While the MLS SuperDraft may not be as critical as it has been in the league’s earlier days, this year’s crop of talent coming through isn’t too far off what has been coming from the college ranks of late: a decent amount of high-end talent, and a few players here and there that could stick and thrive given the right opportunity.
Below is a look at the top 10 players eligible to be picked in this year’s SuperDraft, which will start with the first two rounds via conference call and web streaming on Jan. 9 and wrap up with the third and fourth rounds on Jan. 13.
10. CM/RB Alistair Johnston, Wake Forest
College Years: The Ontario, Canada, native swapped St. John’s for Wake Forest after his sophomore season. Slotting in as a reserve during his junior season, Johnston stepped up in a big way, manning the right back spot as a senior at Wake Forest this past fall.
Scouting Report: Having spent portions of his collegiate career as a box-to-box midfielder, Johnston slotted into a right back role for the 2019 campaign. Although not a freak athlete, he’s shown the ability to read the game well, while his passing and crossing can create chances for his team going forward.
MLS Doppelganger: While he’s not the set-piece merchant that Graham Zusi has been at Sporting Kansas City, Johnston’s reminiscent of the U.S. national team player. His quality stems less from his physical traits than his ability to serve a good ball, combine in the attack and make quick decisions in terms of getting forward versus hanging back.
9. LB Tanner Beason, Stanford (Senior signee)
College Years: After redshirting his first season at Stanford, Beason slotted into the starting lineup as a left back, helping the Cardinal win the national titles in 2016 and 2017. Since then, he moved into a center back role the past two seasons. He missed a chunk of 2019 after breaking his collarbone but returned to help Stanford return to the College Cup, where they lost to eventual champions Georgetown.
Scouting Report: More of a defense-first outside back, Beason’s a capable defender at the college level and a gritty, determined leader. He’s not going to set the world alight going forward, and could end up playing centrally in MLS. If he can make that jump to the pro level while also combining well with teammates, he could end up as a defense-first left back.
MLS Doppelganger: While he’s not as polished on the ball as Matt Besler, he’s a good comp for Beason – not a hulking presence but a quality defender with good intangibles.
8. W Ryan Raposo, Syracuse (Generation Adidas)
College Years: Two seasons at Syracuse was all Raposo needed to cement himself as an elite college attacker. Named to the All-Freshman ACC team in 2018 after scoring four goals and tallying seven assists, 2019 represented a massive step forward for the Ontario native. He amassed 15 goals and seven assists as a sophomore, including a two-goal, one-assist performance in the NCAA tournament against Rhode Island.
Scouting Report: A twitchy, attack-minded winger that could also play in the No. 10 role, Raposo is extremely dangerous in one-on-one situations with the ball. The question for him to answer is if he’s quick and dynamic enough to make the same kind of impact against MLS defenders. If he can’t, he’s still good enough with his passing and goal-scoring to thrive in a different role. He’ll also need to raise his defensive work rate, particularly if he’s shunted out as a winger.
MLS Doppelganger: There’s something about Raposo when he’s in space on the ball that’s similar to Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti. Especially when he’s closer to goal, Raposo showed last year that he can be lethal with his finishing, along with showing good passing instincts.
7. CB Henry Kessler, Virginia (Generation Adidas)
College Years: After playing primarily from the bench as a freshman in 2017, Kessler took a small step forward as a starter in his second season. But it was the fall of 2019 where he stood tallest, making 24 starts while anchoring one of college soccer’s best defenses at Virginia.
Scouting Report: Listed a six-feet-four-inches tall, Kessler plays big and moves well at the back. He partnered with Andreas Ueland, another six-feet-four-inches defender, along the Virginia backline during the 2019 season. Kessler will be faced with the same questions that present themselves to big college center backs: how he can handle defending on the turn and will he be able to defend higher quality attackers in isolation.
6. CM Aaron Molloy, Penn State
College Years: The Dublin native came to the United States to play NAIA soccer for Keiser University in Florida. After a standout freshman season, he transferred to Penn State ahead of the 2017 campaign. Since then, he’s been one of the Big Ten’s best, bossing the midfield and leading the Nittany Lions back to the NCAA tournament in 2019. Normally a deep-lying defensive midfielder, he added goals and assists to his game this past season, scoring nine and chipping in six assists.
Scouting Report: Strong, tough and composed in central midfield, Molloy’s status as an international is the one hang-up when looking at his MLS potential. While the goals this season were a nice bonus, he’s more suited to a deeper role, especially with another center midfielder next to him. Capable of winning the ball and starting the attack with a quick, well-hit pass, Molloy has plenty to offer, provided he shows the engine and adjusts to the speed at the next level.
5. F Garrett McLaughlin, Southern Methodist
College Years: It’s been an interesting four-year stretch for McLaughlin, who was part of a renaissance at SMU. The American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year during his first season in college, he had a breakout season as a sophomore, scoring 14 goals and chipping in three assists. Battling injuries as a junior, his productivity was limited but he assuaged any fears of that with another stellar campaign in his final season of eligibility, scoring 15 times and adding five helpers.
Scouting Report: A direct attacker, McLaughlin is a goal-dangerous forward that is more likely to feature out wide in a front three or a three-player band in a 4-2-3-1 than up front as a lone striker. Quick enough to offer a threat out wide in MLS, the Oklahoma native should be a Top 10 pick. While he can certainly make an impact offensively, his adjustment to the pro game could come down to his defensive prowess if he’s in a system that demands a two-way player.
MLS Doppelganger: While not possessing the same kind of pace as Jordan Morris, McLaughlin offers a similar threat to the Seattle Sounders man: a goal-scoring winger that can serve in dangerous crosses and score when in dangerous spots.
4. RB Dylan Nealis, Georgetown (Senior Signee)
College Years: The youngest of four soccer-playing brothers, Nealis finished his college career at the summit, winning the 2019 national championship with Georgetown. In his decorated four-year stint on the Hilltop, he made 78 starts, scoring seven goals and adding 14 assists. The back-to-back Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Nealis was far and away one of the best outside backs in college soccer.
Scouting Report: A modern fullback who's just as comfortable going forward as he is defending, Nealis didn’t have to do much of the latter during Georgetown’s 2019 season. A reliable and capable operator in combination with teammates and able to provide dangerous service, the questions he’ll face when making the jump to MLS will start with his defending. Whether it’s in isolation or defending as a unit, if he's able to adjust to the bigger, stronger and more talented players in MLS, he could be a hit right away as a rookie.
MLS Doppelganger: Perhaps it’s a lazy comparison since they both played at Georgetown, but Nealis is akin to fellow Hoya alum Keegan Rosenberry, who gets up the flank for the Colorado Rapids these days.
3. CF Cal Jennings, Central Florida
College Years: During his first two seasons at UCF, Jennings grabbed a total of 14 goals in 29 games. Then something clicked ahead of his junior year, and he matched that total with 14 tallies from just 15 games. In his final season in the NCAA, Jennings took his tally to 18 goals from 20 matches at the American Athletic Conference program.
Scouting Report: There’s obviously no guarantee that scoring goals in college soccer translates to MLS. But Jennings’ growth over the past two seasons was predicated a great deal on his instincts in the penalty area and getting to the right places, making the right run, at the right times. He can connect play well enough, but he’s more of the kind of forward that thrives when his teammates get him the ball in the box, and he can do the rest.
MLS Doppelganger: There are striking similarities between Jennings and the 2019 MLS Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki. Both are capable in the buildup but their success is more about making the smart, dangerous runs and providing a lethal touch in front of goal.
2. CB Jack Maher, Indiana (Generation Adidas)
College Years: A starter from his first day on campus in Bloomington, the St. Louis native quickly emerged as a premier center back in the college game. His two seasons at the Big Ten program saw him earn Freshman of the Year honors in 2018, helping IU to the nation’s best defense in his first season at the program. As a sophomore, Maher anchored the Hoosiers once again, making 22 starts and earning the conference’s Defender of the Year honor as IU won both the regular season and conference tournament titles.
Scouting Report: A tall center back who moves well, Maher’s listed at six feet three inches tall and has the build to hold up against the biggest strikers in MLS. His passing and ability with the ball is sharp at most times, although it is notable the Indiana product tends to defend deep, which keeps the game in front of him. There’s a lot to work with here regardless, and the St. Louis native arguably has a higher floor than our No. 1 selection below and could be the safer pick.
1. F Robbie Robinson, Clemson (Generation adidas)
College Years: After a strong freshman campaign in 2017, injuries limited Robinson’s time on the field in the fall of 2018. He rebounded last year with a Hermann Trophy-winning season for a Clemson’s attack that was best in the nation. His 18 goals were tied for first in Division I soccer, and he chipped in nine assists for a Clemson team that averaged more than three goals per game.
Scouting Report: Standing at six feet two inches tall, Robinson has the frame to get the better of defenders at the pro level. His quickness in the final third should carry over into making him an impact player in the league if he stays healthy. Robinson is more than just a poacher, as he’s been able to create his own shot, not to mention showing the ability to pop up in dangerous spots in front of goal.
MLS Doppelganger: While he as a bigger frame than Raul Ruidiaz, the 21-year-old shows similar tenaciousness and work-rate to the Peruvian.