In search of the next prospect to take their team to the promised land, Major League Soccer scouts and coaches have flocked to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to watch the select few MLS Combine invitees compete. Following the completion of the combine, these scouts and coaches will have just a few days to put together their draft boards, with the draft itself set to begin at 12:00 p.m. EST this Thursday. Fans around the country can watch the MLS draft live from Kansas City, Missouri on ESPN2. Here are my predictions for the first round.
No. 1: Montreal Impact - Darren Mattocks
It has been generally assumed that the Impact will need a forward because many consider it unlikely that Brian Ching, selected by the Impact in the expansion draft, will play this season.
The Houston Dynamo left Ching unprotected in the expansion draft thinking no one else would select him because Ching, who is 33, had stated he would retire rather than play anywhere else. The Dynamo also believed that the hefty price tag attached with the final year of Ching’s contract would thwart any interest.
However, the Impact called Ching and the Dynamo’s bluff and selected him anyways. It was originally speculated that the Impact would trade Ching back to the Dynamo for cash or other considerations. However, that has not yet happened, and Ching recently changed his tune stating that he will report to the Impact rather than retire.
As it stands, with Ching and Justin Braun on their roster, the Impact would have a nice combination starting at forward. But, they would have no depth at forward with only three forwards on their roster and considering Ching’s age, the Impact will not be willing to let their season rest on his health.
Going with a forward, the Impact will select Darren Mattocks, a sophomore from Akron with incredible pace, power and size. Mattocks is a Generation Adidas signee who finished with 21 goals in 22 matches this past season for the Zips.
No. 2: Vancouver Whitecaps – Andrew Wenger
Wenger, a junior out of Duke, was just selected as the Hermann Award winner in the best collegiate player category. Signing a Generation Adidas contract and coming out early, Wenger finished this season as the ACC Offensive Player of the Year with 17 goals and eight assists.
However, with eight forwards already on their roster, it is Wenger’s defensive prowess that Vancouver is most interested in. As a sophomore, the versatile Wenger started every game for the Blue Devils as their center back, winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year and first team All-American honors in the process.
No. 3: New England Revolution – Casey Townshend
Townshend, the 5’ 11” forward from Maryland, has been steadily moving up the draft board after a series of impressive showings at the MLS combines.
The Revolution this year were bad on both sides of the ball, placing near the bottom of the league in both goals for and goals against. While some have projected an attacking midfielder for the Revs, Benny Feilhaber will be filling that role next season, with the Revolution going with Townshend, who finished his senior season with 16 goals.
No. 4: Toronto – Matt Hedges
In 2011, Toronto was the worst in the league in both goals for and goals against. If New England takes Hedges at the No. 3 spot, Toronto will go with Casey Townshend. If not, Toronto will pick up Hedges, the 6’ 4” defender from UNC.
Hedges was a two-time Horizon League Defender of the Year at Butler before transferring to UNC as a senior and winning a national title. Hedges was also first team All-American this past season and has been impressing scouts at the MLS Combine.
No 5: Chivas USA – Chandler Hoffman
With a respectable defense but poor goal production and only three forwards on their roster last season, Chivas will select the best forward still on the board. If picks one through four go as predicted, that will be Chandler Hoffman.
The 6’0” junior left school early and signed a Generation Adidas contract. He had 18 goals for UCLA this past season and has been putting together a series of nice performances at the MLS Combine.
No. 6: San Jose Earthquakes – Luis Silva
Leapfrogging higher profile attacking midfielders Enzo Martinez, Kelyn Rowe and Nick Deleon, Luis Silva will be the sixth pick in the draft following a series of impressive combine performances.
The Earthquakes struggled to score goals last season and Silva is exactly what they need: a goal-scoring attacking midfielder. Silva had 17 goals and 10 assists for UCSB this year and was a first-team All-American.
No. 7: DC United – Andrew Jean Baptiste
United’s attack this year was one of the best in the league. Unfortunately, their defense was one of the worst.
United will use their first-round selection to take Baptiste, a 6’ 2”, 205 lb. center back from the University of Connecticut. Baptiste led the Huskies to 16 shutouts this past season and was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
No. 8: Portland Timbers – Austin Berry
The Timbers gave up the second most goals in their conference this season and have spent much of their time at the MLS Combine looking at center backs.
Unfortunately for them, it is likely Hedges and Baptiste will be gone by the time they are up. The next best defender is Austin Berry, a 6’2”, 180 lb. senior from Louisville. Berry was a third-team All-American and led the Cardinals to 37 shutouts in his college career.
No. 9: Chicago Fire – Kelyn Rowe
Even though the Fire desperately need a forward, they won’t believe their luck when Kelyn Rowe falls this far down in the draft and will have to take him.
The highly-touted Rowe, who signed a Generation Adidas contract, had six goals and 10 assists for UCLA this past season, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.
No. 10: Columbus Crew – Enzo Martinez
Like the Fire, the Crew will be shocked to find that Martinez, the 5’7” play-maker from UNC, is still available. Martinez had nine goals and 11 assists for the Tar Heels as a junior this fall, helping the team to a national championship.
The Crew will be looking for a little more scoring punch this season, and Martinez could be the man to give it to them.
No. 11: FC Dallas – Calum Mallace
Looking to add some depth to their midfield, Dallas will select Calum Mallace, the 6’2” midfielder from Marquette.
Mallace was the Big East’s Midfielder of the Year and a second team All-American selection.
No. 12: Toronto FC – Ethan Finlay
If Toronto goes with a defender with the No. 4 pick, they will pick up a forward with the No. 12 pick. Ethan Finlay, the runner-up for the Hermann Award as college’s best player, will be the best forward available here.
Although Finlay is only 5’9”, he was a first-team All-American and key to Creighton’s outstanding success this past year. Finlay finished this season with 14 goals and scored a hat-trick on Day Two of the MLS Combine.
No. 13: Philadelphia Union – Nick Deleon
Although many have chosen Deleon to go much earlier in the draft, if he’s still available at No. 13, the Union will stop the free-fall.
Peter Nowak could use some midfield help and the talented Deleon can provide it. Deleon had six goals and six assists for Louisville this year.
No. 14: Colorado Rapids – Kohei Yamada
Looking for some attacking punch, the Rapids will risk their pick on MLS Combine standout Yamada who impressed with his work rate and ability to connect straight away on a team formed only a day earlier.
Yamada comes to the MLS by way of Japan.
No. 15: Seattle Sounders – Dom Dwyer
The Sounders were solid both defensively and in the attack last season and will simply be looking to add some depth at forward in the draft.
They will select Dom Dwyer, the Big East Offensive Player of the Year and All-American, who scored 16 goals for the University of South Florida this past fall.
No. 16: Sporting Kansas City – Tommy Meyer
Looking to add some defensive depth, Kansas City will select Tommy Meyer, the 6’ 2” center back from Indiana.
Meyer helped lead Indiana to a 13-4-5 record this past fall and has impressed scouts this week at the combine.
No. 17: Real Salt Lake – Sam Garza
Garza, who can play as an attacking midfielder or a forward, recently signed a Generation Adidas contract to leave UCSB a year early.
Over the past two years in college, Garza scored 17 goals.
No. 18: Houston Dynamo – Andy Rose
Unless a star forward drops this far down the list, the Dynamo, with their entire back line returning from their MLS Final team, with choose to bolster their midfield with UCLA midfielder Andy Rose.
The 6’ 2” Rose, an England native, captained the Bruins this past season to their College Cup appearance.
No. 19: LA Galaxy – Aaron Maund
Maund has been a staple of Notre Dame’s defense for the past three seasons, and The Galaxy have just lost Omar Gonzalez for the next six months to a knee injury. Although they won’t be getting the pick of the litter at No. 19, Maund will be the best center back still available.
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