The holidays may be over, but there are still a few items left on the collective wish list of MLS GMs everywhere. Fortunately, the post-holiday sale known as the MLS SuperDraft is about two weeks away. That means that there is still a chance that those dreams of acquiring a dominant defender or a clinical forward could still be satisfied, albeit a slim chance. If the history of the MLS draft has shown us anything, it's that only a handful of players will make the kind of impact in their rookie seasons that will satisfy the insatiable demands of a team's supporters.
The bottom line is that this year's crop of potential draftees is deep, if not quite as star-studded as years past. And while the MLS combine won't start for another week, that won't stop this intrepid reporter from taking a stab at the top prospects for this year's draft.
One will no doubt notice that no members of the U.S. U-17 national team are on the list. Certainly, players like Blake Wagner, Josmer Altidore, Kyle Nakazawa, and David Arvizu will be selected in the draft if they make themselves available. But in the same breath, MLS coaches and executives that I spoke with said that none of these players will be able to help their teams right away.
A prime example of this is Arvizu, who has undeniable skill, but at 5-foot-6, is still a bit undersized. The thought of him going up against players like Houston's Eddie Robinson or Chicago's C.J. Brown makes one shudder. Of course, he could gain some size yet, but he might not, which means a team spending the considerable capital of a first-round pick on a project like Arvizu is unlikely. Here are the players expected to go first:
1. Marvell Wynne, D, UCLA
The UCLA product seems to be at the top of everyone's draft board, which is a rarity for an outside back. Wynne's blazing pace and strength should allow him to withstand the rigors of what is a notoriously physical league, and he has long impressed coaches with his ability to join the attack.
A standout on the U.S. U-20 national team, there is some concern about Wynne's touch on the ball and passing, but those shortcomings shouldn't prevent him from being the first overall pick.
2. Mehdi Ballouchy, M, Santa Clara
At the moment, the Moroccan-born midfielder's stock is on the rise. A poor performance at the combine could change that, but Ballouchy's skill on the ball and his vision are traits that are highly coveted by teams throughout MLS.
His numbers from last year (one goal, seven assists) don't exactly dazzle the eye, leading to criticism from some quarters that his work rate is suspect. Others state that his pedestrian stats are more due to his preference for orchestrating the attack from deep in midfield. Regardless, Ballouchy's creativity should put him in good stead come draft day.
3. Nathan Sturgis, D, Clemson
In Sturgis, you have a slightly built, composed defender with good speed coming out of the ACC. Who does that remind you of? At 18 years of age, the Michael Parkhurst comparisons are perhaps a bit premature, but several coaches and executives around the league are high on the college sophomore.
Sturgis is an excellent reader of the game and a confident passer of the ball, although probably not at the level of Parkhurst. The U.S. U-20 international has been touted by some as the best center back in the draft.
4. Sacha Kljestan, M, Seton Hall
Along with Ballouchy, Kljestan is among the most creative players available. Kljestan played mostly in a free midfield role in college, something that likely won't be replicated in MLS. The question is: Where would he play, in the middle or out wide?
Regardless of where he ends up on the field, his comfort on the ball and vision should allow him to succeed at the professional level. At 6-1, his size should also give him an advantage over other MLS midfielders.
5. Jason Garey, F, Maryland
When asked to assess the available forwards in the draft, one MLS coach said, "Garey stands apart," and that is down to his predatory instinct in front of the goal. As another coach stated, "Garey becomes a different person in the box." That intensity, as well as a willingness to put his body in dangerous places, should serve him well in MLS.
There are some concerns that the Hermann Trophy winner is very dependent on the quality of service, and that he doesn't have the physical attributes to create goals from nothing. That said, Garey's knack for scoring goals won't be ignored come draft day.
6. Patrick Ianni, D, UCLA
Ianni has been compared to former Los Angeles and San Jose defender Danny Califf in that he is good in the air, a solid tackler, and provides tremendous leadership and organizational abilities in the back. Ianni is also said to possess solid speed, which he'll need against the likes of Landon Donovan and Jeff Cunningham.
A knock on the UCLA product is that his distribution could be better, but he has all of the tools to be a standout defender in MLS.
7. Brian Plotkin, M, Indiana
At the moment, there isn't as much buzz surrounding Plotkin compared to Ballouchy, Kljestan, or even Plotkin's IU teammate, Lee Nguyen, who looks to be headed to Holland. But there is plenty to admire in the Illinois native's game, especially his creativity, which often has him thinking one move ahead of his opponents. Plotkin also possesses a great engine, which may see him playing a variety of positions in the professional ranks.
On the down side, the IU product has been known to drift in and out of games, but he usually delivers when it counts.
8. Dax McCarty, M, North Carolina
McCarty is a bit undersized at 5-9, 142 pounds, but he brings plenty of grit to the field, while also providing elusiveness and smarts. A very active player, McCarty is one of those guys who is always looking for the ball, and is tactically aware.
The UNC product has also shown an ability to attack from a wide variety of areas, especially from deep in midfield, as well as on the wings.
9. Jacob Peterson, F, Indiana
Peterson is a forward who according to one MLS head coach, "scores big goals in big games." And while goals are what fans invariably remember, it has been Peterson's work rate and intelligent runs that have stuck in the memory of MLS coaches.
Like so many players entering the draft, there has been some talk of moving Peterson out wide, but given his nose for the goal, it makes sense that the IU junior will get some playing time up top.
10. Jed Zayner, D, Indiana
While the IU product is perceived to have less of an upside than players like Sturgis and Ianni, Zayner has the makings of a solid professional. He possesses outstanding speed, is above average with the ball, and displays excellent commitment.
His versatility means he could slide out wide in MLS, after spending most of his collegiate career in the middle.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org