Hours prior to the start of the 2005 MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore, there is still no consensus on whom Real Salt Lake will select with the top pick, but the club appears to have narrowed down the list of candidates to four.
RSL head coach John Ellinger told fans yesterday during a chat on MLSnet.com that the list includes U.S. Under-20 midfielder Nikolas Besagno, Indiana University midfielder Danny O'Rourke, Bradley University midfielder Luke Kreamalmayer and U.S. Under-20 and University of Virginia defender Hunter Freeman.
"Nikolas is one of the players that's on our list of our top three choices," Ellinger said. "Obviously Danny O'Rourke is being considered and we also like Hunter Freeman and Luke Kreamalmayer. That's four guys we've talked about that are potential first-round picks for us."
In recent days, the word on the street has been that 16-year-old Besagno, a player Ellinger coached with the U.S. Under-17 team and convinced to go pro, will be the first player to shake the hand of MLS Commissioner Don Garber on the SuperDraft dais. A holding midfielder, Besagno is one of 12 members of the first class of "Generation adidas," the league's new player development program, which replaces Nike Project-40. While he didn't get entirely positive reviews from the coaches at this week's MLS Combine, Ellinger knows Besagno well and apparently likes what he has seen.
O'Rourke was the winner of the 2004 MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best player in NCAA Division I soccer. Also a holding midfielder, O'Rourke led Indiana to its second consecutive NCAA title in December and was the most talked-about player at the Combine.
The only attacking player in the group, Kreamalmayer, was a virtual unknown out of Bradley prior to the Combine, but his play over three days at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. seems to have convinced a lot of MLS coaches that he is worth a high draft choice. After winning the Combine's MVP award, Kreamalmayer was extended an invitation to the SuperDraft, usually reserved for those players who are certain to be first-round or high second-round selections.
Freeman is another member of the U.S. Under-20 team, which is attempting to qualify for this summer's FIFA World Youth Championship this week at the HDC. Though he is listed as a defender, Freeman is not shy about going forward, having led the nation in assists with 21 in his final season at Virginia.
The rest of the draft appears to be as unpredictable as the first pick, though defense may turn out to be the order of the day. There are several talented defenders available, including Notre Dame teammates Jack Stewart and Kevin Goldthwaite. In addition to Freeman, the Generation adidas defenders who are on the board -- and won't count against a team's senior roster or salary cap -- are Indiana's Drew Moor, Wake Forest's Michael Parkhurst and UCLA's Tim Ward.
Rounding out the first Generation adidas class are UCLA forward Chad Barrett, South Carolina goalkeeper Brad Guzan (who could be the first 'keeper selected), 16-year-old forward Quavas Kirk, Tulsa forward and Hermann Trophy finalist Ryan Pore, U.S. youth national team midfielder Christian Jimenez, U.S. Under-20 team forward Will John and North Carolina and U.S. youth international forward Jamie Watson.
Another matter that is somewhat unpredictable is the final order in which teams will select. There are a number of conditions that could result in picks changing hands, altering the current draft order.
Barring any further trades consummated the night before and morning of the draft, the San Jose Earthquakes could end up with as many as nine selections in Friday's draft, including four consecutive picks in the third round. The Quakes already swapped first round picks with the Galaxy, moving down one spot to the No. 6 overall pick, and in addition to its six existing selections, the club is slated to pick up three conditional picks.
Two of those three are due to come from the Colorado Rapids, who will give the Quakes their highest third- and fourth-round selections, currently the 31st and 41st overall picks. If the Rapids happen to trade away the 41st overall selection, the Quakes will inherit the Rapids other fourth-round pick, which is the 43rd overall. The third conditional pick the Quakes will add is the 48th and final pick in the draft, which will come from D.C. United. If United acquires a third-round selection prior to the draft, it will hand that selection over to the Quakes and reclaim the 48th pick.
Another team that stands to gain conditional draft picks is the Chicago Fire. Already due to select third overall, the Fire will add one of the Los Angeles Galaxy's three first-round picks, meaning the Windy City club will either select fifth, eighth or 10th overall. Which pick the Fire actually receive is the Galaxy's choice. The Fire are also due to gain a third-round pick from the Rapids by the terms of the deal that sent Rey Angel Martinez to Colorado from Chicago. The Rapids acquired two third-round picks from the Kansas City Wizards in a trade Thursday night, and they will give one of those picks, the 36th overall, to the Fire.
FC Dallas is also involved in a couple of conditional selections, giving one and taking the other. The Kansas City Wizards are scheduled to take the Dallas second-round pick (15th overall) as part of the trade that sent Carey Talley to the Lone Star State a year ago. If FC Dallas trades away that second-round pick before the draft, the Wizards will receive Dallas' natural third-round picks in 2005 and 2006. FC Dallas' natural third-round pick this year is the 28th overall pick.
FC Dallas' other conditional situation involves D.C. United and the MetroStars, the final two players in the conditional pick merry-go-round.
United is scheduled to give, at its own choice, a top 30 selection in 2005 or a top 20 selection in 2006 to the Metros. In addition to that pick, the Metros have the choice of taking D.C. United's first round pick this year or taking United's first-round pick next year. According to another condition, the Metros may give FC Dallas a first-round pick this year, if they acquire one, or they may give FC Dallas their natural first- and second-round picks next year. FC Dallas has said the Metros will in fact execute their end of both of those conditions, taking D.C. United's first selection, the 12th overall, this year and handing it over to FC Dallas.
Also, at the moment, D.C. United is due to receive the Rapids' highest second-round pick this year, the 16th overall.
So all of that maneuvering means that, unless United hands that conditional 19th overall pick over to the Metros as part of their end of the teams' agreement, the Metros will only be spectators at Friday's draft, with zero selections. As it currently stands, D.C. has one pick, the Crew will have two, the Rapids, Revolution and Real Salt Lake will have three each, Club Deportivo Chivas USA will have four, FC Dallas and the Galaxy will have five each, the Wizards will have five, the Fire will have seven and the Earthquakes will have nine. Only CD Chivas USA has all of its original natural picks and no additional selections.
The Colorado Rapids increased the number of selections they will make in Friday's MLS SuperDraft by trading the 16th overall selection to the Kansas City Wizards on Thursday in exchange for the 33rd and 36th overall picks.
Due to a series of conditions based on past trades, new Rapids head coach Fernando Clavijo had just two draft picks at his disposal prior to Thursday's deal.
Coming into the trade the Rapids held the 7th and 43rd overall selections and were conditionally scheduled to give the higher of two second-round picks (16th and 19th overall) to D.C. United as a result of the deal that sent discovery player Alberto Delgado to Colorado via D.C.
Also, as a condition of the trade that sent Rey Angel Martinez to the Rapids from the Chicago Fire, the Rapids had agreed to give the Fire a third-round pick or -- in the absence of such a pick -- a second-round selection. Prior to Thursday's trade, the Rapids had no third round pick and were therefore due to give the Fire the 19th overall pick.
Thursday's trade alters both of the Rapids' conditional deals with United and the Fire. Since they traded away their previous highest second round selection, the Rapids will now give United their other second-round pick, the 19th overall. Acquiring a third round pick allows the Rapids to satisfy the conditions of the Martinez trade, meaning the Fire will now get the 36th overall pick rather than one of the Rapids' second-round picks.
The trade leaves the Rapids with three selections in Friday's draft: the 7th, 33rd and 43rd picks.
The deal puts the Wizards in a good position to follow through on their plan to add attacking players that can contribute right off the bat. Head coach Bob Gansler now has three of the first 16 selections in Friday's draft, the 11th, 15th and 16th overall. The Wizards also have the 24th and 47th overall picks available.
A fifth team may yet be affected indirectly by the Rapids-Wizards trade. If United so chooses, they may send the 19th overall pick to the MetroStars as part of a condition that states United will give the Metros a top 30 pick this year or a top 20 pick in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.