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Thursday, January 17, 2008
Projecting the 2008 first round

Ives Galarcep

The 2008 MLS SuperDraft doesn't take place until Friday (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2) but it is already off to an inauspicious beginning.

When the first pick in the entire draft is traded straight up for a solid, but unspectacular veteran defender, it doesn't say a lot about the talent available to MLS teams this year. San Jose coach Frank Yallop took a look at the draft's selections and decided that he would rather acquire rugged central defender Nick Garcia than keep the pick and take the best player in the draft.

That is one of the key problems with the 2008 MLS draft. There is no "best player," no Maurice Edu, who most teams would jump at taking. There are plenty of talented players, but very few who elicit favorable opinions across the board.

What there is in this draft is a small group of quality talents capable of stepping up and playing right away. That half-dozen or so quality players will make the first half of the first round easy enough to predict. What comes after that group of players will be anyone's guess in what has the makings of the most unpredictable MLS draft in recent memory.

Here is one way the draft could break down:

1. Kansas City Wizards: Julius James (University of Connecticut)

Some expect the Wizards to grab highly touted forward Patrick Nyarko (Virginia Tech) to replace the soon-to-be departed Eddie Johnson, but don't be so sure. Kansas City is lining up a move for Colombian forward Ivan Trujillo. The Wizards would be best served by choosing James, the best defender in the draft.

2. FC Dallas: Patrick Nyarko (Virginia Tech)

The Hoops just parted ways with Carlos Ruiz and will have a chance to fill the void at forward with the best one in the draft. No, Nyarko isn't going to come in and score like Ruiz, but he has the tools to be an impact player at the low, low cost of zero dollars against the salary cap (Nyarko is a Generation adidas player).

3. Real Salt Lake: Eric Avila (UCSB)

The folks in Utah are convinced that they have made the defensive additions needed to turn around one of the worst defenses in the league. With left back Ian Joy and Colombian central defender Jamilson Olave set to be signed, RSL will pass on Andy Iro and Pat Phelan to select Avila, the best midfielder in the draft. Avila has some fitness and physical strength issues, but those can be worked on. What can't be taught is his impressive vision and passing touch.

4. Los Angeles Galaxy: Andy Iro (UCSB)

Ruud Gullit didn't like much of what he saw at the MLS combine, but he had to be impressed with Iro's imposing size and athletic ability. The Galaxy need help in the back and Iro would give the Galaxy a rock in the back. Don't be surprised if Los Angeles considers dealing this pick or drafting UCLA left back Chance Myers with an eye toward dealing Mike Randolph.

5. Colorado Rapids: Peter Lowry (Santa Clara)

When the Rapids traded Kyle Beckerman for Mehdi Ballouchy, they thought they were getting a skillful creator who could boost a floundering attack. Things didn't really work out as Ballouchy failed to make an impact. Fernando Clavijo will try his luck again by taking Lowry, an attack-minded forward/midfielder who creates chances and scores goals in bunches. Clavijo would have taken Chance Myers here before acquiring Jose Burciaga, and still might consider grabbing the young left back/midfielder.

6. Columbus Crew: Xavier Balc (Ohio State)

This pick has seemed like a no-brainer for months. The local boy is drafted by his hometown team and becomes a star, right? Well, Balc endured a disappointing NCAA final before a disappointing MLS combine. What he did show at the combine is his great passing touch and combination play, which makes him well-suited to play with Argentine star Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

7. Chicago Fire: Brek Shea (U.S. U-17 national team)

The Fire could go the safe route and take accomplished defender Pat Phelan, or they could grab the most promising teenager to come through the draft since Jozy Altidore two years ago. Shea was one of the stars of the MLS combine, beating much older defenders with ease. Several teams are coveting the left winger, so don't be surprised to see a team trade up to grab Shea.

8. FC Dallas: Pat Phelan (Wake Forest)

With Nyarko in the fold, the Hoops can focus on adding depth to a defense that sorely needs it. Phelan doesn't have the hype of a James or Iro, but could wind up being as good, if not better, than both of them. A polished defender who can also play defensive midfielder, Phelan is good enough to step in and play heavy minutes.

9. Toronto FC: Chance Myers (UCLA)

You might not think Toronto needs Myers, but Mo Johnston won't be able to pass up on the standout left back if he's here. Yes, TFC has Todd Dunivant as a left back, but Myers can also play in a left midfield role. He could also wind up being trade bait for Johnston.

10. Toronto FC: Mike Videira (Duke University)

Toronto can use a seasoned central midfielder and Videira is the most MLS-ready central midfielder in this draft. Some are expecting Johnston to package picks to move up, but the Toronto coach has insisted that his priority in this draft is adding some depth. With Myers and Videira, Johnston adds two of the best players at their positions in this draft.

11. Kansas City Wizards: Sean Franklin (Cal State-Northridge)

The Wizards could use some forward depth but will find it difficult to pass on the best right back prospect in the draft. Franklin is physically ready to step in and start in MLS and would allow Jack Jewsbury to move back into a midfield role.

12. Chicago Fire: Josh Lambo (U.S. Under-17 national team)

With Matt Pickens' future in Chicago in doubt, the Fire will find it hard to pass on one of the best young goalkeeping prospects in recent memory. Taking Lambo gives the Fire some insurance in case Pickens does leave. If Pickens goes, Lambo can serve as the understudy to veteran Jon Busch. If Pickens stays, Lambo can either be traded or can overtake Busch as the No. 2.

13. New England Revolution: Stephen King (Maryland)

The Revs need some central midfield depth after the departure of Andy Dorman and King is just the kind of intelligent player Steve Nicol likes. King is on the small side, but his ability to contribute to the attack as well as defend makes him a complete player who could see major minutes for New England.

14. Real Salt Lake: Jon Leathers (Furman)

Leathers is one of the most polished defenders in the draft and his ability to play center back and right back make him valuable. He is a touch undersized but showed at the combine that his size doesn't stop him from making plays.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.


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