With the 2010 MLS Draft class looking like it could be one of the best in league history, and with the 2009 draft class also having impressed, more and more eyes are focusing on the talent being produced on the college level.
This year should be just as good, if not better, with a plethora of young standouts ready to impress scouts across the country. A handful of top U.S. youth national team players will be taking the fields at colleges throughout the nation and MLS scouts will be watching closely.
Some of the best places to look for that top talent are the places you would expect. Akron, Virginia and Maryland will feature some of the nation's best talent as they all vie for the College Cup title.
So who will be the next Steve Zakuani, Omar Gonzalez, Danny Mwanga or Tim Ream? Here is SBI's Best XI draft prospects heading into the 2010 college season:
SBI's Best XI to watch for the 2011 MLS Draft
DARLINGTON NAGBE, Akron, Jr.
Steve Zakuani and Teal Bunbury have passed through Akron in recent years as goal-scoring terrors and this year's Zips are likely to be led by Nagbe (pictured at the top), a player considered by many to be the most talented and dangerous offensive player in the country.
Adept at playing up front, out wide or in a playmaking role, Nagbe combines blazing speed with good technical ability and he is a good bet to surpass his ten goals scored in 2009. If he is signed by MLS this winter he could be the first player chosen in the 2011 MLS Draft.
ZACK MACMATH, Maryland, Jr.
A starter on the U.S. Under-20 national team, MacMath is a highly-coveted goalkeeper who just spent time training with English club Everton. Before he turns pro, and there seems little doubt he will after this season, MacMath will look to win his second national championship in three years.
DILLON POWERS, Notre Dame, So.
A dominant force in central midfield, Powers can spark the attack with his passes while also displaying a tireless workrate in the middle of the park. He starred for the U.S. Under-20 national team during its Milk Cup Tournament title run and looks like a safe bet to leave school two years early.
KOFI SARKODIE, Akron, Jr.
The best fullback in the nation, Sarkodie is a lockdown defender on the right flank, but it is his ability to get forward that has scouts drooling. A U.S. Under-20 national team defender, Sarkodie possesses unmatched athleticism as well as the ability to serve good crosses. MLS was interested in him for the 2010 MLS Draft, so look for him to be a high draft pick in 2011.
ZAREK VALENTIN, Akron, So.
A versatile and skilled defender who can play centrally and at fullback, Valentin is another player who impressed at the Milk Cup with the U.S. Under-20 team. Whether he plays left back or central defense, Valentin is key to keeping Akron's defense solid as the Zips throw numbers forward. He's young, but Valentin is already on the MLS Generation adidas radar and is a good bet to be offered a deal this winter.
BILLY SCHULER, North Carolina, Jr.
Quick, intelligent and a deadly finisher, Schuler is a striker who plays older than he is and he will be key to UNC's title hopes. A former U.S. Under-17 national team player, Schuler has impressed scouts with his technical ability and nose for goal. If he can enjoy another strong season in the tough ACC, Schuler will be a good bet to sought after by MLS this winter.
ETHAN WHITE, MARYLAND, So.
One of the best young defenders in the nation last year, White propelled himself onto pro radars after impressing at the Milk Cup with the U.S. Under-20 team. Strong, athletic and versatile, White anchor's Maryland's defense and has a chance to play himself into a pro deal with another stellar season for the Terps.
A.J. SOARES, California, Sr.
Strong, tenacious and good in the air, Soares drew attention from MLS scouts last year, but another year could help him develop his game to a point where he could be an MLS-ready centerback by 2011. A dominant defender in the Pac-10, Soares is also a threat to score.
ANTHONY AMPAIPITAKWONG, Akron, Sr.
Energetic, creative and dangerous, Ampaipitakwong helps keep the Akron attack moving and scouts are already sizing up his ability to unsettle defenses. His quickness and passing ability should be on full display this year and it's tough to see him not being a first-round pick come the 2011 MLS Draft.
CASEY TOWNSEND, Maryland, Jr.
As a freshman on the Maryland championship team Townsend looked like a can't-miss forward prospect. Injuries put a damper on his freshman campaign, but scouts still remember the skills he showed in 2008 and will be watching closely to see how he develops this season. A pure goal-scorer who doesn't need much room to get off his shot, Townsend partners with Jason Herrick on one of the nation's top strike forces.
BRIAN OWNBY, Virginia, Jr.
Scouts seem to be torn on how to rate Ownby. Some question his technical ability and toughness, but his fans love the blazing speed and willingness to go at defenders. Staying healthy has been an issue for the former U.S. Under-20 national team player, but if he is healthy this year he could play himself into a Generation adidas deal.
GK- Jeff Attinella, South Florida, Sr.
D- Andrew Wenger, Duke, So.
D- Greg Monaco, Virginia, Jr.
D- Aaron Maund, Notre Dame, Jr.
M- Matt Kassel, Maryland, Jr.
M- Bernardo Anor, South Florida
M- Michael Farfan, North Carolina, Sr.
M- Rich Balchan, Indiana, Sr.
F- Will Bruin, Indiana, Jr.
F- Erik Hurtado, Santa Clara, So.
F- Will Bates, Virginia, So.
GK- Diego Restrepo, Virginia, Sr.
D-Sacir Hot, Boston College, So.
D- Raymon Gaddis, West Virginia, Jr.
D- Justin Chavez, Tulsa, Jr.
D- Bobby Warshaw, Stanford, Sr.
M- Michael Tetteh, UCSB, Jr.
M- Ryan Kinne, Monmouth, Sr.
M- Danny Barrera, UCSB, Jr.
F- Andy Lubahn, Wake Forest, So.
F- Sam Garza, UCSB, So.
F- Andrew Bulls, Maryland-Baltimore County, Jr.
What do you think of this group? Excited to see how the 2011 MLS Draft Class takes shape? What players are you looking forward to watching this year?
Share your thoughts below.