As we count down to the 2013 SuperDraft on Thursday, MLSsoccer.com is ranking the top 10 players available to MLS teams by position.
The way the game is played has changed a lot over the last decade. Used to be, 90 percent of the teams out there would play a 4-4-2 (or a 3-5-2), and a left midfielder was just that: A guy who played predominantly on the left side, rarely pinched into the middle and bused it for the endline so he could whip in a cross. Think Eddie Lewis, for a reference point.
Obviously times have changed. Two of the guys from this SuperDraft most likely to feature at left “midfield” – Erik Hurtado and Emery Welshman – are actually forwards. The No. 1 guy on this list is more likely to feature at right midfield, cutting in so he can shoot on his left. And others are converted central midfielders who’ll be expected to contribute more in possession than directly into the attack.
Bear all that in mind, if you please.
10. Evan Raynr (UCLA) – Small, live-wire winger who missed most of his senior year because he was hurt. Prior to that he’d played all over the attacking third, but is most likely to find his home out wide in a 4-3-3.
9. Uwem Etuk (West Virginia) – A true north-south left midfielder who D.C. United declined to sign as a Homegrown. Struggled at the Combine when tried at left back, but looked more comfortable at left mid in Day 2. Will have to learn how to be more effective in possession.
8. Max Alvarez (Sacramento St.) – Played up front on the left side of a 4-3-3, whipping in crosses and attacking the back post. Questions about his strength, defensive awareness and vision. He comes from a lower level of college soccer and didn’t get a Combine invite, and has never had to defend. 4-4-2 teams will be wary.
7. Anthony Salciccia (California) – At best, he projects as a left-footed Ned Grabavoy. So no, he’s not going to wow anybody with his pace or 1-v-1 skills, but he’ll keep the ball, do some dirty work and generally give your fullback plenty of space on the overlap.
6. Luciano DelBono (Wake Forest) – Has great stop-start speed, but lacks the physicality to play centrally (his college position) in the pros. Thus, a move to the flank is probably in his future. Not going to create a lot, but he’ll find space and make the right play.
5. Louis Clark (Syracuse) – Might rank higher if not for the international tag (he’s English). Played all over the field for ‘Cuse, but will probably end up being most comfortable wide in a facilitator role. Not going to beat guys and whip in crosses, but will help in possession.
4. Roberto Farfan (Oregon St.) – Does he lack pace, acceleration and toughness? Maybe. But he also has a knack for creating enough space to send in dangerous service, and the vision to make sure that service finds its target. The right coach could make him into an MLS contributor.
3. Don Anding (Northeastern) – Some suspicion that he’s more of an athlete than a soccer player – he aced all the speed and agility drills – but he’s looked pretty competent in combination play moving forward at the Combine. Steep curve at the pro game, though, and lacks a bit of technique.
2. Donnie Smith (UNC Charlotte) – Last of a dying breed? Smith is a true left midfielder in the mold of Lewis. He’s got good speed and separation, wants to get past his defender and serve in a cross with his cultured left foot. Perfect for a 4-4-2. Could end up as a first-round pick.
1. Blake Smith (New Mexico) – He’s got the whole bag of tricks, able to beat his man 1-v-1 with the ball and blow by him off of it. Serves in a good cross with his left foot, and could be used wide left in a 4-4-2, up top on either side of a 4-3-3, or even as a second forward in any two-forward alignment. Has struggled to get involved at the Combine, but he won’t drop out of the first round.