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.
Next up is central defenders, a category where talent typically translates from the collegiate ranks to MLS. Look no further than Chicago's Austin Berry or FC Dallas' Matt Hedges from 2012, or how about SKC's Matt Besler or LA Galaxy hero Omar Gonzalez in past seasons? Here's a look at the 10 best prospects who are in line to make the jump.
10. Lmaden Lemez (Alabama-Birmingham) — At 6-foot-5, he's not only a force in the air, but he reads the game well and has feet you wouldn't expect for a man his size. Speed and quickness on the turn are the question marks — not unexpected — but his combination of size and skill is too intriguing for a club not to take a chance on him. Some compare him to a young Omar Gonzalez. International status (Bosnia) might hurt him.
9. Danny Wenzel (Wake Forest) — The Federal Way, Wash. native is a former US youth national team center back under the Philadelphia Union's John Hackworth. A sound defender of average size, but he's a smart, competitive team leader. The chief knock on him is whether he's dynamic enough to keep up with the rhythm of play in MLS.
8. Eric Robertson (Brown) — Tall, steady leader who is athletic, good in the air (he's 6-foot-3) and light on his feet. His decision-making on the ball and his ability to play out of the back is the question mark but if the California native is paired with the right defender, it's an issue that can be addressed.
7. Trevor Newquist (St. Mary's) — At 6-foot-3, the San Diego product is dominant in the air on both sides of the ball. He's physical, tough and covers a lot of ground, but like Robertson, his feet will need to get better. To start, all he'll need to do is to win balls and connect the simple passes. And all indications are that he can do that.
6. Jose Diaz (UC Riverside) — Stands out from the rest of the center backs for his playmaking ability. He can still fulfill all the hard-nosed defensive duties, but his skill on the ball has been good enough over the years to land him a trial with Mexican side San Luis and a cameo for an LA Galaxy youth team a few years ago.
5. Tommy Muller (Georgetown) — Some will say that at 5-foot-11, Muller doesn't have the size to play centerback in MLS. But the experts call him "special" and rave about his ball skills and his timing in the air. And if he doesn't get a shot at central defender, "Big Game Tommy" (his nickname at Georgetown) can play right back for the team that picks him. Could be the sleeper of the SuperDraft.
4. Eric Schoenle (West Virginia) — The common word used to describe Schoenle: a beast. College coaches have called him the best player in the air anywhere in the NCAAs. But does all the hype around his aerial prowess cover up his 1-v-1 defending? He has narrows shoulders and a thin upper body but the experts say he plays stronger than he looks. He'll need to show off how strong he is at the Combine.
3. Dylan Tucker-Gangnes (Washington) — A former central midfielder who was moved to centerback for his 6-foot-4 frame and exceptional aerial game (he's scored plenty of goals in college on set pieces). But the midfielder skills at centerback are what makes him a coveted pick: passing, vision and calmness on the ball. Compared to FC Dallas' George John, who went to the same school.
2. Andrew Farrell (Louisville) — His athleticism, believed to be unmatched in this draft pool, and his versatility (he can ply at right back and center back), have made him one of the most highly-rated players in the pre-draft chatter. Those who have seen him play say he's ready to contribute in MLS right away. But while the physical tools are undisputed, the Combine will either confirm or dispel concerns about his decision-making on the ball and overall technical skill.
1. Walker Zimmerman (Furman) — Zimmerman (above) has the size, the aerial dominance and the aggressive marking of the other center backs on this list (along with the ball-at-his-feet issues), but what sets him apart is his leadership, character and discipline. Not to mention the upside: The experts believe that he will blossom even further in the professional ranks.
Catch up on the entire SuperDraft Top 10 series: