left winger
44. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Pete Caringi, UMBC, Forward
45. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Daniel Lovitz, Elon, Left winger
46. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Kees Heemskerk, College of Charleston, Goalkeeper
47. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Justin Portillo, Coastal Carolina, Forward
48. MONTREAL IMPACT
Enrique Cardenas, UC-Irvine, Forward
49. COLORADO RAPIDS
Kris Tyrpak, Houston Baptist, Forward
50. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Wojciech Wojcik, Bradley, Forward
51. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Fabio Pereira, Michigan, Attacking Midfielder
52. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Nick Walker, FDU, Centerback
53. REAL SALT LAKE
Adnan Gabeljic, Saint Louis, Forward
54. HOUSTON DYNAMO
Michael Kafari, New Mexico, Defensive Midfielder
55. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Tomislav Zadro, Wisconsin, Central Midfielder
56. D.C. UNITED
Kadeem Dacres, UMBC, Attacking Midfielder/Left Winger
57. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Zach Bolden, Denver, Left Winger