The 2021 MLS Draft kicks off on Thursday, and it shaping up to be a busy one with plenty of trades and maneuvering.
Austin FC is sitting at the top of the draft, and appears ready to follow the tradition of most expansion teams in using its first pick rather than dealing it. After that though, it is anyone’s guess which teams will be holding picks two through 10 when the selections are read out.
This year’s draft is light on marquee names, but there is a consensus on the top three prospects, with Clemson’s Philip Mayaka, Wake Forest’s Calvin Harris and Virginia Tech’s Daniel Pereira drawing the most attention.
This is a good year for central defenders, and also for left back prospects. The draft pool is deep with prospects at both positions, though there are few prospects anyone would call ‘Can’t-Miss Players’.
Austin FC, the Colorado Rapids, Inter Miami and the Vancouver Whitecaps all hold multiple picks in the first round, and could be well-positioned to make serious moves with those picks.
The Houston Dynamo is also a good candidate for a deal, having recently added Tim Parker to address their need in central defense. Now Tab Ramos and his side can listen to offers for the third overall pick, which should draw plenty of interests from teams hoping to grab either someone like Pereira or one of the top central defenders, like Ethan Bartlow or Josh Bauer.
Here is the Final edition of the SBI 2021 MLS Mock Draft, featuring our projection of the first two rounds:
SBI 2021 MLS Mock Draft
1- Austin FC – Philip Mayaka, CM, Clemson
Austin has a decision to make between Philip Mayaka and Calvin Harris. The expansion side is believed to be very high on Mayaka, but Harris is the most coveted attacking prospect in the field. Having a second first-round pick to find an attacking option could make it easier to make Mayaka the Generation adidas pick first overall.
2- FC Cincinnati- Calvin Harris, F, Wake Forest
Cincinnati is overflowing with needs, but as much as drafting a centerback would be understandable for a team that badly needs some, passing on a talent like Harris would be difficult. Now, if Austin selects Calvin Harris then things could get interesting because Philip Mayaka might not be an automatic for Cincinnati, which has Frankie Amaya as a talented young central midfielder. Trading the pick, or grabbing Ethan Bartlow to address central defense could be options.
3- Houston Dynamo – Daniel Pereira, CM, Virginia Tech
The acquisition of Tim Parker was a huge one for the Dynamo, who had to be pondering a central defender with this pick before that trade. Now, the Dynamo appear more likely to deal this pick and trade down rather than using it, and if they succeed in trading down they would likely seek more centerback depth in a player like Nabi Kibunguchy. Pereira is the type of talent teams will be willing to trade up for so he’s a leading candidate to be taken at this pick.
4- D.C. United – Ed Kizza, Pittsburgh, F
Some attacking depth should be a priority for D.C. United, and Kizza is the kind of dynamic striker who could help provide a boost in year one. He has a proven track record as a goal-scorer, and while his missing his senior season at Pittsburgh could turn some teams off, D.C. could see the potential for an immediate impact at striker similar to what Daryl Dike provided Orlando City in 2020.
5- Atlanta United- Josh Bauer, CB, New Hampshire
Atlanta United is high on Bauer and will jump at the chance to take him if he is available, but the choice between Ethan Bartlow and Bauer may not be an easy one. Bauer has more size, is better in the air and is arguably a tougher defender, while Bartlow is a better passer and leader in the back. The Generation adidas designation could lead Atlanta to grab Bartlow, but we’ll go with Bauer here.
6- Colorado Rapids- Ethan Bartlow, CB, Washington
The Rapids will be more than happy to grab a Generation adidas player, and Bartlow is a talent who could easily go in the top three. Robin Fraser will like his poise and confidence on the ball, and while he doesn’t have to start as a rookie, Bartlow could definitely push for a starting role.
7- Real Salt Lake – Kimarni Smith, F/W, Clemson
The trading of Corey Baird makes adding some winger depth another area of need for a rebuilding Real Salt Lake side and Smith can fill both a wide role and forward role. His international status shouldn’t keep RSL for adding his speed and power to a forward line in need of a talent infusion.
8- Portland Timbers – Bret Halsey, Virginia
The Timbers could be tempted to try and address their sudden lack of left backs, but it will be tough to pass on a talented young right back prospect like Hasley, who offers salary budget relief as a Generation adidas player and also has some versatility as a potential depth option in central midfield. If the Timbers do address left back, then Josh Drack or Matt Di Rosa would be options.
9- Vancouver Whitecaps – Nabi Kibunguchy, CB, UC-Davis
The Whitecaps have two first-round picks and don’t need to be position-specific, so the best talent available is Kibunguchy, who could wind up going as high as third overall, but who could slip given the number of comparable quality centerback options available. Kibunguchy played more as a midfielder in college, but projects as an athletic ball-playing central defender.
10- Inter Miami – Aime Mabika, CB, Kentucky
Mabika is an athletic 6-foot-6 centerback who combines intelligence with his obvious physical tools. He isn’t as technical as the top-tier central defenders in this draft, but teams that see his considerable upside will jump at the chance to mold him into a dominant force.
11- Austin FC – Josh Penn, F, Indiana
This Mock Draft has Philip Mayaka going with Austin’s first pick, making an attacking threat like Penn a good fit with Austin’s second first-round selection. He is quick, can beat defenders on the dribble and can combine well, and Penn is also one of the younger prospects in the pool, so he has the kind of long-term potential an expansion team will covet.
12- San Jose – David Egbo, F, Akron
After bidding farewell to Danny Hoesen, the Earthquakes can use some striker depth, and Egbo a big forward who is different from what Matias Almeyda currently has on his roster.
13- New York Red Bulls – Josh Drack, LB/LW, Denver
The Red Bulls tried addressing their lack of left back depth last year by selecting Patrick Seagrist in the first round, which didn’t work out as Seagrist has since been traded. Drack is an intriguing prospect as a dynamic left-footed player who was a winger in college but who could fit in well as an attacking left back. He was one of the more impressive players at the Sporting Kansas City Combine and would be a good option at this pick.
14- Los Angeles FC – Logan Panchot, RB, Stanford
Some fullback depth would be good for Bob Bradley’s side and Panchot is the kind of technically skilled and intelligent player who could thrive in LAFC’s system.
15- FC Dallas – Talen Maples, CB, SMU
Some central defense depth would suit FC Dallas at this pick and Maples is a Texas native who has trained with Luchi Gonzalez’s team before. A defensive midfielder in his last season at SMU, Maples is strong in possession and a sharp passer, and while he doesn’t have the size of some other centerback prospects in this pool, he could be a good stylistic fit for the type of soccer Gonzalez plays.
16- LA Galaxy – Danny Trejo, F, CSU-Northridge
The Galaxy can use help at a variety of positions, and while a centerback might be a better options, the better ones are already off the board. Trejo is a dynamic attacking threat the Galaxy will know well as a local product.
17- New York City FC – Matt Di Rosa, LB, Maryland
Ronald Matarrita’s departure means some left back depth could be useful for NYCFC and DiRosa is one of the best prospects available. A former midfielder, he can pass well and is a steady defender. Aedan Stanley is another option.
18 – Toronto FC – Aedan Stanley, LB, Duke
TFC can use some left back depth, so unless Ali Curtis has plans to add a left back via the international market, then grabbing one here makes sense. Stanley is a former U.S. Under-20 prospect and has more experience as a fullback than some of the other converted midfielders available in the draft. If TFC chooses to address centerback depth, then Michael DeShields would be a good option.
19 – Orlando City – Michael DeShields, CB, Wake Forest
The Lions have a pretty stacked roster, but central defense is an area where they could use some depth, and DeShields is tough and skilled and comes from the passing system in Wake Forest so he should adapt well to the pro game. He could wind up going higher as trades shake up the draft order.
20 – Nashville SC – Derek Dodson, F, Georgetown
The defend and counter style Nashville SC deployed so successfully in its first season is a perfect setup for someone with Dodson’s skill set. He can operate on the wing or as a striker, and has the size-speed combination and polish to contribute as a rookie.
21 – Colorado Rapids – Justin McMaster, F, Wake Forest
Having already added a centerback with Bartlow, the Rapids can turn their attention to adding some attacking depth, and McMaster is very good value at this pick. The former Philadelphia Union academy product is coming off a torn ACL suffered in November of 2018, but he has recovered and possesses an enticing combination of touch, power and finishing ability.
22 – Orlando City – Louis Perez, CM ,Central Florida
Perez is a technically gifted central midfield talent who has the tools to play as a rookie, but the two things working against him as a draft prospect are his international status and the fact teams are more accustomed to filling his position with high-priced foreign options. The Frenchman has Top 10 skill, but shouldn’t fall past Orlando City, which will know him well enough to know passing on him at this pick would be foolish.
23 – Vancouver Whitecaps – Avionne Flanagan, LB, South Florida
The Whitecaps have one of the league’s best left backs in Ali Adnan, but with international duty looming with Iraq in 2021, Adnan might have to miss games, making adding someone as talented as Flanagan a wise choice. Flanagan has the speed and passing ability to be an effective option in Marc Dos Santos’ setup.
24 – N.E. Revolution – Colin Shutler, GK, Virginia
The Revolution don’t have many glaring needs, but some goalkeeper depth wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially considering Matt Turner’s rapid rise and potential international duty/transfer possibilities. Shutler is the consensus top goalkeeper in the draft, and would be reunited with former UVA teammate Henry Kessler, who he reached an NCAA final with in 2019. There is also Wake Forest central defender Michael DeShields, who signed to New England’s USL affiliate, but is unlikely to be available beyond the first round.
25 – Minnesota United – Luther Archimede, F, Syracuse
We all know how much Adrian Heath loves working with strikers, and Archimede is the type of project player Heath could try to mold into something special. Kei Kamara’s departure leaves the Loons light on strikers, and while they could certainly grab someone like Justin Malou to provide depth defensively, we’ll go with the striker project for Heath.
26 – Inter Miami – Mitch Guitar, CM, Wisconsin
Much like Archimede, Guitar impressed at the Sporting Kansas City Combine, which catapulted his stock into first-round territory despite having missed the 2019 and 2020 college seasons. A fast and tenacious central midfielder, Guitar could develop into the type of dirty-work midfield player that helps Miami’s creators focus on the attack.
27 – Columbus Crew – Brandon Hackenberg, CB, Penn State
The Crew were already stacked before revamping the roster with major additions in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kevin Molino, but some centerback depth would help and Hackenberg has a combination of elite athleticism and being left-footed that will have Caleb Porter pouncing if he is available at this pick.
28. Austin FC – Justin Malou, CB, Clemson
29. FC Cincinnati – C.C. UCHE, CB, Ohio State
30. Houston Dynamo – Lamine Conte, CB, Louisville
31. D.C. United – Rio-Hope Gund, CB, Georgetown
32. Atlanta United – kareem riley, dm, florida gulf coast
33. Chicago Fire – Kristo Strickler, F, Virginia Tech
34. Real Salt Lake – JOE HAFFERTY, LB, Oregon State
35. LA Galaxy – Nicky Hernandez, CM, SMU
36. Vancouver Whitecaps – Rodney Michael, F, UCSB
37. Inter Miami – LEROY ENZUGUSI, RW, Drake
38. Minnesota United – Javain Brown, RB, South Florida
39. San Jose Earthquakes – Robin Lapert, CB, UConn
40. New York Red Bulls – Irakoze Donasiyano, RB/DM, Virginia
41. Los Angeles FC – Iwan Webster, CB, Maryville
42. Colorado Rapids – Andrew Pannenberg, GK, Wake Forest
43. Portland Timbers – Tor Saunders, GK, Coastal Carolina
44. New York City FC – Pierre Cayet, LB/CB, Temple
45. Toronto FC – Giuseppe Barone, CM, Michigan State
46. Nashville SC – A.J. Marcucci, GK, Connecticut College
47. Chicago Fire – Freddy Kleeman, CB, Washington
48. FC Dallas – Erik Iloski, RB, UCLA
49. Orlando City – Diego Gutierrez, W, Creighton
50. Sporting Kansas City – Tom Judge, LB, James Madison
51. New England Revolution – Ben DiRosa, RB, Maryland
52. Columbus Crew – Umar Farouk Osman, RB/RW, Michigan
53. Vancouver Whitecaps – Musa Qongo, LB, Creighton
54. FC Cincinnati – Daniel Steedman, F, Virginia