Mock MLS SuperDraft 2011: The Big Nine
This year's class is dominated by the University of Akron. The Zips were the NCAA runner-up in 2009 and champion in 2010 (photo) and lost just one game over the course of two seasons.
Three members of the burgeoning dynasty went pro a year ago, led by Sporting Kansas City forward Teal Bunbury, who recently made his debut with the U.S. national team.
This year, MLS commissioner Don Garber may as well read off Akron's starting lineup at the podium.
But there's plenty of other talent available as well in what is considered a deep draft. Here is FanHouse's prediction for how the top half of the first round will play out:
1. Vancouver Whitecaps: Darlington Nagbe, F (University of Akron, 20)
The Whitecaps need strikers, pure and simple. At this moment, Vancouver doesn't have a single natural forward signed to its roster. Nagbe, a junior and one of three finalists for this year's MAC Hermann Trophy (which will be awarded to college soccer's best player on Friday), is a perfect fit for the expansion club.
He's fast, he's strong, and he's a constant menace to opposing defenses. He also boasts impressive experience for a player of his age, having appeared in two NCAA College Cup finals -- including the win over Louisville last month. Nagbe had seven goals and 13 assists. The Ohio product, whose father played for the Liberian national team, would have an immediate impact for the Whitecaps and likely would be a starter in his first professional season.
2. Portland Timbers: Will Bruin, F (Indiana University, 21)
Bruin joins Nagbe as MAC Hermann finalist and offers the Timbers No. 1 pick quality at No. 2. The St. Louis native has proven himself a prolific goalscorer, finishing his college career with 33 goals in 66 games. What's most attractive about Bruin, however, is his leadership qualities and maturity.
The fact that he's considered one of the best three college players in the country even though Indiana finished with an underwhelming 10-7-2 record should tell you something. He knows how to perform and how to lead, which makes him perfect for an expansion side looking to hit the ground running in March.
3. DC United: Perry Kitchen, D (University of Akron, 18)
D.C. needs help on both sides of the ball after a dreadful 2010 season, but the offseason acquisitions of midfielder Dax McCarty and forwards Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolfe have shored up the offense a bit. The focus for newly-installed head coach Ben Olsen during the draft, then, must be his defense.
Kitchen, from Indianapolis, was a sensation in his first and only season at Akron, playing the classical "stopper" role as part of a smothering Zips back line that yielded just 16 goals in 25 games. At the other end of the pitch, his game-tying, 30-yard howitzer against Michigan in the College Cup semifinals arguably was the goal of the collegiate season. He's incredibly talented at just 18 years old, and would be a great long-term investment for United.
4. Chivas USA: Anthony Ampaipitakwong, MF (University of Akron, 22)
The seemingly obvious choice here for the Goats' brand would be 17-year-old Texas phenom, U.S. under-20 international and former Chivas de Guadalajara man Omar Salgado, but a stable of strikers that already includes Justin Braun, Alan Gordon, Alejandro Moreno, and Tristan Bowen makes the acquisition of another forward a bit unnecessary.
The better option is another Akron player, Ampaipitakwong, who could provide some of the midfield spark so sorely lacking for the Red-and-White last season. Captain of this season's Zips side, the Texan was in residency with the under-17 national team in Florida and is a composed figure both on and off the field. A move to Chivas USA would reunite the 22-year-old with former teammates Ben Zemanski and Blair Gavin and give the Goats a trio of talented young midfielders who know each other well.
After a season that saw them concede 49 goals-against (second-worst in MLS), it's safe to say that Philadelphia needs defenders. The natural choice, then, is Akron outside-back and 2010 All-American Sarkodie. The Ohio native showed impressive skill at the College Cup, where he notched the game-winning goal over Michigan in the semifinals and played a huge role in shutting down the potent offense of both the Wolverines and Louisville. There are few defensive options in this year's draft as capable Sarkodie.
6. New England Revolution: Zarek Valentin, D (University of Akron, 19)
It's six picks, and five Zips. Like Philadelphia, New England has major defensive issues that they've struggled to correct. Enter Valentin. Like many of his Akron teammates, Valentin's resume is staggering for somebody so young. The Pennsylvania product has represented the U.S. in the FIFA U-17 World Cup and at the U-20 Milk Cup, and was named 2009 MAC newcomer of the year. As the Revolution look to rebound from a 2010 season that saw them yield a league-worst 50 goals in 30 games, Valentin would be a perfect investment.
7. Houston Dynamo: Omar Salgado, F (Chivas de Guadalajara, 17)
Salgado is ideal for Houston. As the Dynamo transition transition out of their back-to-back MLS Cup title era and look toward a new future, Salgado would provide fresh energy and spark. Off the field, he's a local boy with roots in both Texas and Mexico who could become the new face of the club. On it, he's a dynamic and pacey striker with a nose for goal. Having spent two years with Chivas de Guadalajara before switching allegiance to the U.S. national team program and declaring himself eligible for the MLS draft, he's the only one of the likely top draftees with any real professional experience. The Dynamo will feel fortunate to nab him if he falls this low.
8. Vancouver Whitecaps: Corey Hertzog, F (Penn State, 20)
As mentioned above, Vancouver needs to improve its offense before the season starts. It's speaks well of the club's that they went for substance over style when made U.S. national team defender Jay DeMerit the league's first defensive designated player, but you can't win games without putting the ball into the net.
That's exactly why Hertzog would fit perfectly with the Whitecaps -- especially if they take Nagbe first overall. Nagbe is a playmaker; a powerful force in the box who can create opportunities for his teammates. Hertzog, on the other hand, is a goalmouth predator. The 20-year-old led the NCAA last season with 20 goals and would be a fitting partner for Nagbe up top..
9. Chicago Fire: Michael Farfan, MF (University of North Carolina, 22)
Since the end of the 2010 season, Chicago has lost C.J. Brown and Brian McBride to retirement, Peter Lowry and John Thorrington in the dxpansion draft, and Krysztof Krol, Freddie Ljungberg, Collins John, and Wilman Conde through contract expiration or trades. Needless to say, the Fire need to rebuild.
Farfan, one of four college seniors already signed to an MLS league contract, is an ideal candidate. He is composed in midfield and demonstrates impressive vision for a player his age. The California product was the only bright spot for a disappointing UNC side at the College Cup, and could make an immediate impact for the Fire in 2011.