With the MLS SuperDraft just over a week away (next Thursday, Jan. 13 in Baltimore) and the combine starting this week, I thought it might be time to take a closer look at some players Sporting Kansas City might be exploring with their first pick (#10 in the first round).
The MLS Combine will take place this week and the league announced yesterday the full rosters (which include five non-college foreign players: Uruguayan midfielder Paolo Cardozo, Ecuadoran forward Victor Estupinan and midfielder Marlon Ganchozo, Argentine midfielder Martin Rivas and English midfielder John Rooney). Five highly-rated prospects (Generation adidas signees and first-round locks Perry Kitchen, Zac MacMath, Omar Salgado and Zarek Valentin are training with the U.S. U-20 national team; likely first-overall pick Darlington Ngabe) will not attend the combine. See the full listhere
When it comes to who Sporting Kansas City might select, it would appear that the most pressing need is central defender with adding a creative right-sided midfielders and more depth throughout the midfield as secondary concerns.
Many of the mock drafts bear this out.
I’ve combed a few mock drafts and one sites player rankings* to compile a list of seven players “likely” to be drafted in the vicinity (or higher) of SKC’s spot.*I’m using four sources for this discussion: Goal.com’s College Soccer Professor Mock Draft, Soccer by Ives’ Mock Draft v1.0, WV Hooligan’s Mock Draft 2.0 and Pro Player Pipeline.
The Out of Our League Duo
The two most highly-rated defensive players in the 2011 draft are the NCAA national champion Akron duo of teenagers Kofi Sarkodie (19) and Zarek Valentin (19). Both have signed Generation adidas contracts.
• Sarkodie (mock draft average: 5; Pro Player Pipeline rating: A-) is a versatile fullback who can play the right or the left. He’s probably not going to get past Vancouver with the 8th pick if he falls that far. According to WV Hooligan:
"Sarkodie not only offers quality defense from his right back spot but he’ll also be a guy that can move up into the attack when needed."Read his college bio.
Here’s a pretty slick goal he scored from the edge of the box this year:
• Valentin (mock draft average: 5; PPP rating: A-) is more of a traditional central defender, but is capable of shifting out to right back. He’s rated as highly as the 3rd pick by Soccer by Ives.Read his college bio
If either guy falls to SKC, they’d probably fall over themselves to pick them (regardless of the situation with Michael Harrington).
The Senior Defenders
If Kansas City goes with a central defender, it will likely be a choice between two graduating college seniors: California’s A.J. Soares and North Carolina’s Jalil Anibaba.
• Soares (mock draft average: 10.333; PPP rating: B-) is a big (6’2”) and tough central defender from California who is a threat to score on set pieces. Remind you of anyone? He has signed a senior MLS contract. According to Goal.com:
"Soares is not overpowering with athleticism or size, but he is fundamentally sound and always ready to play (only missed one game in four years at Cal)."Read his college bio
• Anibaba (mock draft average: 11; PPP rating: B+) transferred to the Tar Heels from Santa Clara for his senior year and, according to UNC’s head coach he was a quick study and integrated into his new team very quickly. Not remarkably tall, Anibaba nonetheless was known in college for his aerial ability. (He was featuredin this pre-draft profile
last week.) Both Ives and Goal.com have him going to SCK with the 10th pick. Ives writes:
"Replacing veteran defender Jimmy Conrad won't be easy, but KC will be happy to grab an athletic centerback like Anibaba, who has the talent to step in and start for the club formerly known as the Wizards."Read his college bio
Maybe a Midfielder?
There are three other players, all midfielders, who are ranked at or near the 10th pick: Akron midfielders Anthony Ampaipitakwong and Michael Nanchoff, and North Carolina’s Michael Farfan. (Yes, that’s right, six of the seven players featured here are from either Akron or North Carolina.)
• Ampaipitakwong (mock draft average: 11; PPP rating: C) is a quick, tireless and creative midfielder who helped lead Akron to the NCAA championship this year. He would destroy my record of never misspelling a SKC player’s name for sure. Would be a great fit hair-wise with Michael Harrington and Kei Kamara. WV Hooligan has Kansas City selecting him:
"I think as long as he has a strong Combine he'll end up in the top 10 in this draft. He’s not a big player but he definitely plays big from the midfield. Kansas City has a solid midfield but adding someone like Ampaipitakwong will only make them better."
Good free-kick form on this goal:Read his college bio
• Nanchoff (mock draft average: 9; PPP rating: C+) has the most range on the mocks going as high as 7th according to Goal.com or falling to 12th according to Ives. He’s a left-side midfielder not known for his speed but his high workrate. With Ryan Smith still with the team, I think Nanchoff might be more of a long-shot.Read his college bio
• Farfan (mock draft average: 13.333; PPP rating: B-) is the lowest of the players on this list, but he is considered the most creative attacking midfield player in the draft. Would probably need some time with the reserves before settling with the team. Has signed a MLS senior contract.Read his college bio
The 10th GA
Today saw the addition of another wrinkle to the SuperDraft:UCSB left winger/full back Michael Tetteh signed a Generation adidas contract . Tetteh was not listed in any of the three mock drafts and wasn’t rated by Pro Player Pipeline. However, in today’s version of his Big Board, Ives has Tetteh as the 12th-rated player
With Espinoza/Smith holding down the left-side for KC (and with Tetteh not being a can't-miss like Sarkodie), I don’t see Tetteh as potential prospect for KC. But... the key to his addition to the GA class is that there are now 10 GAs*. Kansas City has the 10th draft pick. Which means, unless they trade out of the 10th spot, they should have a chance to draft a GA.
This matters because Generation adidas players contracts don’t count against the senior salary cap. Teal Bunbury is the team’s only other Generation adidas player. Roger Espinoza and Chance Myers graduated at the end of the season.*The GAs: Akron’s Sarkodie, Valentin, Kitchen, Ngabe and Nanchoff, Indiana’s Will Bruin, Penn State’s Corey Hertzog, Maryland’s Zac MacMath, U.S. U-20 Omar Salgado and Tetteh.
There are five remaining defenders that Pro Player Pipeline gave a B- or better rating to, none of them crack the three mock drafts listed above. It would be a shock to see any of them selected in the first round, but could be great value with SKC’s #32 pick in the second round.
• Tyler Lassiter, NC State: B
Read his college bio
• Michael Boxall, University of California-Santa Barbara: B
Read his college bio
• Rich Balchan, Indiana: B
Read his college bio
• Bilal Duckett, Notre Dame: B-
Read his college bio
• Christian Ibeagha, Duke: B
Read his college bio
With their first-round pick (provided Valentin doesn’t fall into their lap), I think Sporting KC will take Anibaba. He’s strong and consistent and, in the right environment (like learning from a former MLS central defender like Peter Vermes and alongside Shavar Thomas) could thrive.
Other SuperDraft News
Major League Soccer officials announced Wednesday that the MLS SuperDraft will return to a three-round event this year, and the following Supplemental Draft will return this year and will also consist of three rounds.
The SuperDraft switch to three rounds was made in conjunction with input received from MLS clubs, coaches and players. A league spokesman explained that the change to the SuperDraft takes into consideration the increasing number of selections in each round, which have nearly doubled with the addition of new expansion clubs in recent years. The 10 picks per round back in 2004 have since given way to this year’s 18 selections in each of the three rounds.
Next week, each team will have four minutes to make a selection in rounds one and two, and three minutes in the third round. A five-minute break will separate each of the three rounds and every club also has the option of using a single five-minute timeout. All previous trades that involved a fourth-round pick in the SuperDraft will still be honored, with those fourth-round picks converted into a selection in the first round of the Supplemental Draft.