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MLS On Campus: Stakes rise as NCAA tourney kicks off

Zavaleta

Photo Credit: 
Photo courtesy of Indiana University

We’ve reached tournament time – that period of the year when one or two good performances can take a player from off the radar to the top of MLS draft boards and an early exit can ruin a player who was once thought of as a future star. The NCAA Tournament runs through the next month, and the combine is less than two months away! With that in mind, here is the latest version of MLSsoccer.com's Big Board of MLS prospects for 2013.

Note: The comparisons are for fun, please don’t take them too seriously.

Note: There are 20 players this time around, which will account for some drops in rankings.

Rank Player School Comment MLS Comparison

1 (Prev.: 1)

 

Gyasi Zardes

Junior Forward

CSU Bakersfield

 

 

It’s a shame that the most dynamic player in the college game won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament. Zardes’ 15 goals in 17 games weren’t quite enough to lead the Roadrunners to the tournament. It seems exceedingly unlikely Zardes returns for his senior year with a Homegrown contract with the Galaxy a possibility, not to mention the option of trying his luck in Europe.

 

 

 

 

Darren Mattocks

2 (3)

 

Eriq Zavaleta

Sophomore
Forward

Indiana University

 

 

Zavaleta has almost single-handedly carried the Hoosiers to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The big, strong forward is good with the ball at his feet and doesn’t need two chances to grab a goal. Playing in a defensively stout Big Ten Conference, Zavaleta was unanimously selected Offensive Player of the Year with 16 goals.

 

 

 

Will Bruin

3 (2)

 

Carlos Alvarez

Senior Midfielder

Connecticut

 

 

The jump from college to the pros is steeper for central attacking midfielders, more so than in any other position, so Alvarez is a gamble. When you’ve been as consistently impressive as he has been over the last four years in the Big East, however, you raise some eyebrows. Alvarez’s senior season of seven goals and eight assists was good for Big East Midfielder of the Year and in the right MLS system he can be a game-changer.

 

 

 

 

Luis Silva

4 (4)

 

Andre Blake

Sophomore
Goalkeeper

Connecticut

 

 

The 6-foot-4 Jamaican almost single-handedly kept UConn in the Big East Tournament at times last weekend and could join Zac MacMath as the only goalkeeper taken in the first round of the SuperDraft since 2008. Blake will go through growing pains in MLS as he improves his decision making, but the raw talent is off the charts.

 

 

 

Donovan Ricketts

5 (9)

 

Dillon Powers

Senior
Midfielder

Notre Dame

 

 

While the entire season is important, the fact is that MLS scouts start to really watch closely at tournament time, and there was probably no player raised his stock more over the past couple weeks than Powers. A two-way midfielder with advanced understanding of when to push forward and when to stay back, Powers is the most MLS-ready of any central midfielder in the draft.

 

 

 

Christian Tiffert

6 (6)

 

Walker Zimmerman

Sophomore
Defender

Furman

 

 

Zimmerman is another of the NCAA stars that won’t have a chance to shine in the tournament. Walker is strong in the air with a nose for scoring goals and strong leadership qualities that MLS coaches will love, and he’s even got his own website. The question is whether he will be offered a Generation adidas contract this year.

 

 

 

Patrick Ianni

7 (7)

 

Scott Caldwell

Senior
Midfielder

Akron

 

 

He’s not physically imposing and doesn’t have the creative flair that stands out in a game, but Caldwell simply gets it done at the NCAA level. Caldwell assisted on all four goals Akron scored in the MAC Tournament and has stood out in Caleb Porter’s packed midfield. Scott should join the Revolution on a Homegrown contract once Akron’s postseason run is over.

 

 

 

Michael Stephens

8 (5)

 

Mikey Lopez

Sophomore
Midfielder

North Carolina

 

 

Lopez’s stock has dropped a bit after an ineffectual ACC tournament. His slight frame doesn’t translate well to playing as a defensive-minded midfielder in MLS, but his vision and positioning are among the best in the college game. He would be very smart to refine his game at UNC for another year or two before hitting MLS.

 

 

 

 

Luis Gil

9 (13)

 

Ryan Hollingshead

Senior
Midfielder

UCLA

 

 

The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Hollingshead brings a big, 6-foot-1, 180-pound body to the MLS level as an outside winger who can play as a supporting forward as well. He doesn’t have the explosive speed that many MLS wingers do, but his strength on the ball will translate well. He’s a player that could vault himself into the top tier of senior draft prospects with a good NCAA Tournament.

 

 

 

Tony Cascio

10 (12)

 

Kyle Venter

Junior
Defender

New Mexico

 

 

A three-year starter for the Lobos, Venter doesn’t really have much left to prove at the college level. He’s got the size of a starting MLS center back, reads the game fantastically well and his Lobos have allowed just one goal in their last eight games.

 

 

 

Matt Hedges

11 (14)

 

Mamadou Doudou Diouf

Junior Forward

Connecticut

 

 

All this big Senegalese forward does is score goals. He’s tall and lanky and has no problem physically shrugging off defenders in the college game, but may struggle to adapt at the MLS level. However, with all the tools in his arsenal, Diouf should go pretty high if he signs a Generation adidas contract.

 

 

 

Kei Kamara

12 (UR)

 

Ryan Finley

Senior
Forward

Notre Dame

 

 

Simply put, Finley is the hottest forward in the college game right now. The New Jersey native scored three goals in three Big East Tournament games, including his 20th goal of the season, good the second-most in Division I college soccer. It’s not that he does anything fantastically well, he simply always finds himself in the right place at the right time.

 

 

 

Ryan Johnson

13 (16)

 

Jose Gomez

Senior
Midfielder

Creighton

 

 

A bit of a wild card, playing as an attacking midfielder in a weaker conference, but a strong run to end the season has Gomez moving up the draft charts. The Southern California native could become a top pick with a good tournament, with Creighton is on a collision course with Akron in the third round.

 

 

 

David Ferreira

14 (19)

 

John Stertzer

Senior
Midfielder

Maryland

 

 

He broke out in 2011 with 14 goals from his attacking midfield position. Stertzer has a solid all-around game and should be a late first-round or early second-round pick to add some midfield depth. He's not likely to be a star, but teams picking at the tail end of the first round will look for someone who can give them quality minutes at several spots. Stertzer fits that bill.

 

 

 

Eric Alexander

15 (UR)

 

Andrew Farrell

Junior Defender

Louisville

 

 

A a strong, fearless defender who has good positioning sense and does well enough in the air to get by. He’s not really someone who wows you with physical tools, but you simply never see him get beat by attackers.

 

 

 

Brandon McDonald

16 (15)

 

London Woodberry

Senior
Defender

Maryland

 

 

Simply a very solid defender who has led a young Maryland defense to great heights. A member of the first FC Dallas Academy class, Woodberry is very likely to sign with FCD this offseason and fill in right away at outside back.

 

 

 

Jalil Anibaba

17 (10)

 

Ashton Bennett

Senior
Forward

Coastal Carolina

 

 

Bennett has terrorized the Big South Conference over the past two seasons, but it’s still the Big South. His highlight reels are impressive, but the step up to MLS is a big one from lesser conferences. The Combine will be huge for the Jamaican forward.

 

 

 

Edson Buddle

18 (UR)

 

Mark Sherrod

Junior Forward

Memphis

 

 

He flies a bit under the radar having grown up in Tennessee and played at Memphis, but he won’t be unknown for long. Sherrod is the two-time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, having scored 12 goals this season after dropping 19 goals last year. At 6-foot-3, he’s a terror for defenses to handle, but can hit goals from outside the box as well.

 

 

 

Kenny Cooper

19 (18)

 

Eric Schoenle

Senior
Defender

West Virginia

 

 

A four-year starter at West Virginia, Schoenle was rumored to be a target for Generation adidas last season but returned for his senior year. He earned a position on the All-MAC First Team while leading his team with six goals out of the back. The Mountaineers missed out on the Tournament, so the Combine is up next for Schoenle.

 

 

 

Bobby Boswell

20 (UR)

 

Steve Neumann

Junior
Midfielder

Georgetown

 

 

The junior from Pennsylvania was named to the All-Big East First Team for his second straight year in 2012 with seven goals and 11 assists this season. Neumann comes from an advanced central midfield position to score tons of goals while providing service for outstanding freshman Brandon Allen. His stock could go way up with a good post-season.

 

 

 

Graham Zusi