By Steve Davis
January 11, 2011

Not so long ago Major League Soccer's draft could be somewhat forgiving. With just 10 or 12 teams selecting, the deciders were usually only minutes away from their next selection, never far from an opportunity to tidy up a blunder.

Those days are long gone. The league keeps growing and one byproduct is a significantly reduced margin for error in the annual January draft.

The room will be crowded with officials from 18 teams during Thursday's MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore. Teams have four minutes to select in rounds one and two, then three minutes for round three. Each club may call one five-minute timeout as it plucks from the college and amateur ranks.

Here's how things might go on Thursday (assuming no trades):

1. Vancouver Whitecaps -- F, Darlington Nagbe, Akron

Atiba Harris is the only striker on the expansion side's roster. It's not exactly a no-brainer, but Nagbe and college teammate Perry Kitchen are the consensus top players available. Nagbe, the Akron striker and Hermann Trophy winner, is the full package of speed, dribbling talent, ability to hold the ball and a striker's instinct near goal. It all served Akron well during its recently completed championship season.

2. Portland Timbers -- D/M, Perry Kitchen, Akron

With just 15 players on the roster (and most of them role players), Timbers technical director Gavin Wilkinson and coach John Spencer are looking for an impact player. Despite being a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday, Kitchen looks pro-ready right now. The former U.S. under-17 captain can play center back or holding midfielder, as he did for the Zips, and that versatility is tough to resist. Don't be shocked if he goes No. 1 overall.

3. D.C. United -- F, Will Bruin, Indiana

The gang from RFK simply cannot afford to miss here, because it won't choose again until No. 31 overall. The forward spot needs addressing despite the presence of Chris Pontius and the selection of Josh Wolff in the re-entry draft, although an international signing is probably on the way. Still, Bruin makes sense from a depth standpoint, at least. The big, powerful striker hit for 33 goals over three seasons for Indiana, and he showed well at the pre-draft combine in Florida.

4. Chivas USA -- D, Kofi Sarkodie, Akron

Expect newly appointed coach Robin Fraser to build the way his former tutor, Jason Kreis, did at Real Salt Lake: from the back. The Goats picked up some much-needed attacking help in previous offseason moves before naming Fraser as coach last week. So Sarkodie, the best right back in the draft, would be a nice fit along a back line that needs improving as well.

5. Philadelphia Union -- D, Zarek Valentin, Akron

The Union's back line was a mess in 2010, so Peter Nowak could certainly use the Akron man. The versatile Valentin says he'll probably be a right back as a pro, and that was among Philadelphia's unsettled spots last year.

6. New England Revolution -- D, A.J. Soares, California

Coach Steve Nicol certainly isn't afraid to use young draft picks right away on the back line. Then again, the Revs' attack needs attention, too, so plenty of options are on the table for Nicol, a noted draft-day wizard with a knack for spotting hidden talent.

7. Houston Dynamo -- F, Omar Salgado, U.S. U-20s

Coach Dominic Kinnear likes big defenders and forwards, and the 6-foot-4 Salgado fits the bill. Brian Ching, the incumbent target man, won't last forever and tends to be nicked by injury. Salgado remains a bit raw, but lots of coaches are frothing over his potential.

8. Vancouver Whitecaps (via Toronto) -- M, Michael Farfan, UNC

The only team with two first-round picks (as of early in the week) has some luxury here. Director of soccer operations Tom Soehn and coach Teitur Thordarson can take a bit of a risk with the Tar Heels' offensive spark, the draft's top creative midfielder who slipped a bit in 2009 but rebounded nicely last season. The Whitecaps could use the pick with an eye on the future; in that case, the pick could be goalkeeper Zac MacMath.

9. Chicago Fire -- D, Jalil Anibaba, UNC

Wilman Conde finally got away and C.J. Brown retired, leaving a big hole in central defense. Anibaba, a four-year starter at North Carolina, has leadership qualities to go with his talent. If Soares fall this far, Chicago could grab him instead.

10. Sporting Kansas City -- F, Joao Plata, Ecuador

The newly renamed club needs some cover at center back following Jimmy Conrad's departure, but this exciting 18-year-old Ecuadorean prospect out of South America may be too enticing to pass up. Coach Peter Vermes could try to move up a few spots to grab Soares or Anibaba, who would have a good chance to start immediately in the back.

11. Seattle Sounders -- GK, Zac MacMath, U.S. U-20s

Is there a better rookie-club match? Kasey Keller, 41, can't go on forever. And given a couple of instances of slippage in 2010, this could well his curtain call. Seattle could get the top goalkeeper in the draft here in MacMath and season him behind Keller for a year.

12. Columbus Crew -- D/M, Michael Tetteh, UCSB

The final Generation adidas signing of the current class (these are always popular picks as they do not count against the salary cap) may be the best pure left-sided player in the draft. The Crew roster is needy across the board thanks to its get-young movement, and the former UC-Santa Barbara man could start right away at left back.

13. New York Red Bulls -- F, Corey Hertzog, Penn State

If Tetteh remains available, coach Hans Backe may prefer to fortify his left fullback spot. Otherwise, the Red Bulls get the Penn State forward, whose ratings rose steadily during a breakout 2010 college season, when Hertzog provided 20 goals over 22 games for the Nittany Lions. In fact, his stock increased even more in the combine, according to one coach in Florida.

14. Real Salt Lake -- M, Michael Nanchoff, Akron

Coach Jason Kreis would be happy for Nanchoff and all his industry and tight service to fall this far. A left-sided midfielder (and yet another Akron Zip), Nanchoff would provide great cover for Will Johnson, who will surely miss his share of MLS matches for Canadian World Cup qualifiers over the next two years.

15. San Jose Earthquakes -- M, Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Akron

A slow start to the combine didn't help the Akron man, but there's still enough versatility and passing ability there to provide midfield cover. If MacMath has fallen -- goalkeepers don't generally go early in MLS drafts, so it's possible -- coach Frank Yallop could snag him to begin grooming Jon Busch's backup.

16. L.A. Galaxy -- M, Stephen McCarthy, UNC

Bruce Arena needs more bodies (and more choices) in the center of the park. McCarthy owns a great work rate and is a top-notch passer for such a big fellow. His size (6-4) would supply the Galaxy yet another big target for David Beckham's and Landon Donovan's set pieces. Edson Buddle's departure this week could alter the thinking, especially if Hertzog were to slip in the draft. Justin Meram or Jason Herrick remain possibilities, too.

17. FC Dallas -- F, Justin Meram, Michigan

With Jeff Cunningham and Atiba Harris gone, coach Schellas Hyndman is almost certain to take a forward. Meram's productive run for Michigan in the college playoffs made him a first-round candidate. FCD could also look at James Madison's C.J. Sapong, whose stock rose at the combine, or Maryland's Herrick.

18. Colorado Rapids -- F, Jason Herrick, Maryland

With Omar Cummings hopeful of a European deal, the champs could need a new striker partner for Conor Casey. Maryland's quick striker, with 19 goals over the past two seasons, could be it.

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