On the list of relevant drafts in United States' sports, the MLS draft is pretty far down the ranks. Often, the league's top players are signed from different professional leagues, while many of the top stars are already playing for clubs in Europe.
Still, every now and again an excellent player comes through the ranks, and the draft is a great way for teams to build quality depth or round out their rosters.
Let's take a look at how this year's draft will shake out.
1. D.C. United: Steve Birnbaum, CB, California
It's pretty widely believed that the first pick for D.C. United will come down to Birnbaum or his teammate Christian Dean.
Ives Galarcep of Soccer by Ives breaks down why he believes D.C. will go with Birnbaum.
Birnbaum is the better player right now and D.C. United is said not to rate Dean as highly as other teams do. D.C. United could choose to trade down and gather assets rather than be the first team in a decade to not use the No. 1 overall pick on a Generation adidas player. If a team trades up, the chances are very high that it would be to grab Dean.
D.C. United could also choose to go with a forward at this pick, but it will be hard for the team to pass on a solid, MLS-ready centre-back like Birnbaum. He's certainly the safe pick at No. 1.
2. Philadelphia Union: Christian Dean, CB, California
Also possessing the No. 6 pick—and with plenty of needs to fill—the Union have the luxury to simply take the best player on the board. That player is widely believed to be Dean. His size and athleticism make him a very intriguing prospect, and it's possible teams will try to trade up to pick him with the top overall selection.
Plus, he can likely slot in at left-back if called upon to do so. If he falls to the Union, expect the team to snatch him up.
3. Vancouver Whitecaps: Andre Blake, GK, UConn
He's easily the top keeper in this draft, and he's one of the best players, period. The only other player the Whitecaps have on the roster at the position is David Ousted.
The Whitecaps can afford to allow Blake to adjust to the MLS game slowly behind Ousted before the incumbent is, well, ousted by Blake in the future.
4. Columbus Crew: Schillo Tshuma, F, Maryland
It seems like a pretty safe bet that the Crew will go with a forward here, and it seems just as likely that Tshuma and Cyle Larin will be off the board in the next two picks. Tshuma's speed and upside will make him tough to pass up.
5. FC Dallas: Cyle Larin, F, UConn
Larin is another upside pick, but he has the look of a player who will develop into a very nice forward in MLS. However, Ives Galarcep reported on Jan. 8 there is a chance Larin stays at UConn:
Latest update on UConn striker Cyle Larin: He's waiting on better offer from MLS, may stay in school. Would be a shame. He's a Top 5 talent— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) January 8, 2014
He's raw, sure, but after going defensive in the past five drafts, FC Dallas can afford to gamble on the future prospects of this talented forward should he be available.
6. Philadelphia Union: Patrick Mullins, F/MF, Maryland
Mullins is as talented as any player in this draft, but two things count against him: He doesn't have a true position, and drafting him will also count against the cap since he isn't a Generation adidas player.
Nonetheless, if the Union continue to play three at the top, Mullins could fit in as either a forward or at left wing. He's probably best served as an attacking mid, but he has the talent to be given a look at several positions.
After also nabbing Dean, the Union can make a strong argument that they came away with the top two talents in this year's draft.
7. Vancouver Whitecaps: Eric Miller, RB, Creighton
With Lee Young-Pyo retiring this season, Miller would instantly fill a need. The team will also likely look for a veteran replacement, but Miller—at worst—is a player who could be groomed to take over on a full-time basis in seasons to come.
8. Chicago Fire: Marlon Hairston, MF, Louisville
Some folks believe the Fire will look to bolster the defense; others think they would be better suited to add midfield depth. There's one thing everyone agrees on: Hairston is a heck of a player and will be a solid pick no matter where he is selected.
9. San Jose Earthquakes: AJ Cochran, CB, Wisconsin
San Jose needs to solidify the defense. Cochran is the best player available to do just that. Case closed.
10. Montreal Impact: Kevin Cope, CB, Michigan State
The run on centre-backs continues. The Impact clearly need to improve on defense, and Cope is the best player on the board in a draft chock full of defensive talents.
11. Colorado Rapids: Pedro Ribeiro, MF, Coastal Carolina
An attacking midfielder might not be a big need for Colorado, but on the flip side, this team doesn't really have a ton of pressing needs. They can afford to go with the best available player, and Ribeiro's ability to facilitate the attack makes him a very alluring prospect.
12. New England Revolution: Steve Neumann, F/MF, Georgetown
If the Union don't select Neumann, it's very possible he could slip to the Revolution. A hugely talented player who has the stats to back up that assertion (41 goals and 34 assists in 86 college starts), Neumann could drop simply because he doesn't have a clear position.
He'll likely be most effective if he's allowed to play behind a central striker and poach goals. If he's asked to lead the line, it's harder to see him being as effective.
13. Seattle Sounders: JJ Koval, M, Stanford
Trying to predict what Seattle will do in any given draft is a crapshoot since the team famously ignores needs and simply takes the best player available. On this board, Koval is the top man standing. That's analysis, folks.
14. LA Galaxy: Jared Watts, MF, Wake Forest
The Galaxy aren't drafting a player to help immediately, but rather one that can provide some depth. Midfield depth seems to be a priority, and Watts makes sense over Luca Gimenez (he would require an international spot). Joey Dillon would also make sense.
15. Toronto FC: Grant Van De Casteele, CB, Notre Dame
The consensus out there seems to be that Toronto will target defensive depth with this selection. Rather than gamble on the potential but uncertainty of Kyle Venter, Toronto will turn to a known commodity in Van De Casteele, who was the captain of Notre Dame's championship-winning team.
16. Houston Dynamo: Kyle Venter, CB, New Mexico
The Dynamo definitely need to add depth defensively, and this is certainly the draft in which to do so. They can afford to take a chance on Venter, who could develop into one of the best centre-backs in this draft. At the 16th pick, he's hardly a risk.
17. Portland Timbers: Aodhan Quinn, F, Akron
He plays a position of need (forward), he's a talented player who is coming off a great season and, oh yeah, Caleb Porter is Akron's former coach. This has long been the popular pick for Portland.
18. Real Salt Lake: Ben Sweat, LB, South Florida
Real Salt Lake needs depth at left-back, and Sweat is the best available player at the position. This is an obvious fit.
19. New England Revolution: Mamadou Doudou Diouf, F, UConn
The Revolution could very well go the route of taking the most talented forward available, and Diouf fits the bill. Lanky yet physical, Diouf had a poor 2013 but has shown the potential to put plenty of goals on the scoresheet. He's a bit of a project pick, but aren't they all this late in the draft?
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