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Thursday, January 15, 2009
ESPNsoccernet: January 16, 9:20 PM UK
Toronto reaps rich haul in the first round

Jeff Carlisle

After much speculation, the 2009 MLS SuperDraft could just as easily have been called "The Art of the Nondeal." True, Dallas and New York did swap players and first-round picks, but that was the extent of the trade activity heading into Thursday's player bonanza.

The level of deal-making on draft day was expected to be much higher, especially with Toronto GM "Trader Mo" Johnston hanging on to three first-round picks. But Johnston opted to hang on to selections, and while that is subject to change, the hope is that this draft is every bit as deep as some team execs are stating. Certainly, the first round had its share of intriguing prospects, meaning this crop of players likely will have a greater impact than last year's pedestrian class.

1. Seattle Sounders FC -- Steve Zakuani, F, Akron

Following a so-so combine, Zakuani was poised to go all Patrick Nyarko on us and slide down the draft board. But with Seattle coach Sigi Schmid not getting the deal he wanted, he'll have to "settle" for a forward with plenty of upside.

Foremost among Zakuani's traits is his electric pace, which would seem to make him the perfect foil for Sounders target man Nate Jaqua. But as history has shown us, nothing is guaranteed for No. 1 overall picks, and the former Arsenal youth product will need to earn his spot on Schmid's side.

2. Toronto FC -- Sam Cronin, M, Wake Forest

Given TFC's needs along the back, selecting Cronin came as a bit of a surprise. But there is no doubting the Wake Forest product's ability, and many MLS coaches count Cronin as the player most ready to step into a starting lineup.

Given Toronto's logjam in the center of midfield, where Carl Robinson, Amado Guevara and Dwayne De Rosario already reside, Cronin seems destined to spend the initial part of the upcoming season on the bench. Yet there has been talk of moving Robinson to the back, and with Guevara and De Rosario set to be occupied by Gold Cup duty in July, Cronin will eventually get his shot, assuming he stays in Toronto, of course.

3. Los Angeles Galaxy -- Omar Gonzalez, D, Maryland

Most mock drafts had Cronin falling to the Galaxy, but coach Bruce Arena will be more than happy to see Gonzalez land in his lap -- a case of the best player available also satisfying a team's desperate needs.

The 6-foot-5 defender amounts to a considerable upgrade over what the Galaxy already had in the back, although since L.A. conceded 62 goals last year, that's not saying much. Gonzalez's aerial ability both in the back and on set pieces should be a boon for L.A. It should also allow last year's Rookie of the Year, Sean Franklin, to move to his more natural right back position.

4. Toronto FC -- O'Brian White, F, Connecticut

After White tore his ACL this past fall, it was expected he would last until the latter part of the first round. But White's Canadian citizenship, not to mention his pedigree as the 2007 MAC Hermann Award winner, made him too valuable to pass up for TFC.

White won't be able to begin training again until April, but once healthy, it's expected that his combination of size and speed will allow him to find some minutes, even in a sub role. And while Johnston will likely continue to look abroad for another forward, a front-line partnership of White and Chad Barrett is intriguing.

5. FC Dallas -- Peri Marosevic, F, Michigan

When FCD acquired midfielder Dave van den Bergh and defender Steve Purdy in predraft moves, it freed up coach Schellas Hyndman to address his other needs. In the case of Marosevic, the Michigan product amounts to a Grade-A insurance policy in case Kenny Cooper heads overseas, although they are very different players. At 5-9, Marosevic is a gritty, hardworking performer who also has the ability to combine with others.

And Jeff Cunningham is a forward who has never stayed in one place very long, meaning Marosevic could get his chance earlier than expected.

6. D.C. United -- Rodney Wallace, D, Maryland

United went local with this pick, and in the process added a considerable amount of athleticism to its back line. There had been speculation that Wallace might end up in midfield, but the consensus after last weekend's scouting combine was that the Maryland product remains a bit raw, and his future in MLS is definitely in the back.

7. D.C. United -- Chris Pontius, F, Cal-Santa Barbara

No one benefited more from the combine than Pontius. He began the weekend as a player who might slide to the second round, but he ended it as a middle first-round selection. Pontius is a versatile player who possesses a cannon shot, giving coach Tom Soehn another option up top.

While it seems unlikely that Pontius will crack a lineup already occupied by Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno, the injury bug that laid United low in 2008 could change all that.

8. Kansas City Wizards -- Matt Besler, D, Notre Dame

Besler also benefited from a solid combine, and he should provide the Wizards with some valuable cover in the back, especially after the team lost Tyson Wahl in the expansion draft. Among Besler's many traits are his intelligence and composure; he draws favorable comparisons to former New England defender Michael Parkhurst. But at 6-0, 170 pounds, Besler has a bit more heft than Parkhurst, which should help him adjust to what is a notoriously physical league.

9. Chivas USA -- Michael Lahoud, M, Wake Forest

With Panchito Mendoza moving back to parent club CD Guadalajara, and Sacha Kljestan the target of numerous European clubs, the Goats did well in grabbing the versatile Lahoud, who can play any number of positions in midfield. I was a little surprised that Chivas didn't grab goalkeeper Stefan Frei, but coach Preki evidently felt that his midfield was the greater priority.

10. New England Revolution -- Kevin Alston, D, Indiana

It was tough to determine what was the bigger shock: Steve Nicol straying away from his ACC pipeline or Alston lasting this long. That said, Nicol will be pleased to have landed the speedy Indiana product with the 10th pick. New England's back line, now shorn of Parkhurst, is getting up there in years, and Alston should provide solid cover for starting right back Chris Albright.

11. New York Red Bulls -- Jeremy Hall, M, Maryland

When the Red Bulls traded van den Bergh to Dallas, it created a massive hole on the left flank, one they aim to fill with Hall, who was rated by many as the best left-sided midfielder in the draft. A similarly sized hole remains in the center of New York's defense, and while Juan Carlos Osorio addressed this to a degree in the second round with the selection of Babajide Ogunbiyi, expect the Colombian to mine his international contacts to fill that need.

12. Real Salt Lake -- Jean Alexandre, M, Lynn University

This pick was one of the shockers of the first round. Not because RSL chose to beef up its attack, but because no one else had Alexandre on their radar. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, Alexandre is a beast who could come in handy given the departure of Dema Kovalenko.

13. Toronto FC -- Stefan Frei, GK, California

Out of all of TFC's selections, Frei is most likely to be traded. TFC already has Greg Sutton and Brian Edwards on board, and for that reason Frei would appear to be a luxury item who could attract quite a bit of value from teams in need of goalkeeping help, such as Chivas USA.

14. FC Dallas -- George John, D, Washington

Apparently adding Purdy wasn't enough for Hyndman, who opted for this converted midfielder from Washington. At 6-4, John certainly has the size to play in the center of defense, and his time as a midfielder helped hone his solid skills on the ball.

The selection, along with the acquisition of Purdy, leaves me to wonder if Drew Moor will return to right back after spending considerable time last season in the middle.

15. New England -- Ryan Maxwell, M/F, Tampa

Another pick that no doubt had soccer scribes scrambling for their draft-day media guides. Maxwell has speed to burn, loves to beat players one-on-one and apparently doesn't play a lick of defense. Sounds like a dead ringer for the departed Khano Smith. Whether Maxwell shows Smith's maddening level of inconsistency, only time will tell.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Centerlinesoccer.com and can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.


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