The 2012 MLS SuperDraft is less than a month away, and teams are playing with their draft boards more than teenagers fiddle with their smartphones. That action is only heightened in anticipation of the MLS combine, which kicks off Jan. 6.
Teams have to decide on prospects relatively promptly in the coming days, so here is the top group the MLS clubs will be discussing in the coming days as potential draft selections among this year’s senior class.
1. Matt Hedges, UNC, defense
Simple reason to put Matt Hedges at the top of the list: defenders contribute immediately in MLS.
Part time college fans were excited about his play at the 2011 College Cup, but Hedges has been stellar all four years at the collegiate level.
He never missed a game in his college career – a testament to his durability and competitiveness. He reads the game better than any other prospect. And in the utmost honest sense of the phrase, he is a true defender.
2. Luis Silva, UCSB, midfield
Something clicked for Luis Silva this season. Not to downplay the stellar career he had at UCSB for the previous three years, but he was incredible in 2011 when players around him were dropping like flies with injuries.
Every game Silva would relish in the bright lights of Harder Stadium with a talented supporting cast depending on his heroics. He brings versatility, humility, and resolve every time he steps on the field, practice or game.
3. Ethan Finlay, Creighton, forward
With 43 goals and 17 assists in his Creighton career, Ethan Finlay is thought of as one of the best attacking talents in this draft. Rightfully so, but it is his defense that will make him a hot commodity at the next level.
Finlay is a tireless forward who chases down every defender and capitalizes on mistakes. In other words, he is going to make one MLS coach very happy, even if the production is not there immediately, and make some MLS defenders very frustrated.
4. Casey Townsend, Maryland, forward
MLS wanted Casey Townsend last year, but he made the league wait for another season. Now, the coveted forward is finally heading for a pro stadium near you, but what should you expect for the Maryland star?
He is a physical forward who is built for the rumble tumble play of the domestic league. The comparisons to Taylor Twellman, which were batted around during the college season, were unjust. He is not quite the athlete of Twellman, but he could be considered the lite version of the former New England Revolution star.
5. Nick DeLeon, Louisville, midfield
Nick DeLeon is one of the few players in the draft with a clear idea of where he is going to play at the next level. He is a true winger and a team will not have to rework his game to make it successful at the professional level.
He has a dynamic change of pace, but lacks the consistency on crossing that most teams desire for their midfielders. He can punish teams from distance with the occasional spectacular goal, but his fundamentals sometimes lack in terms of striking the ball.
His main attribute is his ability to beat his defender off the dribble and create offense from the wing. It is a valuable skill that teams rarely find in the draft and could make DeLeon one of the most talked about players prior to draft day.
6. Arthur Ivo, SMU, midfield
There are fans of Arthur Ivo and there are detractors. He is not fast enough for the next level seems to be the common complaint. The lack of speed will be a concern, but the ball will always travel faster than the player and Ivo moves the ball better than most.
He is a creative midfielder who actually works his tail off on the field. He is athletic enough to attempt audacious bicycle kicks from time to time, but his game is also refined to the point that he hits a set piece with deadly accuracy.
7. Greg Jordan, Creighton, midfield
Greg Jordan is a tenacious midfielder. He was a key competent of Creighton’s success this year and for the last couple years. He commands the middle of the field with the grace of a seasoned lumberjack swinging an axe.
His destroyer mentality will fit in well with the ideology of many MLS coaches and should make Jordan one of the top senior midfielders of the 2012 draft.
8. Austin Berry, Louisville, defense
There is plenty to like about Berry’s game. He's good in the air, distributes the ball well, and commands the back line easily. There is also one massive hole in his game that will make some teams pump the breaks when they watch tape. He loses his mark on crosses fairly easily.
It is a small problem in a vast breakdown of a player, but the small things are what separate good from great at this level. For defenders, there is little room for error and the mental lapses could push Berry back in the draft.
9. Tommy Meyer, Indiana, defense
Meyer has garnered less acclaim in his senior season than his teammates, but he looks like the better professional prospect. The Saint Louis native is a solid defender and consistent leader from his regular spot at the center of the defense.
He started all but two games of his Hoosiers career and registered a team high seven assists in his final season. The 21-year-old is also a former U.S. U-17 World Cup participant. He started three games during the quarterfinal run in 2007.
He can contribute immediately at the next level, but he is not the type of player that makes teams jump up the board to secure his rights. A smart front office will grab him in the late first or early second round and claim a good piece for the future of the franchise.
10. Kirk Urso, UNC, midfield
There are certain intangibles that players need for the next level after college. Competitiveness is one of those and you will not find a player in this draft more competitive than Kirk Urso.
He plays with a fiery passion, which has made him the starter in the center of the field for four years in Chapel Hill. His lethal free kick is perhaps his best attribute, but during College Cup, he struggled striking the dead ball.
The speed of play at the professional level will be an adjustment for Urso, but he has shown the ability to adapt his game in the past.
Other top prospects: Callum Mallace (Marquette), Hunter Jumper (UVA), James Kiffe (UCSB), Diogo de Almeida (SMU), Luke Holmes (Akron), Chris Estridge (Indiana), Colin Rolfe (Louisville), Tony Cascio (UCONN), Andy Rose (UCLA), Brian Rowe (UCLA)