With the 2014 MLS SuperDraft taking place on Thursday in Philadelphia, a look at how the first-round will play out.
1. D.C. United
Christian Dean, California, Centre-back/Left-back (GA)
After an historically awful 2013 campaign, which saw the club set all-time league records for fewest wins (3) and worst goal difference (-37), D.C. United have done an admirable job of rebuilding their roster so far this offseason, but there remains work to be done. Dean is more comfortable in the centre of defence but he could start his MLS career by sliding over to left-back, where United have an obvious hole to fill. The 20-year-old is still somewhat raw but his clear upside and GA contract make him one of the hottest properties in the 2014 draft.
2. Philadelphia Union (from Chivas USA)
Steve Birnbaum, California, Centre-back
With Jeff Parke traded to D.C United on Tuesday and Carlos Valdés unlikely to return for 2014, the Union are looking desperately thin at the back. Dean’s centre-back partner at Cal, Birnbaum is widely regarded as the most MLS-ready prospect in the draft and bounced back from an LCL injury suffered last year to establish himself as one of the top college players in the nation in 2013.
3. Vancouver Whitecaps FC (from Toronto FC)
Andre Blake, UConn, Goalkeeper (GA)
David Ousted is currently the only goalkeeper on the Whitecaps roster and the Dane failed to show many moments of brilliance after arriving in mid-season. Many now consider Blake the top prospect in the draft after his confident display at the combine and the 6-4 Jamaican has already been called up to the senior national team on several occasions this past year, gaining favourable comparisons to fellow countryman Donovan Ricketts.
4. New England Revolution (from Columbus Crew)
Patrick Mullins, Maryland, Forward
The Revs have already had a former Maryland star shine for them on the field in Taylor Twellman and now, after acquiring the fourth overall pick from the Columbus Crew in exchange for the rights to Michael Parkhurst on Monday, they’re in a prime position to add another. The reigning two-time Hermann Trophy winner, Mullins is the biggest name in the 2014 draft, scoring three goals at the College Cup in December to finish his senior year with 19. Projected to go first overall since early November, questions over where he best fits in the pros have caused his stock to drop somewhat since but the Revs will likely see him as a ready-made replacement for the recently departed Juan Agudelo, as a goal-scoring forward blessed with great finishing ability, intelligent movement and subtle technique.
5. FC Dallas
Schillo Tshuma, Maryland, Forward/Winger (GA)
Dallas really need some help on the forward-line alongside Fabián Castillo and Blás Perez. After a breakout freshman campaign, Tshuma had a down year in 2013 but still has all the tools and upside to entice MLS teams, reminding some of 2009 first overall pick Steve Zakuani. The Zimbabwean-born prospect has the pace and trickery to cause defenders headaches and, though he acted as second fiddle to Mullins at Maryland, there are plenty of people who think he has a decent chance of enjoying a better pro career than his former college teammate.
6. Philadelphia Union
Steve Neumann, Georgetown, Forward/Attacking Midfielder
Having added Birnbaum at number two, the Union should now look for help at the other end of the field. This draft is lacking in established attacking options at the top but Neumann still stands out as a well-rounded player, with a tremendous work-rate, solid creativity and a nose for goal. What’s more, as a native of New Hope, PA, and having played under current Union assistant Brendan Burke at affiliate club Reading United, he already has strong ties to the organisation.
7. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Eric Miller, Creighton, Right-back (GA)
With veteran right-back Lee Young-Pyo retiring, Miller makes clear sense here. A versatile player with further experience at centre-back and defensive midfield, the former U.S. Under-20 international is a solid all-round prospect who looks ready to make the transition to the next level.
8. Seattle Sounders (from Chicago Fire)
Pedro Ribeiro, Costal Carolina, Central Midfielder
The Sounders depth in the midfield looks desperately thin behind Osvaldo Alonso. A tall and rangy player, the Brazilian Ribeiro is blessed with impressive vision, technique and passing, with his style resembling more of a deep-lying playmaker than the physical brute his 6-4, 208-pound frame would suggest.
9. San Jose Earthquakes
J. J. Koval, Stanford, Central Midfielder
The Earthquakes could go in a few different directions here but, with Mark Watson’s side looking especially thin in the midfield, Koval from nearby Stanford would make a lot of sense. He showed at the combine that he can also fill in at right-back and looks to have all the makings of a smart and steady pro.
10. Montreal Impact
A.J. Cochran, Wisconsin, Centre-back (GA)
New head coach Frank Klopas has reiterated that he wants to bolster the defence with MLS-ready players. Of the remaining centre-back options, Cochran best fits that description, with the size, strength and toughness to handle the pros and a GA contract that won’t hurt the Impact’s salary cap issues further.
11. Colorado Rapids
Kyle Venter, New Mexico, Centre-back
Still without a head coach after Oscar Pareja left for Dallas last week, the Rapids don’t have any glaring needs but Venter is a local product who could provide much needed depth at centre-back.
12. New England Revolution
Marlon Hairston, Louisville, Central Midfielder (GA)
The Revs could consider Jared Watts, Joey Dillon or Romena Bowie here, but instead they’ll look to Marlon Hairston, who is seen as a box-to-box midfielder with a good feel for the game and plenty of upside, earning comparisons to former club legend Shalrie Joseph. People have questions whether he can physically handle the demands of the pro game but the Louisville product has great pace and stamina to compliment his obvious technical ability. He’s a project, no doubt, but a very intriguing one all the same.
13. Chicago Fire (from Seattle Sounders FC)
Jared Watts, Wake Forest, Defensive Midfielder
The Fire could do with some help in the centre of the field to play next to Jeff Larentowicz so they’ll likely grab one of the top guys available here. Those options all mentioned for the previous pick will also be in contention here, with Watts ultimately getting the nod. He’s a solid, no-nonsense-type player, who can also fill in at centre-back in a pinch.
14. Columbus Crew (from Los Angeles Galaxy)
Mackenzie Pridham, Cal Poly, Forward
The Crew are going through a major rebuild under new head coach Gregg Berhalter and they traded back into the first-round with the LA Galaxy on Wednesday for the chance to add some more young talent to their roster. They’ve got big needs all over the place but especially require some help up top, which is where Canadian forward Mackenzie Pridham enters the picture. After scoring 14 goals on his way to earning Big West Offensive Player of the Year honours in 2013, he’s the next best goal-scorer available, with good size, good feet, and a solid all-round game.
15. Toronto FC (from New York Red Bulls)
Damion Lowe, Hartford, Centre-back (GA)
Toronto made a big splash over the past few days by adding Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley, but they still look very vulnerable at the back. Centre-backs Kevin Cope and Grant Van De Casteele, left-back Ben Sweat, and right-back Marco Franco would all seem like very tempting options but Damion Lowe’s GA contract just gives him the edge. The Jamaican is not as highly rated as some of the other underclassmen in this year’s draft but he’s a physical specimen who boasts a great deal of upside.
16. Houston Dynamo
Kevin Cope, Michigan State, Centre-back
With veteran Bobby Boswell gone, the Dynamo have opened up a big hole in the centre of defence which Kevin Cope could potentially come in and fill from minute one. He’s not the biggest defender, but he’s a tough, hard-working competitor, who rarely makes mistakes and adds a lot of leadership to the locker room.
17. Portland Timbers
Marco Franco, UC Irvine, Right-back/Centre-back
Caleb Porter loves his technical defenders and Franco is one of the best in the draft. Reminding many of the Galaxy’s A.J. DeLaGarza, he’s a smallish-centre-back (5-11) who will likely be more at home on the right side of defence, where the Timbers’ stacked roster currently looks most unsettled.
18. Real Salt Lake
Ben Sweat, South Florida, Left-back
Head coach Jason Kreis may have left for NYCFC, but the MLS Cup runners-up will stick to their same renowned style and philosophy under new man and former assistant Jeff Cassar. RSL go into the draft with one of the deepest rosters in the league so will be more than confident about taking either the best player available or a long-term project late in the first. By this point, that may well be left-back Ben Sweat, who immediately becomes the heir apparent to 31-year-old Chris Wingert.
19. New England Revolution (from Sporting Kansas City)
Grant Van De Casteele, Notre Dame, Centre-back
With the luxury of three first-round picks, the Revs can address a lot of areas in this draft, the final one being centre-back. Van De Casteele has some limitations to his game but he impressed at the College Cup, as Notre Dame went all the way, with the size and intelligence to make up for his shortcomings.