MLS SuperDraft high on attacking talent, risk-reward selections
A strong group of forwards includes Darren Mattocks and Chandler Hoffman
This year's class has churned out the highest-quality crop of attacking midfielders
The class of goalkeepers doesn't feature any spectacular, stud prospects
There are two traits prevalent among the top prospects available in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft: finishing and creating.
Even with two of the country's best young attacking players, North Carolina forward Billy Schuler and Virginia winger Brian Span, going after professional offers in Sweden, there is still plenty of attacking talent to be had in Thursday's two-round affair, and that should be reflected by the majority of early selections in the draft.
The depth chart is not as extensive on the defensive end of the field, but the top tier of defending prospects, especially central defenders, can certainly step in to the right situation and plug holes across the back of MLS lineups.
Here are 30 of the top collegiate players available, sorted by position.
(Generation adidas players -- underclassmen who left school early to sign with the league and whose salaries will not count against their teams' salary cap -- are noted):
1. Darren Mattocks, So., Akron (Generation adidas)
2. Dom Dwyer, Jr., South Florida (Generation adidas)
3. Chandler Hoffman, Jr., UCLA (Generation adidas)
4. Casey Townsend, Sr., Maryland
5. Sam Garza, Jr., UCSB (Generation adidas)
6. Ethan Finlay, Sr., Creighton
7. Colin Rolfe, Sr., Louisville
8. Brian Ownby, Sr., Virginia
Of this crew, Hoffman, Townsend and Finlay have helped themselves the most at the MLS Combine. Hoffman and Townsend formed a super tandem, working off each other well and showing that there's more to both of their games than just scoring goals, although they each managed to find the back of the net twice in the first two games as well. Townsend's holdup play is an underrated part of his game, and he is just as adept in the air as he is with the ball at his feet.
Mattocks is still the best prospect of the bunch, though. The Jamaican is the latest Akron attacking product earmarked for success, following in the footsteps of Steve Zakuani, Teal Bunbury and Darlington Nagbe. He'll run at and by defenders with his pace, and his scoring record -- 39 goals in two seasons -- speaks for itself.
Finlay arrived to the combine late after taking part in the MAC Hermann Trophy presentation -- he was a finalist but did not win -- and immediately turned a hat trick, something that had to turn some scouts' heads. He doesn't have anywhere near the same physical tools and pace as the likes of some of his counterparts, but he was as productive as it gets at Creighton (43 goals in four years) and is a deadly finisher.
Dwyer broke out in 2012 after transferring from a Texas junior college, scoring 16 goals while playing in one of the country's toughest conferences and against some of the best individual defenders in the NCAA. The England-born forward is blessed with finishing prowess, and what he lacks in size (5-foot-9) he makes up for with blistering speed.
Garza, who can play up top or on the wing, was perhaps on the path to a standout international youth career before a torn ACL ended his hopes of making the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup team. A few years removed from that injury, he has overcome that adversity, recovered his pace and quick step and remains aggressive in taking on defenders.
Rolfe's collegiate productivity is met with questions about his work rate and whether his skill set translates to the next level, but he improved after his standout junior season and displayed a knack for coming up in big moments for the Cardinals. He came up with two goals and four assists in a three-game stretch during the NCAA Tournament, in which Louisville was on the cusp of making the College Cup for the second straight year.
Ownby presents a high-risk, high-reward alternative. Blessed with tremendous skill and a U.S. youth program pedigree -- he scored a goal in the 2009 U-20 World Cup -- Ownby has had his career altered by injuries on a number of occasions. He managed to stay relatively healthy this season after starting the campaign on the sidelines, and the result was a six-goal campaign that, for the most part, underwhelmed. Even so, his potential as a gifted finisher might just be too much for teams to pass up.
1. Kelyn Rowe, So., UCLA (Generation adidas)
2. Nick DeLeon, Sr., Louisville
3. Enzo Martinez, Jr., North Carolina (Generation adidas)
4. Luis Silva, Sr., UCSB
5. Tony Cascio, Sr., UConn
6. Calum Mallace, Sr., Marquette
7. Kirk Urso, Sr., North Carolina
This year's class has churned out perhaps the highest-quality crop of attacking midfielders the draft has ever seen, all of whom are smooth creators, accurate passers and can hold their own on the ball. Rowe is a U.S. U-23 central midfield spark who has been pegged for professional success for years and stands a strong chance at cracking Caleb Porter's roster for Olympic qualifying.
Martinez took his game to another level in UNC's run to the College Cup title, frequently combining with Schuler and acting as the engine behind the Tar Heels' high-octane attack. Silva, meanwhile, might be the most valuable player at the combine fresh off a tremendous season for the Gauchos in which he scored 17 goals and set up 10 others. His proven vision and ability to finish and orchestrate an attack has him rising up draft boards as Thursday approaches.
In any other year, DeLeon might be considered the hands-down best attacking option in the draft. He can excel in the center or on the wings and often leaves his marks flat-footed while he zooms by. His off-the-ball instincts are spot on as well, and he's a player ready to come in and contribute immediately.
Cascio is not nearly as explosive an option as the aforementioned four, but he is very capable of finding minutes in a professional environment and was consistently productive and steady in his four years at Connecticut. In a pool thin on true wing options, he should hear his name called during the middle-to-late portion of the first round.
Mallace and Urso are more the industrious, possession-conscious, ball-winning types, and while their contributions are a lot less glamorous than those of some of their midfield counterparts, they can each be helpful at the next level. The aptly named Mallace, who won't back down from entering a tackle, has shown well at the combine and appears to have pushed himself into the first-round discussion.
1. Andrew Wenger, Jr., Duke (Generation adidas)
2. Matt Hedges, Sr., North Carolina
3. Austin Berry, Sr., Louisville
4. Andrew Jean-Baptiste, So., UConn (Generation adidas)
5. Aaron Maund, Sr., Notre Dame
6. Tommy Meyer, Sr., Indiana
Wenger is a peculiar prospect. A year removed from winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, he shifted up top, scored 17 goals and won ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors and the Hermann Trophy as college soccer's top player. Even so, he projects as a center back (or defensive midfielder) on the pro level. He is extremely comfortable with the ball at his feet, can distribute and play out of the back, is strong in the air and reads the game well. He offers plenty going forward, too. It's no wonder why he's a consensus top-two overall projected pick.
Hedges, Berry and Maund are built in the same sturdy, ball-winning mold, with Hedges a cut above the rest because of his comfort level with the ball at his feet and his penchant for shutting down top-level forwards, which he did throughout his time at North Carolina. From a ready-to-play-now standpoint, the 6-foot-4 Hedges is the best bet after Wenger. Both Maund and Meyer are familiar with the U.S. youth setup, having been a part of teams in the 2009 U-20 and 2007 U-17 World Cups, respectively.
Baptiste, just 19, is a prospect that oozes upside. He is someone who clearly has demonstrated that he has the size and skills to be elite, but he would benefit from some more seasoning to completely lock down his fundamentals and become more consistent. From a raw athleticism perspective, he is second to none.
1. Tyler Polak, So., Creighton (Generation adidas)
2. Hunter Jumper, Sr., Virginia
3. Mykell Bates, Sr., Santa Clara
4. Chris Estridge, Sr., Indiana
5. R.J. Allen, Sr., Monmouth
6. James Kiffe, Sr., UCSB
Polak and Jumper are the class of the bunch. Both get up and down the left side with pace, regularity and discipline while not sacrificing their defensive responsibilities, although Polak has not been helping his case at the combine. He has been a part of the U.S. youth system from the U-14 level though the Bradenton academy all the way to playing in the U-17 World Cup in 2009 and has proved to be reliable at Creighton, but adjusting to the speed and physicality of MLS will be a process. Estridge doesn't offer the same wow factor as either Polak or Jumper, but his attacking and crossing qualities would be a welcome addition to the many teams looking for hope at left back.
The pool of right backs is even more limited (which makes it all the more puzzling how undersized yet extremely quick and attack-minded West Virginia prospect Ray Gaddis didn't even get an invitation to the combine), putting a premium on productive-if-not-special players like Bates (a former U.S. U-17 captain and attacking threat) and Allen for teams in desperate need of help on that side of the field.
Chris Blais, Sr., South Florida
Ryan Meara, Sr., Fordham
Brian Rowe, Sr., UCLA
This year's goalkeeper class doesn't have a spectacular, stud prospect, but first-year understudies like 2011 D.C. United third-round pick Joe Willis showed there is still value in drafting a reliable backup. Cutting the draft to two rounds lessens the chance of multiple goalkeepers hearing their names called in Kansas City -- especially with few teams really in the market for goalkeeping help -- but these three seniors won't get by the ensuing supplemental draft.
Ahead of this past season, Blais transferred from Michigan to South Florida, where he anchored the back for a solid Bulls team. He is an aggressive shot stopper and entered the season as the top senior goalkeeper in the country. Meara, a strong communicator, has picked up steam, especially at the combine, where he has been tested by the top-notch competition he didn't necessarily face with regularity at Fordham. Rowe backstopped UCLA to 12 clean sheets in 22 games this past season, his second as a full-time starter.