With the rise of academies and the increased spending on international talent, the MLS draft has become less and less of a priority for Major League Soccer teams. That doesn't mean there isn't still talent to be found though. Teams looking to find bargains are continuing to do their homework as the try to find the next draft-day gem.
The 2018 MLS draft is light on sure-fire first-year starters, though that was also the case last year, when only a half dozen draftees became first-team regulars. The 2018 draft is very much about potential, with the younger prospects hoping teams will invest in their potential.
There is a good crop of seniors in the upcoming draft, but the jury is out on just how many of them will be first-year difference-makers the way Julian Gressel was for Atlanta United and Jack Elliott for the Philadelphia Union.
Here is a look at the top prospects in the 2018 MLS draft, as well as the first look at the MLS Generation Adidas class:
GENERATION ADIDAS CLASS
MLS has been able to secure the services of the top underclassmen targets it went after this winter, with North Carolina State defender Manny Perez being the leading exception. Sources tell Goal that Perez turned down a Generation Adidas offer to return to school.
Sources tell Goal that the following six players have secured Generation Adidas contracts and will be in the 2018 MLS draft as underclassmen:
FRANCIS ATUAHENE. The Michigan speedster has been a top prospect for two years, and could definitely be the first pick in the draft. There are some questions about his ability to combine, but he has the wheels and ability to go at defenders that teams love. Sources tell Goal he has been offered a Generation Adidas contract, but has yet to sign.
JOAO MOUTINHO. The Sporting Lisbon academy product turned heads as a freshman at Akron, displaying impressive technical quality and a good feel for the game. Though used mostly as a central defender at Akron, some project him as a left back in the pros while others see him as a potential defensive midfield option. Sources tell Goal he has been offered a Generation Adidas contract, but has yet to sign.
EMA TWUMASI. The Wake Forest sophomore generated plenty of attention for his exploits on one of the nation's top teams, with his 10 goals and seven assists not telling the full story about his potential as a dangerous wing option.
MASON TOYE. The Indiana freshman was an instant-impact attacking player for the Hoosiers, earning Big Ten freshman of the year honors and All-Big Ten first team honors.
MO ADAMS. The Syracuse sophomore and England native is a hard-nosed central midfielder who could help bring some bite to the midfield for a team in need of a tough presence.
GORDON WILD. The Maryland junior had a disappointing 2017 season, and the general consensus among scouts is that he won't pan out as a pro. But the German striker still secured a GA deal on the strength of a standout sophomore season.
TOMAS HILLIARD-ARCE. The Stanford central defender is widely regarded as the most pro-ready player in the draft, though there are some questions about his ability on the ball, and how that may limit his upside.
CHRISTOPHER MUELLER. The Wisconsin attacking threat has the versatility to play anywhere in attack, and should be more ready to contribute than some of the younger options in the GA class.
DANNY MUSOVSKI. Though he may be a bit of a sleeper due to playing for UNLV, enough scouts are raving about the forward to see him as a good bet to go in the first round of the draft.
MOHAMED THIAW. Teams looking for a big and athletic forward will be lining up to grab the Louisville senior early in the draft.
JON GALLAGHER. The Notre Dame forward had a down year, as did the Fighting Irish, but scouts haven't forgotten how well he played in 2016. He should still go in the top half of the first round.
JON BAKERO. The son of former Spanish international and Barcelona midfielder Jose Mari Bakero, Jon Bakero was a goal-scoring machine for Wake Forest and brings excellent technical quality to the forward position.
TRISTAN BLACKMON. The Pacific right back is widely regarded as the top pure fullback in the draft, and being a good prospect at a position MLS teams are always looking to fill makes him a hot commodity.
JAKE ROZHANSKY. A longtime Generation Adidas target, Rozhansky put together a strong senior year in Maryland's central midfielder and is a safe bet to go in the first round, assuming he doesn't choose to sign abroad.
ALEX ROLDAN. The younger brother of Seattle Sounders standout Cristian Roldan, Alex enjoyed an outstanding career at Seattle University and he could project into a similar midfield role to the one his brother has played so well for Seattle.
ALAN WINN. The North Carolina midfielder is a quick winger with a good pedigree, having come up through the U.S. youth national team ranks.
TOMMY BARLOW. Scouts that watched Wisconsin to see Mueller came away impressed with Barlow, who combines good size with soft feet as an intriguing target forward prospect.
ALBERT RUIZ. A goal machine for Florida Gulf Coast in 2016, Ruiz endured an injury-hit 2017, but scouts haven't forgotten about the Spanish-born striker.
MAC STEEVES. Once a very highly-rated target forward prospect before injuries cost him the 2016 season. He is still a bit of a wild card, but teams that fell in love with him two years ago will watch him closely at the MLS Combine.
RAFAEL ANDRADE SANTOS. The Brazilian playmaker showed himself to be capable of scoring goals and setting them up at Virginia Commonwealth. MLS teams generally ignore college playmakers, but should make an exception here.
MARK SEGBERS. A forward for much of his career at Wisconsin, Segbers is being seen now more as strong candidate to play as a right back in the pros, and the early feedback on the move has him looking like one of the top fullback options in the draft.
JUSTIN FIDDES. Potentially the fastest player in the draft, Fiddes is probably the best pure left back available. If he can impress at the MLS combine, the University of Washington defender should be a first-round pick.
MAURO CICHERO. A torn ACL suffered in October will scare some teams off, but the younger brother of former New York Red Bulls defender Gabriel Cichero has impressed enough scouts with his midfield play at SMU to still merit a late-round flyer.