Team-by-team MLS draft needs
Either Akron's Darlington Nagbe or Perry Kitchen will go first in MLS SuperDraft
Houston has fewest selections (one), New England, Seattle have most (five)
Toronto FC could use help just about everywhere, but it has no first-round pick
Even though Major League Soccer teams tend to fill immediate needs with established players, either based domestically or internationally, there has been a growing presence in the league among first-year professionals. This upcoming season should be no different. Combine yet another strong college class with a few promising young prospects from abroad, and Thursday's MLS SuperDraft should feature a bevy of players who will significantly influence the 2011 campaign.
The league shortened the draft from four rounds to three rounds last week, with all preexisting fourth-round picks becoming first-rounders in next week's supplemental draft. As such, each round contains 18 picks with each team having at least one selection. Houston has the fewest selections (one), while New England and Seattle have the most (five).
Here's a breakdown of what each team has added and lost in the offseason so far, what holes each team, including the expansion teams Vancouver and Portland, will try to fill and who some potential selections may be in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft:
Draft picks: 1, 8, 19, 37
The Whitecaps' lack of goal scorers is as glaring a need as there is in the league. Enter Akron product, Hermann Trophy winner and Generation Adidas signee Darlington Nagbe, who could step in immediately and provide a physical presence with a deft scoring touch atop Teitur Thordarson's formation.
After acquiring Toronto FC's first-round pick, the Whitecaps have three of the first 19 picks in the draft and are well-positioned to add top-tier young talent to an intriguing roster that already contains U.S. national team center back Jay DeMerit and veteran goalkeeper Joe Cannon. Securing a left back is a must, though, and with either its second or third pick the Whitecaps could land talent like UCSB's Michael Tetteh or Connecticut's Greg King, respectively. Either would bring an attacking aspect to the left flank.
Draft picks: 2, 20, 22
The Timbers carried over their abundance of goal scorers from their USSF Division 2 side, but can they contribute at the MLS level? If the Whitecaps don't go with Nagbe, the Timbers will be hard-pressed to let him slide past them. If he's off the board, they should take a look at perhaps the most highly regarded overall talent in the draft, versatile defensive midfielder/center back Perry Kitchen of Akron.
Like Vancouver, Portland should benefit greatly from its three early selections. The Timbers have a solid core group of defenders, meaning they may focus on adding attack-minded players with their picks.
Key Losses: Jaime Moreno, Rodney Wallace, Troy Perkins, Danny Allsopp, Jordan Graye
Key Additions: Dax McCarty, Joseph Ngwenya, Josh Wolff, Ethan White, Steve Cronin
Draft picks: 3, 31
D.C. appears to be set at midfield and goalkeeper, which is a plus considering this year's draft class is top heavy with strikers and defenders. With the third overall selection, D.C. will have its choice of top-tier attackers, fullbacks and center backs. After already signing the University of Maryland's would-be first-round defender, White (a homegrown player), D.C. may turn its attention to the rebuilding effort on the front line, which already includes re-entry draft selections Ngwenya and Wolff. Indiana's Will Bruin and U.S. Under-20 product Omar Salgado seem to be the likely fits, with the latter being the least likely to contribute immediately (although 17-year-old Andy Najar did just fine in his first season in the nation's capital).
Key Losses: Jonathan Bornstein, Giancarlo Maldonado, Marcelo Saragosa
Key Additions: Jimmy Conrad, Tristan Bowen, Alejandro Moreno
Draft picks: 4, 40
Incoming coach Robin Fraser knows one thing quite well: defense. Fraser, a former Best XI defender in his playing days, is fresh off overseeing the stingiest defense in the league as an assistant coach with Real Salt Lake. With plenty of options on the board, he could continue to rebuild Chivas' back line with Akron's Zarek Valentin or Kofi Sarkodie. The club has two young options at forward to build around in Justin Braun and Tristan Bowen, but considering Omar Salgado's ties to the Chivas de Guadalajara organization, the Mexican-American would be a natural fit and might be too tantalizing to pass up for the Goats should he be around at pick No. 4.
Key Losses: Chris Seitz, Alejandro Moreno, Shea Salinas
Key Additions: Brian Carroll
Draft picks: 5, 23, 42
With veteran Colombian and FC Cologne goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon rumored to be signing with the club, the Union could attend to their other issues with the fifth overall selection, which would seemingly rule out their picking touted Maryland goalkeeper Zac MacMath. The club relied far too much on Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga to produce offensively and could use some more firepower up front. Even though Jack McInerney should have a more expanded role in his second year, Penn State's Corey Hertzog, whom the club unsuccessfully attempted to sign as a homegrown player, and Bruin would be solid fits for coach Peter Nowak. The Union could also use a playmaking central midfielder and could address that need with their second pick.