D.C. United would be very fortunate to get UConn attacking midfielder Carlos Alvarez, though he would be a great fit for the Black-and-Red. - Photo courtesy of UConn Athletics
D.C. United's only pick in the 2013 SuperDraft is the #17 selection. Picking that late, the variables in play leave the Black-and-Red in need of a long list of potential choices. Part one of a three-part series on players United should be interested in come January 17th.
In recent SuperDrafts, D.C. United has had the luxury of picking early. Even if other teams picked purely based on who the best player was for that season, and not trying to stock up on Generation Adidas players (or in the case of the three Canadian clubs, players from north of the border), there was a great chance that United would get a potential Rookie of the Year candidate. It's no accident that Chris Pontius, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon were all early picks and all ended up in the ROTY running by season's end.
Part of the price of success in MLS is that you don't get those early picks. United's strong 2012 season means the Black-and-Red have to wait for the 17th overall pick. That means there are a lot of variables at play in trying to figure out who we might take.
As a result, we'll be previewing a wide range of NCAA products that United will be considering. In some cases, there would be an element of good fortune involved in a given player still being available when we're up. In other cases, there are players that have been routinely linked with United in mock drafts that should be addressed.
With that in mind, here are the first batch of potential United draft picks:
School: UConn Huskies
Position: Attacking midfield/withdrawn forward
Size: 5'10"/160 lbs.
Seeing Alvarez, who has already signed a contract with MLS, fall to United would be a very unexpected surprise. The 22 year old Mexican-American playmaker has already seen call-ups for both the USA and Mexico under-20 national teams, made every legitimate list of All-Americans (most of those being first- or second-team), and is Top Drawer Soccer's third-best upperclassman at the moment. You can make a legitimate argument that Alvarez is the best player in the draft pool.
So why am I even bothering to write about him given that United would be very lucky for him to fall to #17? Simply put, there is a long list of college #10s who haven't panned out in MLS. The list is so long at this point that teams are starting to shy away from any NCAA attackers that aren't forwards or wingers. Last year's draft has a great example: Enzo Martinez, touted as arguably the best player in the draft and carrying Generation Adidas status, fell to Real Salt Lake...picking 17th.
If Alvarez is still available when United is on the clock, taking him is a no-brainer. United's strong preference for selecting the best available player regardless of position would demand it, and he'd address a need (a natural replacement for Dwayne De Rosario) to boot. There's no chance that a better player will also be available at #17, and the fact that Alvarez has already signed means United won't have to fret about a repeat of the Andrew Jacobson saga back in 2008.
United's formation - Is it a 442? Is it a 4231? - has a role for a guy like Alvarez, who unlike most college playmakers can play as a forward. That's somewhat rare in MLS, which is why many similar players end up as conversion projects from coaches that will only use them them as wingers or box-to-box midfielders instead of where they're at their best. Alvarez is more of a modern attacking midfielder who gets into the box rather than a playmaker who only looks to rack up assists. De Ro would be a perfect mentor for Alvarez, who should be able to flourish if he just gets the chance to actually play where he belongs.
School: Georgetown Hoyas
Position: Defensive midfield/central midfield
Size: 5'11"/155 lbs
Anyone who watched College Cup saw the Hoyas win central midfield over Maryland's more highly touted duo of John Stertzer and Dan Metzer in a 4-4 classic that Georgetown eventually won on penalty kicks. Christianson was a huge part of that, as his soccer IQ allowed him to consistently switch the point of attack as the fulcrum for a Hoyas side that loved to feed the ball wide. Wouldn't it be great for a thoughtful player like that to end up on a team with fantastic wide men? Like, I don't know, DC United?
It's something of a surprise that the left-footed Christianson is even available in the draft. It had been thought that he would receive an offer of a Homegrown contract from the Chicago Fire, but for whatever reason that never came through. Instead, Christianson - who came within the width of a post from sending the College Cup final into overtime - will be available for teams willing to take a chance on a defensive midfielder who isn't going to get by via running forever or being a powerfully-built bruiser.
Christianson reminds me a bit of Brian Carroll when he first came to MLS in that he goes about his job in the engine room in a more cerebral fashion. That's not to say that they're exactly the same; Carroll preferred to stay deeper on the field and was more conservative with the ball. Still, Christianson's more subtle style would be an intriguing addition for United, particularly if he can carry his ability to swing the ball out wide to a faster speed of play. It's also not like Christianson never gets forward, as his career total of 14 goals with Georgetown (13 of which came in his last three seasons) illustrates.
Christianson has come up as a possibility for United in several mock drafts, and is likely to still be available when United goes on the clock. It stands to reason that he will at least be in the discussion at the DCU draft table this coming Thursday. Ben Olsen will like that Christianson is the kind of player that gets the little things right, and as such appears to be the player who can contribute on a winning team.
School: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Size: 6'0"/180 lbs
Finley is arguably the hardest player to figure out in this draft pool. On one hand, the New Jersey native is a problematic selection. He ended up at Notre Dame after being kicked off of the team at Duke despite leading the team in scoring in each of his first two seasons. After transferring, Finley did not start a single game for the Fighting Irish (though he did play over 58 minutes in every game this season bar two). Attitude and work ethic are both big question marks for him, both of which are generally not red flags MLS coaches will tolerate from anyone but their very best players.
On the other hand, Finley - a USA under-17 national teamer at one point - was the first runner-up for the MAC Hermann Trophy (college soccer's Player of the Year award). In his NCAA career he scored 56 goals and had 14 assists in 78 games, only 38 of which were starts. While his attitude remains in question, he's certainly not a player to shy away from pressure situations: 17 of Finley's 56 goals were game-winners, including one in double overtime in this season's Big East championship game. The fact that he scored so often coming off the bench will probably appeal to most MLS coaches, since that is his likely role as a young player anyway.
Finley has signed with MLS already, so at least one potential question mark with this enigmatic player is clarified. The team that grabs Finley - likely someone that drafts ahead of us, but you never know - will get an expert at playing off the shoulder of the last defender, allowing him to get in behind the defense frequently. Finley is a decent athlete, but his real specialty is being elusive. He's the kind of player who can appear to be making no contribution for 89 minutes, then all the sudden he pops up inexplicably unmarked to score a killer goal.
For more on Finley, check out the in-depth coverage from our friends at Waking The Red. In fact, check out their entire SuperDraft storystream.
School: Georgetown Hoyas
Position: Center back, but may end up as a conversion project at right back
Size: 5'11"/168 lbs
Yes, that's a center back with the physical size of your average MLS wide midfielder. Players like Muller can sometimes be a hard sell in MLS, but a team willing to trust a cerebral player with underrated leaping ability will probably find a respectable pro in the Florida native. Soccer IQ goes a long way defensively, and Muller is among the smartest players in the draft. While he may never reach the career heights of Michael Parkhurst, the former Revolution center back is who comes to mind when considering the Georgetown captain.
Still, any time you're looking at a conversion project, you do have to be very sure that you can make it work. The NASL and USL ranks are full of college players that got drafted but never adapted to the role their MLS coach had in mind, and in most cases those players revert back to the role they played growing up. Throw in Muller's history of back trouble that kept him out of ten games this season (including three NCAA tournament matches), and you can see how Muller's appealing intelligence might not draw the early-first-round attention it would otherwise deserve.
Muller should be able to play right back in terms of the physical demands of the position, and he'll certainly pick up the positional side of things, but will he have the skill on the ball to help teams get into the attack? As a center back, he hasn't spent much time crossing balls on the run or dribbling, both of which are crucial to what many teams want out of their fullbacks. There aren't too many MLS clubs that still prefer to field stay-at-home right backs these days.