As we count down to the 2013 SuperDraft on Thursday, January 17, MLSsoccer.com is ranking the top 10 players available to MLS teams by position.
They get the glory, they get the MVP awards, they get the goals and they get the big contracts. All because they do the most important job in the game: put the ball in the net. And 2013 is a good year for forwards, with as many as 11 of them (Chris Thomas of Elon just missed the cut) who could go in the two-round SuperDraft.
10. Will Bates (Virginia) – Bates also earns Lenhart comparisons, but doesn’t bring the creativity and combination play that Devon Sandoval (No. 9) does. He’s a better athlete, even coming off of ACL surgery, but may need a year or two in the Reserve League to lean the game more.
9. Devon Sandoval (New Mexico) – Fans of 18 teams will learn to hate this guy over the next decade. Fans of one will absolutely love him. He does all of the things Steven Lenhart does, and may have better feet to boot.
8. Emery Welshman (Oregon St.) – The Timbers tried to sign Welshman as a Homegrown, so at least one team is interested. He’s got very good speed and likes to run the channels, which makes him a good fit for any club that wants to run a 4-4-2.
7. Erik Hurtado (Santa Clara) – Perhaps more likely to feature as a winger in MLS than as a true forward, nonetheless we’re going to rank him here. Hurtado has speed, vision and patience in the final third, but doesn’t seem to find poacher’s goals.
6. Ryan Finley (Notre Dame) – Scouts have Finley pegged as a one-trick pony, but when that trick is scoring goals, coaches tend to be happy living with it. He’ll be offside six times a game, but bag a goal the seventh. Started adding hold-up play as a senior, and has the size (and feet) to do it well.
5. Kekuta Manneh (Austin Aztex) – The SuperDraft’s mystery man, we’ll know much more about Manneh by next Thursday than we do now. As it is, he comes in with the rep of a speed forward who brings top-flight 1-v-1 skills to the table.
4. Ashton Bennett (Coastal Carolina) – Bennett’s not going to wow anyone with his size or speed (which is good, not great). But he has amazing balance, a good first touch and a knack for finding seams other strikers don’t see. He also needs very little room to get a shot off.
3. Deshorn Brown (Central Florida) – A poor man’s Darren Mattocks? Brown has speed to burn, put up good numbers in college and he’s got some size and strength. If it’s enough to contribute in hold-up play as well, then he could turn out to be the best player on this list.
2. Eriq Zavaleta (Indiana) – The centerpiece of the Hoosiers’ national title run, Zavaleta is like a cyborg programmed to make the correct play time after time after time. He’s got strength and soft feet, and simply knows how to make everyone around him better. Hope he's used as a forward, and not a central defender.
1. Jason “J.J.” Johnson (VCU) – Johnson didn’t put up huge numbers, but he’s a monster on the ball and moves well off of it. He’s got a sweet left foot and is as likely to drift wide looking to create a play as he is to turn up in the box to finish one off.