MLS on Campus: The top 19 SuperDraft prospects

Gyasi Zardes

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Cal State-Bakersfield

The NCAA soccer season has reached the halfway point, meaning non-conference games are now few and far between as the high-intensity conference schedule hits top gear.

It also means we now have a little bit better picture of the players making an impression on MLS clubs as we sit just a month away from all-important conference tournaments.

In honor of the 19 first-round picks in the SuperDraft in January, here’s a look at the top 19 players on my MLS big board as we head into conference play. Bear in mind that the Draft will look much different, since a number of these guys will sign Homegrown deals, some will return to school and a couple may even sign with teams in Europe.

For now, though, these are the 19 best pro prospects in the college game:

Rank Player School Comment

1

 

Gyasi Zardes

Junior Forward

CSU Bakersfield

 

 

Want to find the next Darren Mattocks? Look no further. The 21-year-old Zardes (above, right) has built on a breakout 2011 with seven goals and six assists in just nine games in 2012. Given the Galaxy’s glut of attacking talent, it’s almost not fair that LA have Homegrown rights to the forward, but rumors are that Europe could be calling this offseason.

2

 

Carlos Alvarez

Senior Midfielder

UConn

 

 

The senior engine of the UConn offense truly has it all in the middle of the pitch. Alvarez is good with both feet, has solid vision and finishes as well as he creates. A Los Angeles native, it seems that Alvarez and a Chivas USA bereft of creativity in the final third side could be a match made in heaven come SuperDraft time. The kid has a playmaker's brain.

3

 

Eriq Zavaleta

Sophomore
Forward

Indiana University

 

Is he a forward or is he a defender? This writer hopes Zavaleta goes to MLS as a target forward, because at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, the sophomore plays like former Indiana forward Will Bruin but has a much higher ceiling. Zavaleta is simply a goal scoring machine, with 21 goals in 24 career games at Indiana. The only question around him is could an MLS academy launch a sneaky bid to sign him as a Homegrown? He’s spent time with RSL, Chivas USA and Columbus.

4

 

Andre Blake

Sophomore
Goalkeeper

UConn

 

Blake could be the best goalkeeper the college game has seen since Brad Guzan. The 6-foot-4 Jamaican can still improve on his reading of the game and when to claim crosses, but his shot-stopping abilities are up there with many starters in MLS. The biggest question around Blake is not his talent, but where MLS clubs decide a goalkeeper of his caliber should be selected.

5

 

Mikey Lopez

Sophomore
Midfielder

North Carolina

 

Lopez, the deep-lying engine of the Tar Heels, is the only non-defensive player in college soccer to have been called up to Tab Ramos’ US U-20 squad for the Marbella Cup. The central Texas native is a bit undersized to play in an MLS midfield, and another year in college would probably do him well. But when you have the ability to control a game like Lopez does, it may be tough to turn down Generation adidas.

6

 

Walker Zimmerman

Sophomore
Defender

Furman

 

 

Possibly the best pure defender in college soccer, Zimmerman gained almost every accolade possible in his freshman year at Furman. His 6-foot-3 frame should fit in an MLS backline from Day 1 and he will provide his fair share in the attack as well, having scored nine goals in his young college career.

7

 

Scott Caldwell

Senior
Midfielder

Akron

 

 

Jay Heaps and the Revolution have seen their Homegrown midfielder’s stock go up every week of the NCAA season. Caldwell, one of the stars of Akron’s 2010 College Cup run, leads the Zips in goals and assists from his two-way midfield position. Assuming he will sign a Homegrown deal this winter, Caldwell will be another fantastic piece to Heaps’ already stacked central midfield.

8

 

Yannick Smith

Senior
Forward

Old Dominion

 

 

The forward from New Jersey is perhaps the biggest boom or bust forward prospect in this year’s draft class. Smith terrorized the NCAA with a breakout junior season of 16 goals in 20 games and has followed that up with three goals and three assists in eight games this year. Smith can be electrifying at times with good speed and strong ball skills, but undersized NCAA forwards don’t have a great track record in MLS. 

9

 

Dillon Powers

Senior
Midfielder

Notre Dame

 

 

If there’s one word to describe Dillon Powers, it would be consistent. The central midfielder from Plano, Texas, has been a four-year contributor and two-year captain for the Irish. The US U-20 World Cup veteran should go in the mid-first round and could start in an MLS midfield from Day 1. 

10

 

Ashton Bennet

Senior
Forward

Coastal Carolina

 

 

The junior-college transfer from Jamaica burst onto the scene in 2011, earning NSCAA First Team All-American honors as the nation’s leading scorer with 23 goals in 22 games. This season, he’s picked up right where he left off with seven goals in 12 games. His performance at the Combine will be very important because Coastal Carolina games don’t find their way onto TV too often, but the pure numbers are certainly there. 

11

 

Patrick Mullins

Junior Forward

Maryland

 

 

Mullins is your typical hard-working college forward with an engine that doesn’t quit. With half the season to go, the New Orleans native has already tied career highs in both goals and assists with six of each. Having played for a Chicago Fire satellite academy in Louisiana, Chicago may try to stake a Homegrown claim on him.

12

 

Kyle Venter

Junior
Defender

New Mexico

 

 

Venter, a physically dominant central defender (6-foot-3, 190 pounds), has started all three years at New Mexico and led the Lobos to an undefeated regular-season record last season. The Denver-area native leads a good UNM defense and could be targeted by Generation adidas, depending on what happens with a few other players.

13

 

Ryan Hollingshead

Senior
Midfielder

UCLA

 

 

A right-footed winger that likes to play on the left and cut centrally, Hollingshead has all the physical tools to dominate against smaller MLS outside backs thanks to his first step and quckness. His technical ability needs a bit of improvement, but there are few attackers in the college game that seem as MLS-ready.

14

 

Mamadou Doudou Diouf

Junior Forward

UConn

 

 

The Senegal native plays even bigger than his 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame, and could be a terror if he goes to the right system. Diouf is not really a player that will create his own goal, but makes good runs with the strength to hold off most defenders. The Big East Pre-Season Offensive Player of the Year, Diouf has built on a prolific 2011 season with eight goals in 11 games through the first half of 2012.

15

 

London Woodberry

Senior
Defender

Maryland

 

 

Woodberry is the defensive anchor of a Maryland squad that has produced six shutouts in 10 games this season. A graduate of the first FC Dallas Academy class, he reportedly turned down a contract offer from FCD last winter in favor of going for a national championship before turning pro. With an ability to play anywhere across the back four, he should find playing time for Dallas next season.

16

 

Jose Gomez

Senior
Midfielder

Creighton

 

 

Gomez is an offensively gifted attacking midfielder who has enjoyed a strong career as the engine of a good Creighton team. The Orange County, Calif., native will need to have a good Combine, but could be someone who goes in the top 10 to the right team. It would help if he wasn't being used incorrectly in Omaha this season, but versatility isn't a bad trait.

17

 

Wil Trapp

Sophomore
Midfielder

Akron

 

 

It’s just a matter of time before Trapp signs a Homegrown contract to run the Columbus Crew midfield. The Zips sophomore needs another year or two of grooming, but the highly ranked central midfielder has started every game of his Akron career. He’s also has appeared for various US youth international squads and still has a shot at making the 2013 U-20 World Cup team.

18

 

Eric Schoenle

Senior
Defender

West Virginia

 

 

Schoenle was a hot pick for a Generation adidas contract last season, and the lanky defender returns to the Mountaineers this year as possibly the best senior defender in the country. Always a threat in the air on set pieces, he even leads his team in scoring so far with five goals. His upside isn't huge, but he'll come into the league physically ready to battle.

19

 

John Stertzer

Senior
Midfielder

Maryland

 

 

Stertzer broke out in 2011 with 14 goals from his attacking midfield position. The midfielder 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.