MLS SuperDraft: Is this the USMNT lineup of the future?
INDIANAPOLIS — The 38 players selected in Thursday’s SuperDraft have a long way to go just to prove they’re capable of making the grade in MLS, so it’s probably way too early to debate their readiness for the international level.
But that’s not going to stop us from indulging in some fun, forward-looking speculation about the potential for this year’s rookie crop to become US national teamers. After all, it was barely two years ago that the Houston Dynamo picked Will Bruin in the SuperDraft in Baltimore, and at this very moment the striker is toiling away at USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s January camp in Southern California.
USMNT 2013 SuperDraft starting XI (4-3-3/4-5-1)
GK: Luis Soffner
Only two goalkeepers were selected this year, and at No. 36, Soffner was the third-to-last pick of the day to the New England Revolution. But the St. Louis native is a gamer, a smart, focused leader who just won a NCAA national championship at Indiana. He could become the Nick Rimando of his generation.
D: Andrew Farrell/Walker Zimmerman/Tommy Muller/Taylor Kemp
The first two names on this list were probably the two most highly-rated players in the entire draft.
WATCH: Zimmerman on joining FC Dallas
“It’s really hard to predict, because there’s guys that get into systems and then they develop when they get there,” one veteran technical director/general manager type told me. “Zimmerman and Farrell, those are guys who you’d think, ‘OK, they’ll have a chance to compete right away.’”
Both are seen primarily as center backs, but Farrell's ample athleticism makes him a candidate to become a right back, and Combine coaches experimented with him there. So in our team, that opens up a spot for Muller, who is reminiscent of Michael Parkhurst in his ability to read the game aptly enough to make up for a lack of traditional center-back size. Kemp gets the nod as the top left back in a draft with some good ones.
M: Dillon Powers/Mikey Lopez/Carlos Alvarez
Holding midfielders aren’t exactly in short supply around the US camp. That said, Powers could turn out to be a pretty good one. Though not dazzlingly gifted in any one area, the Notre Dame product offers bite, mobility and intelligence. In our team, he’ll stay at home while his partner Lopez, who Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes described on Thursday as “leather-lunged,” hares all over the pitch to link play and feed Alvarez the ball in an advanced creative role.
WATCH: Alvarez reacts to Chivas selection
Wondering about the international allegiances for Alvarez? After all, his father played for Chivas Guadalajara and he himself spent time in the Mexican youth national team system. When I asked him about it on draft day, he said was open to playing for both countries and would likely go with whichever one called him in first.
“I’m wide open-minded -- whatever happens, I just live by the day and play, that’s what I like doing,” Alvarez said.
But what would his dad think if he donned a US shirt?
“Oh, he’s a Mexican, but he knows I was born here and raised here and everything,” Alvrez said. “He wouldn’t care -- wherever I play, he knows that I’m going to play with passion and he’s going to be happy for me.”
F: Kekuta Manneh/Eriq Zavaleta/Erik Hurtado
Manneh has lots of growing to do yet his upside is tremendous, thanks to skills and instincts the American system simply does not produce in large numbers. Born in Gambia, he moved to the USA at 15 years old in search of a pro soccer career, and has since been legally adopted by a Texas family, so he is well on the way to full citizenship -- and seems open to representing the nation that is making his dreams come true.
Zavaleta may yet become a center back, but he’s led the line with distinction for the NCAA national champs and might just blossom into a classy international prospect under Sigi Schmid’s tutelage in Seattle. Both his father Carlos and uncle, Greg Vanney, have blazed that same path.
A winger with both size and skill, Hurtado offers the kind of versatility Klinsmann loves. One potential wrinkle: His family lived in Mexico for a brief period during his childhood and as one television analyst noted to me at the Combine, he’d bring useful qualities to the El Tri setup should their technical staff decide to try to lure his loyalty southward.