The 2021 MLS Draft kicks off on Thursday afternoon, and the teams drafting will find a player pool featuring plenty of defensive options.
Centerback and left back are two of the deeper positions in the 2021 MLS Draft, though the top two players overall don’t play either position. Philip Mayaka is projecting as a difference-making defensive midfielder while Calvin Harris is a dynamic winger/forward who has the most upside of any prospect in the draft.
Teams in need of help in central defense will find a good selection of options. There are tall centerbacks, sharp-passing centerbacks, and some tough-tackling but smaller centerbacks.
Teams in search of dynamic fullback options will find a good number of prospect at left back. There are several players who have either recently converted from midfield roles to fullback roles, or who plan to make that switch as they transition to MLS.
How does the talent stack up in the 2021 MLS Draft? Here is SBI’s Final MLS Draft Big Board, featuring the Top 75 prospects available in the draft:
SBI 2021 MLS Draft Big Board
@- Generation adidas player
1. @ Philip Mayaka, Clemson, CM (BIO)
Box-to-box midfielder with the physical attributes and toughness to play as a rookie. Showed more attacking quality as a freshman, but showed as a sophomore that he can dominate a midfield with his range, quickness and tireless work rate.
2. @ Calvin Harris, Wake Forest, F (BIO)
Dynamic English winger/forward, Harris is the most highly-coveted attacking prospect in the pool. You can argue he has more upside than Mayaka, and Josh Wolff will be tempted to add him to an Austin FC attack still light on pieces.
3. @ Daniel Pereira, Virginia Tech, CM (Bio)
Another box-to-box midfielder who is a bit more of an attacking threat than Mayaka. The Venezuelan-born midfielder made real strides defensively in his sophomore season, looking like a more complete player. Arguably the best passer in the draft, Pereira is a good connector and is young enough to still grow even more as a player.
4. @ Ethan Bartlow, Washington, CB (BIO)
Excellent passer and hard-nosed defender, Bartlow doesn’t have the eye-catching size at a generous 6-foot-1, but he is arguably the most pro-ready central defender in the bunch. Confident on the ball and has the ability to be a threat with his long passing.
5. Kimarni Smith, Clemson, F (BIO)
English winger/forward who led the nation in goals in 2020, helping lead Clemson to the ACC title. A 6-foot-1 attacker who projects as a wide forward or winger, Smith is coveted by some teams, though his international status might keep some teams away.
6. Nabi Kibunguchy, UC-Davis, CB (BIO)
Boasting a combination of impressive athleticism, size and good passing skills, Kibunguchy has several teams eager to snatch him up early in the first round. His small-school pedigree is what keeps him from being higher on this list, but the consensus is he has the most upside of the elite central defenders on the board.
7. Ed Kizza, Pittsburgh, F (BIO)
Strong and physical forward who scored goals in bunches in college, but left school before his senior season, which could hurt his stock.
8. Josh Bauer, New Hampshire, CB (BIO)
Another well-rounded centerback, the 6-foot-2 defender is good in the air, a strong one-on-one defender and is a good passer. Very comparable to Bartlow and Kibunguchy, with some teams rating him the best central defender in the pool.
9. Derek Dodson, Georgetown, F (BIO)
A well-rounded striker who can operate as a target forward or winger, Dodson boasts good size, speed and clean finishing. More well-suited to play as a wide forward, Dodson should benefit from the large international contingent in the draft pool, with his status as an American making him more appealing to teams not looking to spend international spots on draft picks.
10. Michael DeShields, Wake Forest, CB (BIO)
DeShields has leapfrogged closer to the Top 10 by virtue of growing interest in him by teams enamored with his combination of tenacious defending, strength, tough tackling and above-average passing ability.
11. @ BRET HALSEY, Virginia, CM/RB (BIO)
Poised, tenacious, and versatile, Halsey made major strides in 2020, which is what propelled him into the Generation adidas conversation. The American can play in central midfield, but is being projected as a right back on the pro level. He has the kind of mentality coaches love, though he might need a year to acclimate to the next level.
12. Josh Penn, Indiana, W/F (BIO)
The former Indiana forward/winger spent 2020 with Indy 11 in the USL, though his current contract situation shouldn’t keep him from being taken in the top half of the first round. His quickness and dangerous left foot makes him an enticing option, as well as his status as one of the younger prospect in the pool.
13. Josh Drack, Denver, LB (BIO)
A left winger and attacking threat through his college career, Drack is being projected as a left back and showed real potential at that position at the MLS/Sporting Kansas City Combine last Fall. One of several left-footed attackers projecting to convert to left back in this draft pool, Drack is arguably the best of that bunch.
14. David Egbo, Akron, F (BIO)
A big 6-foot-1 striker who boasts good technical quality on the ball, Egbo is a left-footed goal-scorer who doesn’t rely on his size and strength as much as you would expect. He lacks some physicality to his game, but with his touch and physical gifts, Egbo could be a special player if he leans more on his strength.
15. Justin McMaster, Wake Forest, F/M (BIO)
The former Philadelphia Union academy product suffered a torn ACL in November of 2019, and he endured a slow recovery when he returned in 2020. When healthy, he boasts an attractive combination of speed, power, deft passing touch and strong finishing ability. Can operate as a striker or wide forward.
16. Louis Perez, Central florida, CM (BIO)
Skillful central midfielder who has all the characteristics to be able to handle the jump to MLS, Perez has the work rate and technical quality to fit into a variety of systems. The French midfielder’s international status could hurt his stock.
17. Mitch Guitar, Wisconsin, CM (BIO)
One of a handful of players who are top prospects but have been off the radar due to 2019 injuries and 2020 seasons being cancelled, Guitar turned heads at the Sporting Kansas City Combine in November. He is a fast box-to-box midfielder with an impressive engine, and he has recovered from the torn labrum that cost him the 2019 season. A lack of central midfielders with his profile in this draft make him an enticing option.
18. Aime Mabika, Kentucky, CB (BIO)
A 6-foot-6 central defender with the speed and power that has scouts dreaming about the possibilities, Mabika is more raw and not as technical as the elite central defenders in this pool. Feels like a bit of a project, but he has the tools to be a dominant defender.
19. AvIONNE FLANAGAN, South florida, LB (BIO)
One of the best natural left backs in the pool, Flanagan has all the quality scouts are looking for at the position, and he is also American. Flanagan has trained with multiple MLS teams before, including Sporting Kansas City and Atlanta United.
20. Danny Trejo, CSU-Northridge, F (BIO)
Clinical finisher with an excellent first touch, Trejo has the ability to beat defenders on the dribble and has shown he can put away chances.
21. Logan Panchot, Stanford, RB (BIO)
The former midfielder converted to right back and brings impressive technical skills to the position. He doesn’t boast the speed of some other fullback prospects, but he is a steady defender and his high-level passing skills are attractive to teams that emphasize possession.
22. Matt Di Rosa, Maryland, LB (BIO)
Converted midfielder is the kind of tenacious fullback who could have a good career in MLS. Di Rosa is a good passer, and while he doesn’t have the speed of some other fullback prospects, he is quick enough to handle himself in one-on-one situations.
23. Justin Malou, Clemson, RB/CB (BIO)
Fullbacks are at a premium in this draft and Malou has the size, athleticism and good feet that make him appealing despite being an international player. The Senegalese fullback could potentially transition into central defense, and would be higher on this list if he were American.
24. Talen Maples, SMU, CB (BIO)
A 6-foot defender/midfielder who can operate as a central defender or defensive midfielder. Projects more as a centerback, though he doesn’t boast the size of a prototypical central defender. His biggest asset is his excellent passing range and strength. All three Texas MLS clubs have him on their radar, as do teams that put a premium on sharp-passing defenders.
25. Colin Shutler, Virginia, GK (BIO)
In a year that isn’t considered a deep one for goalkeepers, Shutler is the top pick of the bunch. The 6-foot-1 goalkeeper doesn’t have prototypical size, but he makes up for that with his quickness, aggressiveness and impressive passing range.
26. LAMINE CONTE, LOUISVILLE, DM/CB (BIO)
Combining strength, confidence on the ball, speed, good passing range and versatility, Conte can operate in central defense or as a tough-tackling defensive midfielder.
27. LUTHER ARCHIMEDE, SYRACUSE, F (BIO)
The 6-foot-2 striker had a modest college career at Syracuse, but he was one of the more impressive players at the Sporting Kansas City Combine, and has scouts taking a long look at a player with international experience, having played for the Guadeloupe national team in Concacaf Nations League.
28. AEDEN STANLEY, DUKE, LB (BIO)
A natural left back with some U.S. youth national team credentials, Stanley is a better defender than most of the fullback prospects in the pool. His contract with Sporting Kansas City’s USL affiliate won’t keep him from being drafted.
29. JAVAIN BROWN, SOUTH FLORIDA, RB (BIO)
Teams looking for a dynamic defender with personality need look no further than the Jamaican right back. Though some would argue he is a better central defender, Brown is 5-11, and has shown he can thrive at right back. Brown signed with Atlanta United’s USL affiliate, but that won’t stop him from potentially making his way into the first round of the draft.
30. KAREEM RILEY, dm, Florida gulf coast, (BIO)
A native of Trinidad & Tobago, Riley is a 6-foot-3 defensive midfielder who is strong in possession and a sharp passer who is consistently looking to unlock opposing defenses. His stock is soaring despite being an international because he is one of the few true defensive midfield prospects in the draft field.
31. RIO HOPE-GUND, Georgetown, CB (BIO)
32. Irakoze Donasiyano, Virginia, CM (BIO)
33. Jackson Ragen, Michigan, CB (BIO)
34. NICKY HERNANDEZ, SMU, CM (BIO)
35. Brandon Hackenberg, Penn State, CB (BIO)
36. A.J. Marcucci, Connecticut College, GK (BIO)
37. CC Uche Centerback Ohio State (BIO)
38. Rodney Michael, UCSB, F (BIO)
39. FREDDY KLEEMANN, WASHINGTON, CB (BIO)
40. Ben DiRosa, Maryland, RB (BIO)
41. IWAN WEBSTER, MARYVILLE, CB (BIO)
42. KRISTO STRICKLER, VIRGINIA TECH, F (BIO)
43. Leroy Enzugusi, Drake, F (BIO)
44. Giuseppe Barone, Michigan State, CM (BIO)
45. Robin Lapert, UConn, CB (BIO)
46. Pierre Cayet, LB/CB, Temple (BIO)
47. Joe Hafferty, Oregon State, LB (BIO)
48. Andrew Pannenberg, Wake Forest, GK (BIO)
49. ERIK ILOSKI, UCLA, RB (BIO)
50. UMAR FAROUK OSMAN, MICHIGAN, LB/LW (BIO)
51. TOR SAUNDERS, GK, Coastal Carolina (BIO)
52. TOM JUDGE, LB, James Madison (BIO)
53. DANIEL STEEDMAN, F, Virginia (BIO)
54. TOMMY WILLIAMSON, California, F (BIO)
55. JAMIL ROBERTS, CM, MARSHALL (BIO)
56. DIEGO GUTIERREZ, RW, Creighton (BIO)
57. Preston Judd, F, Denver (BIO)
58. MUSA QONGO, LB, CREIGHTON (BIO)
59. MATT CONSTANT, CB, NORTH CAROLINA (BIO)
60. SANTIAGO HERRERA, F, NORTH CAROLINA (BIO)
61. T.J. BUSH, GK, JAMES MADISON (BIO)
62. ALLEN GAVILANES, AM, MARIST (BIO)
63. TYRONE MONDI, LW, OREGON STATE (BIO)
64. GIOVANNI MONTESDEOCA, F, North carolina (BIO)
65. Sondre Norheim, CB, Syracuse (BIO)
66. NOAH JENSEN, CM, OAKLAND (BIO)
67. MARK SALAS, RB, NORTH CAROLINA (BIO)
68. SEAN O’HEARN, RB, GEORGETOWN (BIO)
69. NATHANIEL CROFTS, F, VIRGINIA (BIO)
70. MARCELLO POLISI, DM, SIMON FRASER (BIO)