Level Up: Will the NCAA's best become pro stars?
The 2012 MLS SuperDraft is a little less than a month away, and with the NCAA Tournament now in the books, all eyes are on the preparations for the upcoming MLS Combine scheduled to start on January 6.
Here’s a look at the best eligible draft prospects. Bear in mind, this does not include the Generation adidas class, which usually comprises eight to 10 players, the vast majority of whom go high in the first round.
With that caveat, here’s our current top 25:
1. Billy Schuler, North Carolina, F
While technically a junior because of a redshirt season taken last fall, Schuler is graduating this December and received a Combine invite. He’s one of the best finishers in the nation and can fit either as a withdrawn forward or a true center forward – the spot he played in leading North Carolina to the NCAA title.
Best MLS comparison: Josh Wolff
2. Nick DeLeon, Louisville, M/F
His statistical output was a modest six goals and six assists this season, but the versatile attacker has flourished and matured in his senior year. He can be a real weapon in 2012, likely as a wide midfielder.
Best MLS comparison: Mike Magee
3. Matt Hedges, North Carolina, D
The cream of the crop among senior center backs, Hedges transferred from Butler to UNC before his senior year. His play at the College Cup cemented his status as the best senior central defender available in this draft.
Best MLS comparison: Eric Brunner
4. Luis Silva, UC Santa Barbara, M
An extremely dangerous offensive threat at the collegiate level with 17 goals and 10 assists, Silva is an attacking midfielder who can score in a variety of ways, combines well with teammates, and has great vision and good size.
Best MLS comparison: Sebastián Grazzini
5. Casey Townsend, Maryland, F
A lethal goalscorer with 17 tallies for the Terps this year, Townsend has tremendous leaping ability and a low center of gravity that helps him get his shot off in traffic. Stayed healthy all year after struggling with injuries earlier in his career.
Best MLS comparison: Juan Pablo Ángel
6. Ethan Finlay, Creighton, F
Another prolific senior forward who makes smart, timely runs and scores big goals. He bagged 14 in his final season, and while the Bluejays came up short in their hunt for a title, Finlay left an indelible mark on the program. Likely to play out wide as a pro.
Best MLS comparison: Lamar Neagle
7. Austin Berry, Louisville, D
A tall, physical central defender who leads by example, Berry played almost every minute of Louisville’s season in 2011. Good in the air and a proven winner.
Best MLS comparison: Jay DeMerit
8. Tony Cascio, Connecticut, M/F
A quick, versatile attacker who can play either out wide or up front, Cascio’s numbers dropped his senior year, but he led the team in assists and came up with some clutch plays in the postseason. He’ll be ready to make an impact next year.
Best MLS comparison: Patrick Nyarko
9. Tommy Meyer, Indiana, D
Tall, strong center back with decent technical abilities but perhaps lacking a bit of athleticism, Meyer marshaled a strong Indiana defense this year.
Best MLS comparison: Danny Califf
10. Colin Rolfe, Louisville, F
After recovering from a slow start to the season, Rolfe finished with nine goals and 10 assists this year. He's big target forward who is strong with the ball at is feet and quite capable of setting up teammates as well as scoring.
Best MLS comparison: Nate Jaqua
11. Chris Estridge, Indiana, D
Estridge is a versatile outside back with good speed, the ability to deliver a decent cross, and is great going forward and adding to the attack. Played on the left at Indiana and could play on either side at the next level.
Best MLS comparison: Frankie Hejduk
12. Luke Holmes, Akron, M/F
Holmes, a native of England who transferred to Akron for this season, is a hard-working winger with a knack for popping up at the right place at the right time in front of the opponent’s goal. His international status could hamper where he lands in the draft.
Best MLS comparison: Eddie Gaven
13. Kirk Urso, North Carolina, M
Urso was one of the driving forces in the North Carolina midfield. Capable of playing as a box-to-box midfielder, he’s scored a few special goals from distance this year and covers acres of space.
Best MLS comparison: Jack Jewsbury
14. Arthur Ivo, SMU, M
A creative midfielder with a cultured left foot, Ivo’s citizenship status could possibly hamper where he lands in the draft.
Best MLS comparison: Joel Lindpere
15. Greg Jordan, Creighton, M
A key element to Creighton’s success this year, Jordan has a year of eligibility left because of a torn ACL suffered in 2009, but is on track to graduate. If he decides to leave school, he has the tools to provide depth in central midfield.
Best MLS comparison: Jeff Larentowicz
16. Hunter Jumper, Virginia, D
One of the few left-sided defensive options from the senior class, Jumper played a number of positions at Virginia and will need time to make the transition to a permanent role in MLS if he hopes to catch on as a left back.
Best MLS comparison: Josh Gardner
17. Calum Mallace, Marquette, M
A four-year starter at Marquette, Mallace and the Golden Eagles had an up-and-down 2011. But he has good size, is solid on serving in set pieces and can cover ground at the pro level.
Best MLS comparison: Adam Moffat
18. Kevan George, Central Florida, M
George, a tall and lanky central midfielder, is another collegiate prospect looking capable of holding down a defensive midfield spot in MLS.
Best MLS comparison: Stephen McCarthy
19. Andy Rose, UCLA, M
A product of English Championship side Bristol City’s youth teams, Rose is an imposing presence in central midfield, generally sitting in front of the back four.
Best MLS comparison: Danny O’Rourke
20. Kenney Walker, Louisville, M
A defensive midfielder capable of covering tremendous ground, he links the back line with the attack quite well, but had trouble imposing himself upon the better teams the Cardinals faced.
Best MLS comparison: Clyde Simms
21. Ryan Meara, Fordham, G
In a draft class light on goalkeeping prospects, Meara edges out about the rest with his consistency and size (6-foot-4, 185 pounds).
Best MLS comparison: Tally Hall
22. Miguel Ibarra, UC Irvine, M
One of the most exciting, electric talents in the draft, Ibarra was a spark for UC Irvine’s offensive success this year. He’ll have to find a spot on the field in MLS and is a bit on the small side (5-foot-7, 135 pounds), but has the tools to make the leap.
Best MLS comparison: Andy Najar
23. Brian Ownby, Virginia, F
The former US Under-20 World Cup veteran has battled through two injury-plagued seasons, but with his speed can be a factor – if he stays healthy. Currently on trial in Germany.
Best MLS comparison: Maykael Galindo
24. R.J. Allen, Monmouth, D
Not getting an invite to the Combine is a blow for Allen, who is on the alternate list and could still end up making the trip to Florida.
Best MLS comparison: James Riley
25. Aaron Maund, Notre Dame, D
Another member of the 2009 US U-20 World Cup team, Maund is an athletic center back with good size who never quite lived up to his potential with the Fighting Irish.
Best MLS comparison: Jalil Anibaba
Other Names to Know: D Nick Blake (Connecticut), GK Chris Blais (South Florida), F Lucky Mkosana (Dartmouth), F Brent Richards (Washington), M/F Eder Arreola (UCLA), M Warren Crevalle (Central Florida), F Antoine Hoppenot (Princeton), F Evans Frimpong (Delaware), D Mykell Bates (Santa Clara), D Raymond Gaddis (West Virginia)
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com