Here's a mock projection of how Thursday's MLS Superdraft first round will pan out:
1. Montreal -- Darren Mattocks, F, University of Akron: Matt Jordan, director of soccer operations for the expansion Impact, and coach Jesse Marsch have shown little desire to trade out of that top spot. But last-minute swaps can and do happen, and there's been plenty of interest from other clubs looking to move up. University of Akron striker Mattocks, technically sound and blessed with game-changing speed, is the safe pick. Not only is he the consensus best player, but Akron men tend to be solid choices, typically prepared for the pro game.
2. Vancouver -- Andrew Wenger, D, Duke: New Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie could use a little more defensive cover and, assuming Mattocks has already been plucked, the Blue Devil utility knife is everybody's next best choice. The Hermann Trophy winner and two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year looks like this year's Perry Kitchen, who excelled in multiple positions as a rookie last year for D.C. United. Wenger appears to be professional stock already, someone who can play center back or right back, although he may eventually land at holding midfielder.
3. New England -- Chandler Hoffman, F, UCLA: New coach Jay Heaps, who sounds thrilled to be part of the whole combine-draft hullabaloo, needs more scoring punch, someone to get on the end of Benny Feilhaber's passes. Hoffman's stock rose measurably at the just-completed combine in Fort Lauderdale. His timing and instincts near goal are drawing comparisons to Mexican international and Manchester United striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, high praise indeed. Remind anyone of another, instinctive young striker who rose while playing for New England? One named Taylor Twellman, perhaps?
4. Toronto -- Kelyn Rowe, M, UCLA: Aron Winter had his ups and downs as a first-year coach in MLS. But he made a mark in last year's draft with the late selection little-known, diminutive Ecuadorean winger Joao Plata, who enjoyed a great season at BMO Field as an 18 year old. Winter doesn't need to outsmart himself with a selection this high, however. Rowe is a technically gifted creator, one who already seems to have a little "Dutch" in him, who could certainly blossom under Winter's lowlands tutelage. They certainly need some creative influence and better midfield possession around BMO.
5. Chivas USA -- Andrew Jean-Baptiste, D, UConn: The Goats shed striker Justin Braun. And who knows how much of the scoring burden Juan Pablo Angel, now 36, can realistically carry over the longest MLS season yet? Of course, the defense still needs help, too, so coach Robin Fraser isn't short of options here. Jean-Baptiste remains a bit raw, but he's a physical beast whose Generation adidas status makes him an attractive get for the Goats. Plus, who better to nurture a defender than Fraser, a former defender who also used last year's early choice in the draft to improve his back line.
6. San Jose -- Luis Silva, M, UC-Santa Barbara: Old-school Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop leans toward bigger players when possible, and here he has a chance to select a rare commodity: an attacking midfielder who complements skill with good size. This could be the central presence needed around Buck Shaw to feed newly acquired, speedy wingers Marvin Chavez and Shea Salinas.
7. D.C. United -- Nick DeLeon, M, Louisville: With Dwayne De Rosario better suited in a withdrawn striker role, they could use a little more attacking umph out of midfield around RFK. DeLeon's smarts, skills and versatility -- like "De Ro," he can play in a variety of attacking spots -- makes him the perfect pick. Not only is he fast, DeLeon sees the game as well as any midfielder in the draft. If it falls thusly, DeLeon would be the first non-Generation adidas selection.
8. Portland -- Matt Hedges, D, North Carolina: What coach John Spencer really needs is help at fullback, but the 6-4 center back may be too enticing to pass up (assuming Fraser doesn't grab him for Chivas USA at No. 5). Hedges looks ready for the pro game today. Dominant in the air, he might be the draft's best pure defender.
9. Chicago -- Casey Townsend, F, Maryland: Was Dominic Oduro's breakout year in 2011 a one-off thing? Impossible to say right now, of course, so this is coach Frank Klopas' chance to build some depth and cover at striker. Townsend is a hustle-bustle type who makes intelligent runs, another one to work off new, high profile central midfield signing Rafael Robayo.
10. Columbus -- Enzo Martinez, M, North Carolina: He has GA status, so Martinez might not last this long. If he does, however, the Crew could do a lot worse than the UNC man, a Uruguayan-born dynamo who can add some flash and dash as a wide midfielder or out on the left. The left side at Crew Stadium is looking a little bare, after all, with the departure of Robbie Rogers to Leeds.
11. FC Dallas -- Sam Garza, M, UC-Santa Barbara: FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman can never seem to get enough wide midfielders. Having finally collected the striker he needed so desperately (Blas Perez), and with speedy Marvin Chavez recently shipped away, Garza and his GA contract may be too juicy to pass up. He can play either flank, which in Dallas' case means he'll line up right, opposite Brek Shea.
12. Toronto -- Hunter Jumper, D, Virginia: This is where Winter has a chance to make an imprint on the draft for a second consecutive season. As it stands, Toronto is the only team with multiple first-round selections, and that makes Winter a big player in the swap talks that will rage right up to Thursday's 11 a.m. (ET) first selection. Either way, TFC still needs defensive help, and Jumper has the silky passing skills that Winter desires of his fullbacks. He's the best left back in the draft, and that's among the multitude of spots where TFC can get better.
13. Philadelphia -- Tyler Polak, D, Creighton: Along with Jumper, Polak looks like the class of the fullback litter, so the Union will be happy to strengthen the left back spot at PPL Park. A tough kid who takes coaching well, he seems like the kind of youngster coach Peter Nowak would love to have, someone to push incumbent left back Gabriel Farfan. (Or better yet, to push Farfan up into midfield alongside his brother, Michael.) Polak struggled at times during the combine, but his bigger body of work remains solid.
14. Colorado -- Tony Cascio, D, UConn: Left fullback is probably the biggest need for new coach Oscar Pareja, so the first-year boss would be thrilled if Polak or Jumper is available here. If not, Cascio is a solid option. He can play on either wing, and those are areas in question around DSG Park, given the age/injury situations with veterans Brian Mullan and Jamie Smith. Like Polak, Cascio didn't have the best combine, but everyone knows that fitness issues and system unfamiliarity can create false impressions over a short few days.
15. Seattle -- Ethan Finley, F, Creighton: Never mind the flight delays and lack of sleep that could have easily derailed his combine performance. Finley turned heads (and possibly opinions) with a hat trick immediately upon getting into his first match in Fort Lauderdale. That cemented his rep as a prolific, consistent goal scorer; he hit for 43 over four years at Creighton. Finley won't be a starter for Sigi Schmid, but the Sounders don't need him to be one. Rather, he can add depth to a side that already looks stocked heading into 2012.
16. Sporting Kansas City -- Dom Dwyer, Jr., F, South Florida: Yes, there is plenty of young-buck striking power at Livestrong Sporting Park, with Teal Bunbury and C.J. Sapong already in the (rocking) house. But teams picking this far down in the order aren't necessarily looking for immediate impact. And Kansas City has few pressing needs. So if Dwyer, an England-born speedster who has the added advantage of a GA contract, is available, this might be an easy call.
17. Real Salt Lake -- Austin Berry, D, Louisville: Remember all that great depth RSL had built? Yeah, well, the vagaries of MLS player movement have stripped most of it away. So management at Rio Tinto can go a number of ways here. Berry might be the best player left on the board at this point, and he certainly might be the best athlete, someone who looks up for the pro pace today. As a center back, he would provide depth behind rock-solid starters Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave.
18. Houston -- Calum Malace, M, Marquette: This guy is no-nonsense ball winner who covers lots of ground and values possession. Was there ever a pick more tailor-made for coach Dominic Kinnear, who could use some cover behind Adam Moffat at holding midfielder?
19. Los Angeles Galaxy -- Babayele Sodade, F, Alabama-Birmingham: Yes, he's picking last in the first round, so the cupboard could be relatively bare. But would anybody put it past that wily ol' Bruce Arena to turn up a starter or solid contributor at No. 19? If there are any GA names still on the board, Arena will lean strongly in that direction, as cap space is always an issue for the DP-loaded Galaxy. Sodade, a 6-foot-3 Canadian, was a late invite to the combine but made a big impression with blazing speed up front. Industrious North Carolina midfielder Kirk Urso is another option as Arena looks to replace Juninho's minutes and his ability to do the running for David Beckham.
Five notorious MLS draft-day choices:
Steve Shak (No. 1 in 2000, MetroStars): He was projected to go in the third or fourth round, and eventually had an OK career -- for a guy selected in the third or fourth round, that is. He played in 38 MLS matches before falling into the lower tiers. But the stumbling, bumbling MetroStars, somehow, made him the shock top selection.
Nikolas Besagno (No. 1 in 2005, Real Salt Lake): He had 18 total MLS appearances before a drop into the game's lower tiers. Enough said.
Chance Myers (No. 1 in 2008, Kansas City): It's still a little early, and he's hardly a "bust." Myers did claim a solid starting spot last year on a good Sporting Kansas City side. But with just 13 starts in his first three seasons, and considering he was a surprise top pick all along, it looks like management outsmarted itself on this one. By the way, the second pick in 2008 was Brek Shea.
Chris Carrieri (No. 1 overall 2001, San Jose): He had a decent professional career, although hardly the stuff of a top MLS draft pick. Carrieri lasted three MLS seasons before falling into lower tiers.
Mehdi Ballouchy (No. 2 in 2008, Real Salt Lake): He's OK, still a role player with the Red Bulls. But Yura Movsisyan, Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, Kei Kamara (and perhaps you could even include Calen Carr) went in the first round after Ballouchy, who has never quite established his place in MLS.
Five lower picks who rose to become something special:
Michael Bradley (No. 36 overall in 2004, MetroStars): Considering what this guy has done in the years since, every team that passed on Bradley should hang its head in shame. (And they should fire any scouts still left over from that time.)
Gonzalo Segares (No. 35 overall in 2005, Chicago Fire): Now a Costa Rican international, he was the league's best left back through much of the late 2000s before leaving for better money in Europe.
Omar Cummings (No. 31 overall in 2007, Colorado Rapids): Don't let a down year in 2011 fool you. Better to consider that 14 goal, 3 assist campaign in 2010, one that ended with an MLS Cup title for his Rapids.
Geoff Cameron (No. 42 overall in 2008, Houston Dynamo): The last pick of the third round, quite anonymous then, is currently in Jurgen Klinsmann's national team camp and has all the tools to be the best American center back in MLS.
Sean Johnson (No. 51 overall in 2010, Chicago): He became Chicago's starter by mid-season as a rookie and he's currently in Klinsmann's ongoing U.S. national team camp.
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