As was established in part one of this series, it's the first time in years that D.C. United has been stuck with a truly difficult-to-predict selection in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft. Four picks are held by teams with brand-new head coaches, four more are held by second-year coaches, and that's not even counting sides with a history of unpredictable draft behavior (like Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders).
That's the pessimist's way of seeing things. I'm more of an optimist when it comes to soccer, though, so the approach is different. This may not be a particularly talent-rich draft field as some previous years have been, but that doesn't mean that United can't come away with a player who can help us right away as well as one with the potential to be a good starter in years to come.
With that in mind, we have four more players to look at as potential United draft picks:
School: Virginia Cavaliers
Size: 6'0"/185 lbs
Bates is a classic target forward who is very comfortable holding the ball up to allow other players to get into the attack. That alone should make him an intriguing option for United, who lost Maicon Santos to the Chicago Fire in the Re-Entry Draft. Bates might not have the cannon shot that Santos has, but he is a physical player capable of scoring goals (48 in his UVa career including 15 game-winners, good enough for joint-third in Cavalier history).
The expectations for Bates aren't sky-high, but no one sees him as the kind of player who will flop in MLS either. Rather, he projects as a solid player who could grow into a starting role in the right scenario. Being mentored by someone like Lionard Pajoy in terms of hold-up play and defensive work would certainly help Bates get minutes, and it's certainly easier to grow into a target forward's role when you're surrounded by guys like Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius, and Nick DeLeon.
If Bates ends up finding more comfort as a poacher than as a target, he might not be Ben Olsen's cup of tea. However, it's not like Olsen left Hamdi Salihi out of his teams entirely, and the price tag would be somewhere around one-tenth as expensive. Sure, it's unlikely that Bates would be as sharp a finisher or as clever off the ball as Salihi is at the start of his career, but the quality gap won't be nearly as large as the one in salary would be. In terms of value, United could do a lot worse here. Even if United signs another forward, Bates would still have a good chance of being an improvement over Long Tan on the depth chart straight away.
School: Santa Clara Broncos
Position: Right midfield and forward
Size: 5'9"/180 lbs
Hurtado would be a great fit for United. Capable of playing right midfield and forward, Hurtado is a great athlete - he had the second-fastest 30 yard sprint time at the Combine, and the third-best vertical leap - who had an outstanding senior season (15 goals and 7 assists in 19 games). Hurtado was a forward with Santa Clara, but most likely will end up as a right midfielder in MLS. That would be just fine for DCU, where goal-scoring wingers are a big part of what we do.
There is a downside, however. Hurtado is considered among the top prospects in terms of being ready to start this season, making him very attractive to the teams with early picks. Any team playing a 433 or 4231 would love to have a goal-scoring right winger, and that leaves out teams like TFC that needs talent at virtually every position.
It's something of a surprise that Hurtado is even in the draft. He's a Portland Timbers academy product, but wasn't in their program long enough to be eligible for a Homegrown contract. That's a shame for PTFC, but someone else is going to be happy as a result. There is also a rumor that a Swedish club could be interested in signing him, but it appears that he's more likely to sign for whatever club drafts him on Thursday.
For United, taking Hurtado would probably be an easy decision. Not only would he likely be the best talent available at #17, but he would fit into the team's need for a right midfielder capable of helping the team out off the bench. The odds of him falling this far are low, but that's what they said about Kitchen being available in 2011 too. Hopefully we get lucky once again, because Hurtado would be among my top 10 picks for any team in this draft field.
School: West Virginia Mountaineers
Position: Center back
Size: 6'2"/147 lbs
If not for a couple of question marks, Schoenle would probably be among the candidates for a very early pick. The first issue is one you've already read: 147 pounds. There's no way around the fact that Schoenle is going to have to put on some muscle mass to deal with the physicality many MLS teams ask for out of their forwards. Otherwise, he's just going to get pushed around.
The other issue for Schoenle as far as the draft is concerned is that West Virginia underachieved in 2012, going 9W-2D-6L on the season. That looks bad, but defending wasn't the problem; the Mountaineers only gave up more than one goal in just three games all season. Schoenle's anticipation and positioning are top-notch for any college center back, and his organizational ability was vital for a team that simply didn't score enough goals. Speaking of which, Schoenle did more than his fair share on that front, surprisingly leading West Virginia in scoring with 6 goals.
Nonetheless, taking Schoenle would be a risk for United. On one hand, with Emiliano Dudar still deciding whether or not he's willing to take a pay cut, selecting a center back might make sense at #17. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Schoenle being physically strong enough to compete in a conference that features strikers like CJ Sapong, Will Bruin, Kenny Cooper, and now Conor Casey. United has an injury-prone center back in Dejan Jakovic, so our third-choice needs to be close to starting quality.
Soccer IQ can go a long way - see Michael Parkhurst - but to succeed as an undersized center back, you have to be more or less the smartest player on the field. It's unfair to expect that any time soon out of a kid coming from the college ranks, but there is a chance Schoenle can blossom into that kind of player down the road.
School: Maryland Terrapins
Position: Central midfield
Size: 6'0"/170 lbs
Stertzer was the attacking midfielder for one of the top programs in the nation, but he is expected to play more of a box-to-box role in MLS. Why? Well, Maryland's real star player was MAC Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins, who would have been a candidate to go #1overall but opted to stay in school for his senior season. Mullins was the straw that stirred the drink for the Terrapins, creating plenty of chances both as a withdrawn forward and at times from left midfield. Stertzer's job was to be a major compliment to Mullins, forcing teams to give the Louisiana native some space.
Where does that leave Stertzer? There are two prominent central attacking midfielders to come out of the Maryland program in recent years: Graham Zusi and "The (former) Standard" Stephen King. One is currently pushing for a starting job on the US national team, and the other just got released by United but could probably help a lower-tier MLS side. King is the more common comparison for Stertzer, because both were attacking midfielders that had to adapt to MLS as linking central mids to make it.
To be fair to Stertzer, though, he might have slightly more vision and skill as a passer than King, who was more of a goal-scoring midfielder in college than a true playmaker. That probably translates to a lengthier MLS career, given that most coaches will prefer a player who can work hard, maintain possession, and keep up the speed of play over a guy who needs to be scoring goals to be effective. Stertzer may have an easier time adapting to the pro game than King has had over the years.
Stertzer may well be available when United is on the clock, but there is a significant chance that he'll be taken in the last few picks before #17 comes up. He'd be a good addition for the Black-and-Red, as he'd give Ben Olsen a more attack-minded central midfield option to choose from alongside Perry Kitchen. It would be a similar role to the one he had with Sasho Cirovski's Terrapins, except the Mullins role is held by Dwayne De Rosario. That step up in terms of supporting cast could give Stertzer a comfortable learning curve as he adapts to MLS.