Photo by Zips Sports Photography
Call it a major mock draft shake-up.
Plenty has happened since the last SBI Mock Draft, from word that Ike Opara would be staying in school to the latest news that Baggio Husidic would be available. No, there have been no trades yet, but sources tell me that offers are already flying from teams eager to move up in this loaded draft.
The latest news isn't actually that Husidic signed, but that U.S. Under-20 national team striker Peri Marosevic has also signed his Generation adidas agreement. Sources confirmed that to me today, making the Generation adidas pool that much deeper.
What is becoming very clear is that there will be trades galore before the draft, with the MLS Combine serving as trade central for negotiations next weekend. So why even have mock drafts? We have them to help give you all a sense of what teams and scouts are thinking heading into the draft. That said, once the Combine takes place, and trades start to happen, we will get a much better sense of what will actually happen on Jan. 15.
Here are some other draft-related tidbits, followed by the SBI MLS Mock Draft (version 3.0):
Of the top Generation adidas targets, only two have not signed, Ike Opara and Michael Stephens. MLS was still trying to gauge the interest among MLS teams for Stephens, which is also why it took this long for Husidic and Marosevic to sign their deals. I would put money on Stephens being signed.
As for Opara, he has yet to formally announce a decision on whether to come out or stay in school. So why hasn't he, when all signs are pointing to him staying in school? My theory is that Opara is waiting to see what trades shake out before the draft. I have a sneaking suspicion that if Los Angeles or D.C. United move into the first or second spot, Opara might be tempted to come out. That's completely just a theory, not anything I've heard.
If you are wondering what is going on with Matt Kassel, the last I heard was that he wasn't sold on leaving Maryland and was far from a lock to enter the draft. The hope from the Kassel camp was that the Red Bulls would simply acquire him as a home-grown player, but with the Red Bulls still uncertain about Kassel's ability to contribute any time soon, it is looking like Kassel's path to MLS would have to go through the draft. And yes, it happens to be a loaded draft, with few teams ready to spend a high pick on a player who might still be a full year away from being an MLS contributor (and yes, there is a strong belief that he isn't MLS ready yet). That fact would make it pretty tough for MLS to justify handing Kassel a Generation adidas contract, even if he is considered one of college soccer's best long-term prospects. If I were a betting man I would bet on Kassel staying in school at this point.
I haven't heard a peep about North Carolina freshman Sheanon Williams though there were rumors that he was coming out and trying to sign a Generation adidas contract. If he were to sign he would likely project as a late first-rounder or early second-rounder, which might be why we haven't heard anything definitive about what his plans are. Williams would probably be better served going the Opara route and staying unsigned heading into next fall's Under-20 World Cup.
Now, without further ado, here is the the SBI MLS Mock Draft (v 3.0). Enjoy:
2009 SBI MLS Mock Draft (version 3.0)
1. Seattle Sounders- Steve Zakuani, F, Akron
For the second straight mock draft, Zakuani projects as the top pick. Sources have stated that Seattle coach Sigi Schmid (as well as at least two other MLS coaches) consider Zakuani the top talent in the draft and will select him No. 1 overall.
2. Toronto FC- Omar Gonzalez, D, Maryland
The list of teams interested in moving up to this pick continues to grow because there are a handful of teams eager to grab Gonzalez. TFC isn't convinced in Gonzalez and look very likely to grab the best trade package. Sources tell me offers have already been made and Los Angeles, FC Dallas, D.C. United and New England have all been identified as teams interested in moving up.
3. Los Angeles Galaxy- Rodney Wallace, D, Maryland
The Galaxy need a central defender like Gonzalez and could be willing to send Toronto a player just to move up one spot. If LA can't find a deal, then look for the Galaxy to grab the best Generation adidas defender available, which would be Wallace, a speedy left back who could be considered an upgade over both Ante Jazic and Mike Randolph. Marcus Tracy would be a great acquisition here, but LA can't afford the luxury of adding a rookie who will
4. Toronto- Marcus Tracy, F, Wake Forest
It is starting to look like Tracy, a player most thought would be a lock no. 1 overall pick will fall a few slots. It isn't that teams don't rate him, it is that Tracy loses out to Generation adidas options when teams factor in his salary counting against the cap. There is also a stronger need for defenders around the league, making Gonzalez and Wallace more coveted.
5. FC Dallas- Jeremy Hall, M, Maryland
The Hoops have plenty of attacking options, and more talented young prospect than any other team in MLS, so why would FC Dallas take Hall here? It's simple. He's clearly the most valuable and coveted player available at this spot. FC Dallas could turn to Alston, but Hall has difference-maker speed on the left wing, something that isn't easy to find. Look for the Hoops to push hard for a trade to grab Gonzalez, with a package of two first-round picks and a player (like Adrian Serioux for example) a very enticing potential package.
6. D.C. United-Kevin Alston, D, Indiana
Another team that would love to land a center back in this draft, D.C. will be using high picks for the first time in years and will be in position to boost a roster that needs some new blood. With starting right back Brian Namoff out of contract and unsigned, D.C.could suddenly replace him with a younger and more athletic alternative who wouldn't count against the salary cap. D.C. is trying to move up for Gonzalez, but will gladly grab a pair of young prospects in the middle of the first round.
7. D.C. United- Stefan Frei, GK, California
D.C. United had plenty of issues in 2008, including the goalkeeper position. Zach Wells struggled early and often, then Louis Crayton started well only to struggle late. Enter Frei, the top goalkeeper prospect in this draft and a Generation adidas player D.C. can bring along slowly.
8. Kansas City- Michael Stephens, M, UCLA
The Wizards have been lacking creativity in the middle of the field for some time and while there have been rumors about KC looking for a playmaker in the foreign market, look for the Wizards to grab the versatile Stephens, who is a good two-way central midfielder who ranks second only to Husidic among playmakers in the draft. Stephens' ability to play on the wing also gives him the versatility KC likes in its young players, which gives him the edge over Baggio Hudisic, who is considered a better pure playmaker.
9. Chivas USA- Baggio Husidic, M, Illinois-Chicago
The best pure playmaker in the draft could wind up going higher depending on how trades shake up the draft order, but at this point you would be hard-pressed to have Preki pass on his fellow Yugoslavian playmaker. Hudisic has a rare combination of size, speed and passing touch that has teams believing he could step in and play right away like Sacha Kljestan for Chivas USA three years ago. That makes sense considering the Goats would be selecting Husidic as some insurance for Kljestan's expected departure to Europe.
10. New England- Yohance Marshall, D, South Florida
The Revs are among the teams trying to move up in the draft (We believe they covet Omar Gonzalez and Jeremy Hall), but if they stay put they could wind up with the best senior defender of the bunch. Marshall was the Big East's top defender and the Revs have surely gotten a good look at Marshall throughout the fall. A strong and athletic centerback who is also very mature for a rookie, Marshall could step in and play major minutes as New England tries to cope with the departure of Michael Parkhurst.
11. FC Dallas- Peri Marosevic, F, Michigan
We know, FC Dallas doesn't have a pressing need for a striker, especially now that Kenny Cooper is reportedly staying put, but counting on Jeff Cunningham to have two straight good seasons with the same team is never a wise move and the Hoops may be forced to go best available with all the top defenders off the board. Marosevic is a small (5-foot-9) sniper of a forward who scores goals in bunches and is one of the U.S. Under-20 team's top strikers.
12. Real Salt Lake- Sam Cronin, M, Wake Forest
RSL had been projected to grab Mike Grella here, and that is still a very real possibility, but I think Garth Lagerwey and Jason Kreis will be hard-pressed to pass on a proven midfield general like Cronin, who slips to them because the wave of Generation adidas players goes before him. If Real Salt Lake is ready to part with Dema Kovalenko, which is the word in league circles, then Cronin could slide in next to Kyle Beckerman in a double-pivot midfield. Cronin would also make a good fit in RSL's frenetic attack having played so well as the perfect counterbalance in Wake Forest's high-powered offense.
13. Toronto- O’Brian White, F, UConn
Yes, we see this pick happening, with Toronto being the only team ready to gamble a first-round pick on a player coming off ACL surgery. Is it really that much of a gamble? I'm hearing that White will be back in April. One potential issue with this pick is the fact that the lack of interest in White as a first-round pick could lead to MLS not offering White a good contract before the MLS Draft and White just might balk if MLS tries to low-ball him once he is drafted.
14. New York- Calum Angus, D, St. Louis
For the second straight mock, we have Angus going to New York. He stood out as a central defender for SLU, but should be a fullback on the pro level. Having excelled as a midfielder for his PDL team, Angus brings the versatility Juan Carlos Osorio likes. The Red Bulls are very likely to choose between Angus and speedy Wake Forest fullback Lyle Adams and whichever player has the better combine should get the call here.
15. New England- Michael Lahoud, M, Wake Forest
When the Revs let Khano Smith go in the expansion draft, they had to know the 2009 draft would have a few quality left wing prospects. Jeremy Hall is the best in the draft, but he'll be long gone by now, leaving the Revs to turn to Lahoud, a speedster who might not be quite as dangerous as Hall but does have speed and the ability to play centrally if needed. If the Revs address this position with their earlier pick, then Chris Pontius or Mike Grella will likely get the call.
MLS Mock Draft Notes
So where are Mike Grella and Chris Pontius? The two highly-regarded senior strikers fell victim to the wave of Generation adidas players in this draft. Both forwards are great attacking options who could very easily move into the first round, particularly if any of the Generation adidas players fail to impress at the Combine. Could Grella and Pontius force their way into the first round with strong Combine showings? They could, be last year players like Pete Lowry, George Josten and Ricardo Pierre-Louis impressed at the Combine only to fall to later picks.
As many different draft combinations as there could be, and I juggled this mock draft thoroughly just before posting after Husidic was signed, there is a growing consensus that the Top Five players in this mock draft will be the first five players chosen (though I wouldn't hold my breath on them finishing in that order0. Of course, last year the same was said about players such as Patrick Nyarko and Julius James.
One name that has faded a bit is Graham Zusi, which was to be expected once the College Cup buzz faded. A very skillful central midfielder, Zusi has drawn some comparisons to Ohio State standout Xavier Balc, who was a college star that MLS scouts didn't rate at all. It's an unfair comparison because Zusi has a far better work rate and is simply a more complete player than Balc, who went from projected first-rounder to Supplemental Draft pick last year. Zusi will not slip past the early part of the second round, if he isn't grabbed up in the latter part of the first round.
Now, onto the MLS Draft Best XI, with the players considered the best at each position in the draft(And no, we still haven't found a pure right winger to put in, at least not anybody that will come close to being a first-round pick).
MLS Draft Best XI (Version 2.0)
———-Marcus Tracy———–Steve Zakuani————-
Jeremy Hall———————————–Michael Stephens
Rodney Wallace———————————Kevin Alston
————Omar Gonzalez—-Yohance Marshall———–
The next SBI MLS Mock Draft will come on Friday, Jan. 9, the day before the MLS Combine. I will be looking to find out what some of the trade offers have been in the upcoming draft, and if I get a good sense of what trades are being offered, I may do a Mock draft including trades for next week. I am also considering making the next Mock Draft a two-round mock. I was planning to do that after the Combine anyway, but may do it a week early so keep an eye out for that.
For now, feel free to share your thoughts on all of these developments and the version 3.0 of the mock draft in the comments section below.