In what is shaping up to be a crazy draft, D.C. United has held steady. We're still set to draft at #17 sometime after noon today. That could change given the amount of activity out there already. Toronto FC traded the #1 pick to the New England Revolution for the #4 pick and some money, while the Chicago Fire also traded their first round spot to the Colorado Rapids as part of a package deal to get Jeff Larentowicz. This was all yesterday, and there was plenty of talk about more moves to come before all is said and done.
Still, we're trying to cover all of our bases here at B&RU, and that means taking a look at the wide range of players that could theoretically still be on the board when United goes on the clock.
School: Creighton Bluejays
Position: Attacking midfield
Size: 5'9"/155 lbs
We've covered what would make Gomez a smart pick. Teams wanting to emphasize a technical style of play will be interested, and there is that trial with Xolos, but unless Ben Olsen and Dave Kasper don't think he'll adapt to MLS, he's a strong candidate to be the best player left at #17.
School: North Carolina Tarheels
Position: Defensive midfield
Size: 5'8"/160 lbs
A USA under-20, Lopez is listed at the top of Top Drawer Soccer's draft board. He'll turn 20 during the preseason, has Generation Adidas status, and generally is thought of as approaching "can't miss" status. It's hard to scoff at anyone with the under-20 national team, and the UNC program has been very strong in recent years.
However, MLS doesn't often reward slight players in defensive midfield. Lopez is an all-action kind of player who really makes a pest of himself, but it's more likely that Lopez will need a couple of years to get ahead of the game so that he's not constantly having to make physical challenges. Unlike our teenage-on-draft-day defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen, Lopez will need time.
Lopez put it out there that he wanted to play for Chivas USA, but the Goats have apparently decided that their man is UConn's Carlos Alvarez (unless they're trolling us all, which would be pretty awesome). While he may have been rejected by Chivas, he was being alleged to have teams in Europe and Mexico interested before he signed his GA deal. Plenty of teams would be happy to have a player of Lopez's potential, even if it's going to require a bit of patience to get the finished product.
It's not very likely at all that Lopez ends up with United. I'm pretty sure we'd snap him up if he's still there at #17, but between his GA status and his potential as a player, it would take a lot of things falling into place for him to end up with United.
School: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Position: Central midfield/defensive midfield
Size: 5'11"/172 lbs
Powers is a two-time NSCAA All-American who played in two matches at the 2009 under-20 World Cup for the United States and followed that the next year by winning the MVP award in the prestigious Milk Cup youth tournament. Obviously a young player with a track record like that is going to get some serious draft attention. The odds of him being high on most draft lists go up when you throw in the fact that he's already signed with MLS.
Powers has been something of a hard-working attacking midfielder in college, but with the u-20s had more of a box-to-box role in Thomas Rongen's 433. That's probably where he'll end up as a pro, though some reasonable observers say he'll have to make a conversion to being a straight-up defensive midfielder (think Marcelo Saragosa in style, rather than Kitchen). He has a knack for keeping the ball moving simply and quickly, but managed to get forward enough for the Fighting Irish that he chipped in 10 goals in his 78 college appearances.
Most mock drafts have Powers going in the middle of the first round, but a lot of those teams already have more than enough central midfielders. Sure they could take Powers and then figure out what to do with the surplus later, but many MLS teams aren't willing to take the "best player available" philosophy to that length.
There's at least a small chance that Powers slips through as teams pick up the seven GA players. If, say, John Stertzer and Ian Christianson are preferred by teams ahead of United looking for a central player, Powers all the sudden becomes a player that could fall to us. It wouldn't be a bad pick, as he would have a chance at pushing Saragosa for playing time straight away (particularly as a more attack-minded option in that spot).
School: New Mexico Lobos
Position: Left midfield, possibly right midfield?
Smith's resume is a persuasive one: 13 assists in 21 games as a senior with the Lobos - the same school that brought us Lance Rozeboom - following a 10-goal junior season. He's also the only player to place in the top five in each of the three physical tests MLS administered: 3rd in the 30 yard sprint (4.11 seconds), 3rd in the 5-10-5 shuttle run (4.10 seconds), and tied for 3rd in vertical (31 inches).
MLS clubs will always be interested in someone with that kind of elite athleticism provided he can actually play soccer to some degree, and Smith more that qualifies. He has a great sense of when to shift into his top gear down the wing, and is comfortable both firing in traditional crosses from out on the wing and cutting into the box for a lay-off or low cross.
Smith's versatility as a player has seen him play both as a wide man and as a forward during his development, and whether he's truly comfortable on both flanks will go a long way in determining just how interested United is in the Texan. All of United's current wide midfielders are more comfortable on the left flank (though with Nick DeLeon, it's almost splitting hairs). If Smith is unable to play on the right, he's just not going to have much of a chance to play.
However, if he's fine on both sides, United should be intrigued. Trading away Danny Cruz left the capital club without a traditional speedy winger. Chris Pontius likes to slash inside, while both DeLeon and Lewis Neal get results through skill and smarts than through pure pace. Having the option of lining up Smith against some slower defender would be a very nice ace to have up Ben Olsen's tailored sleeve.
The left backs (Jimmy Nealis, Taylor Kemp, Kory Kindle)
If you've been following me on Twitter, you know how I feel about United taking a left back: Negatively.
Is it a position of need? It probably will be something we need to address if Anderlecht is really about to offer the kind of money being rumored in the Honduran press for Andy Najar. Chris Korb and Daniel Woolard - who made the bench for United in the playoffs, which meant being cleared of any concussion issues - are a fine set of fullbacks, and Robbie Russell is about as good as it gets when we're talking about second-choice MLS right backs (thus freeing up Korb to play on the left if necessary).
However, part of the issue with drafting at #17 is that the talent pool isn't deep enough for you to turn down guys like Jose Gomez, Ian Christianson, or Smith to specifically address a positional need and hope it works out. It's a better idea to just take the player that's most likely to become a success, and figure out the fullback situation via some other means. I could see trading the #17 pick for a defender, but using it to draft one is a bad idea.
A lot of my complaints about this have to do with the crop of left backs available. The three above - from Georgetown, Maryland, and CSU Bakersfield, respectively - are all better going forward than at actually defending. When a team is having to go to the bench for a second-choice, inexperienced fullback, you don't want to add a dash of recklessness to what is already going to be an unstable situation.
Out of the three, Nealis is the best player in my book. He has a good sense of how to attack from his position while avoiding getting caught out, and he's a decent crosser of the ball with good size (6'0"/162 lbs). There's also a chance that he could become a left midfielder as a pro.
Taylor Kemp has been the most common mock draft pick for United, but I don't see it happening. He's had injury problems, and despite being a good passer and a reasonable offensive threat, he can be prone to turnovers in bad spots. His 1v1 defending is OK, but his positional play as part of a unit is a long way from being ready for MLS. I say this as a Maryland fan: I don't think he's going to turn into an MLS starter.
Kindle is pretty intriguing. He's the best athlete of the group, and one of the fastest players in the draft pool. He's said to be a good guy in the locker room, and we've seen plenty of MLS coaches mold raw athletes into good outside backs (see MLS Cup duo Sean Franklin and Corey Ashe as two of a long list of examples). That process takes time, though, and there's a chance that Kindle just becomes another great athlete who wasn't a great soccer player.
Honestly, I'd rather see United look elsewhere to deal with this problem. CCL play has proven that Honduran Brayan Beckeles (CD Olimpia) and Costa Rican Jose Salvatierra (LD Alajuelense) can play at a high level, and they're just guys off the top of my head. Salvatierra in particular has the makings of a top-notch player. If we have to replace Najar on our roster, why not do it directly rather than add someone at the bottom of the depth chart?