As is the case most years when the MLS SuperDraft rolls around, teams are viewing the mostly college-bred player pool with different points of view. For some teams, it is about plugging holes in the starting lineup and trying to find the next stars. For others, it's about stockpiling depth in need areas. Some teams might opt to fill immediate needs on the international market instead of the draft and will look to take whichever player they rate highest, regardless of position.
Here is a look around the league at the need areas each team may look to address going into Thursday's draft:
The Fire have depth up top and in the midfield and young talent across the back line. If there is an area to address, it is defensive midfield. Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause (even though he doesn't play there exclusively anymore) are not getting any younger, and Frank Klopas could use an heir apparent to add some bite at the position. Defensive depth is also an area the Fire could look to address with the 11th pick. Arne Friedrich is signed for another season, but there's no telling how much longer the 33-year-old German center back will stay. Also, the club only employs two goalkeepers, and even though there is no keeper in this draft class worthy of a pick in Chicago's position, adding a third should be on the docket.
The Crew were close to making the playoffs, but they had a number of offseason defections. The majority of the outgoing talent played across the back line, and Robert Warzycha's defensive corps is perilously thin. At least one of the club's two selections (nine and 28) should be used to address that area. Finding a speed option to stretch opposing defenses would also be ideal, and Central Florida's Deshorn Brown is a player who could accomplish that.
Robbie Russell's career is winding down and Andy Najar's may be resuming in Europe sooner rather than later. Daniel Woolard spent the final months of last season overcoming concussion complications. Needless to say, fullback depth should be front and center for D.C. with the 17th pick. D.C. has had tremendous success in recent drafts, landing lineup stalwarts Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen the past two years. Picking so low this time might not yield an impact starter, but local left-back products like Maryland's Taylor Kemp and Georgetown's Jimmy Nealis could provide a decent return yet again for Ben Olsen's side.
Houston's appearances in the MLS Cup final the last two seasons are signs Dom Kinnear's roster is in solid shape. The club ensured that its core remained intact while managing to add potentially dynamic forward Omar Cummings and solid center back Eric Brunner via offseason trades. With Houston competing in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout rounds in the winter and spring and the 2013-14 group stage in the summer and fall, the Dynamo need as many game-ready players as possible. Adding another fullback and forward (Calen Carr's ACL injury and Mac Kandji's contract situation are issues) at picks 13 and 37 make sense.
The Impact have two picks in each round, giving the club flexibility to either trade and accrue cash and stockpile for future drafts or use all four picks to fill a thin, aging roster. New coach Marco Schallibaum ventures into the draft for the first time, and the club axed its MLS-tested assistant coaches as well. So Thursday could be a rude awakening to the league's structure for the new regime. There is Canadian talent available in the form of Boston College midfielder Kyle Bekker, Oregon State forward Emery Welshman and Michigan center back Kofi Opare, who could be appealing given the league's roster restrictions.
New England Revolution
Defense. Defense. Defense. Too many times last season, Revolution defenders were caught napping on set plays or just flat-out beaten. The unit needs beefing up, even after the signing of Portuguese international Jose Goncalves. If Furman's Walker Zimmerman falls past the top three selections, the Revolution should not hesitate to select him with the No. 4 pick. Indiana's Eriq Zavaleta, who may project as a center back but could be a dynamic forward as well, would also be of interest to coach Jay Heaps, who also holds the 21st, 23rd and 36th selections.
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls have yet to announce their new head coach despite speculation that Paulo Sousa will be taking the reins. That hasn't stopped the club from making major personnel moves without a coaching staff in place for weeks, which makes for an interesting subplot entering Thursday's proceedings. New York only has one pick, though, a second rounder (No. 22 overall), and the team is thin in the midfield after the departures of Joel Lindpere, Teemu Tainio, Rafa Marquez, Jan Gunnar Solli and Victor Palsson. Adding a midfielder for depth should be a priority for whoever is calling the shots.
Captain Carlos Valdes departed to Independiente Santa Fe in his native Colombia, and help at center back is a priority. Bakary Soumare and the recently acquired Jeff Parke make for a steady, yet not exactly fleet-footed, tandem. The versatile Amobi Okugo proved his worth in the back last season as well but may return to his place in the midfield. Philadelphia doesn't have a selection until No. 26 and then picks again at 29, so the Union won't have their pick of the litter if they stand pat. They do have the assets to trade up if the right player slips.
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC addressed just about everything in its offseason player crusade, trading for playmaker Benny Feilhaber and center back Ike Opara and signing Argentine forward Claudio Bieler to a Designated Player deal. The club could use more midfield reinforcements now that starters Roger Espinoza (Wigan Athletic) and Julio Cesar (Toronto FC) have departed, and Graham Zusi is at the very least getting looked at by West Ham. With only one selection at No. 14, Sporting KC's should be take the best available midfielder that fits Peter Vermes' high-pressure system.
Toronto is in an ideal situation, holding two of the top three picks. The problem is the team's incoming coach Ryan Nelsen is currently a player for Queens Park Rangers; the club ousted one of the masters of the draft in recent years in former coach Paul Mariner; and there are holes to fill up and down the roster. The consensus top two talents, Louisville's Andrew Farrell and Zimmerman, both could be had, but it's doubtful that Toronto would take a pair of central defenders after acquiring Danny Califf and U.S. youth center back Gale Agbossoumonde and with so many other areas needing attention. With other teams looking to acquire top talent, Toronto is in a prime position to make a deal with new club president Kevin Payne running the show.
New coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola tipped his hand and told MLS's website the club would fill its need for an attacking midfielder by selecting Connecticut's Carlos Alvarez with the No. 2 pick. With that being Chivas' only pick in the two-round affair, there's not a whole lot of speculation to get into as the club looks to cement its identity and turn its fortunes around under the new regime. That said, if Juan Agudelo is going to head to Europe (Celtic is reportedly interested in acquiring the U.S. international) and if Juan Pablo Angel is going to return to Colombia (as reports from his native land suggest), then the Goats will need to augment their forward options in another way.
The Rapids revamped their forward options, jettisoning longtime tandem Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, and even though Edson Buddle was brought in from Los Angeles, Oscar Pareja could use more capable goalscorers. In the back, Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor both signed new contracts over the past year, and Ecuadorian Diego Calderon was brought in from LDU Quito, but Colorado could use more center-back depth and must make up for the loss of fullbacks Luis Zapata, Hunter Freeman and Tyson Wahl. Pick No. 6 gives them options.
With Julian de Guzman not expected back and Daniel Hernandez retired, Schellas Hyndman could use reinforcements in central midfield. Starting forward Blas Perez will be forced to miss time for Panama national team duty (in addition to serving a suspension for the first two games), and wing options are also at a premium, so Dallas could go a number of ways at Nos. 7 and 20. If Texas natives and U.S. youth midfielders Mikey Lopez and Dillon Powers are available for Dallas' first pick, Hyndman would be hard-pressed to pass either up.
Los Angeles Galaxy
The two-time defending champions did not bring back Swedish winger Christian Wilhelmsson and are potentially losing Landon Donovan. Even though the Galaxy landed Colin Clark in the Re-Entry Draft, they could use help on the wings. In addition, there is no guarantee Omar Gonzalez, entering the final year of his contract, remains with the club as he continues to draw international interest. Therefore, finding help on the flanks and in defense with picks 19, 24 and 38 should be on the docket for Bruce Arena, who used a low pick last year on Tommy Meyer -- one of the club's starting center backs in MLS Cup.
A year following its expansion season, Portland is in the same position: Coming off postseason-less campaign and in need of more reliable fullbacks. This time around, though, the club has no picks in the draft. Few know the college game better than new coach Caleb Porter, and he and his staff could trade into the two-round affair. For a team looking to win immediately, though, adding young pieces through this draft might not be preferred.
Real Salt Lake
RSL is in a period of transition, but the club is not rebuilding. Trading key components Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave to New York opened two slots in the starting lineup, but reports suggest RSL is near bringing back striker Robbie Findley to pair with Alvaro Saborio, and Chris Schuler is an apt contender to team with Nat Borchers in central defense. Giving Jason Kreis more options at striker, considering the departures of Paulo Jr. and Justin Braun as well, is likely to be on the docket Nos. 12 and 31. If Notre Dame's Ryan Finley (who started his college career at Duke, which produced Kreis and RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey) or Texas youth product Kekuta Manneh are available, RSL should pounce.
San Jose Earthquakes
San Jose had no problem finding the back of the net last season, but the defense let the Supporters' Shield winner down at times during its futile playoff run. The club's starting unit is pretty set in stone, but there is a dearth of options after that, and with the Earthquakes competing in the CONCACAF Champions League this season and stalwart center back Victor Bernardez due to commit time to the Honduran national team, more defenders that Frank Yallop can count on will be necessary. West Virginia's Eric Schoenle, Georgetown's Tommy Muller and Washington's Dylan Tucker-Gagnes fit the bill.
With Fredy Montero on loan to Millonarios in his native Colombia and Parke already gone to Philadelphia, the Sounders are down two key starters. They won't necessarily find their natural replacements in this year's draft class, but Sigi Schmid and his staff will have to take a look at forward and center back when picks 16 and 35 roll around. The draft is heavy on options at both positions.
The Whitecaps hold two top-10 selections, which makes for interesting options for coach Martin Rennie. The club scored the fewest goals of all of the 10 playoff teams last season (35 in 34 games) and could use a spark in the attack, either from a central playmaking position or from the wing. Unfortunately for Vancouver, it appears that Alvarez won't be around when it picks at No. 5 due to Chivas' early declaration, but New Mexico's Blake Smith is one who could help on the left wing, and Santa Clara's Erik Hurtado is another attack-minded player worthy of an early selection. Given their two early picks, the Whitecaps are in position to be a player on the trade market.