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FOX Soccer 2012 MLS Draft Big Board: December edition

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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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As MLS teams continue their off-season work and make plans to strengthen (and in some cases, rebuild) their rosters, the 2012 MLS Draft is looming large as a place teams can find some good talent.

Based on the players being targeted by MLS for Generation adidas and senior contracts, the 2012 MLS Draft should be loaded with attacking talent, and teams will surely have taken notice of the success Sporting Kansas City had in landing Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong in the 2011 MLS Draft.

Overall, the 2011 MLS Draft class didn't have the same immediate impact of the preview two years' drafts, but there were still plenty of solid starters and quality long-term prospects. The 2012 draft class features far more attacking options than last year's, with arguably a deeper collection of talent.

With the 2011 college season almost over, most MLS clubs have already begun fashioning their own draft boards and rankings of college prospects. Many of the top prospects in the pool are still competing in the NCAA Tournament, which will play its quarterfinal round this weekend. There are still plenty of opportunities for some of those top prospects to boost their draft stock even further, and potentially play themselves into the first round of the MLS Draft, much the way Columbus Crew striker Justin Meram did while playing for Michigan in last year’s tournament.

If you were wondering just which college prospects have impressed the most, which players are genuinely considered top prospects, and which are being considered for Generation adidas contracts, wonder no more. FOX Soccer has updated its ranking of the top prospects in the upcoming MLS Draft - a ranking derived, in part, with input from college and MLS coaches, pro scouts, and individuals with first-hand knowledge of how MLS officials and team scouts are rating the current pool of prospects.

With six weeks to go before the 2012 MLS Draft, here is the latest installment of the FOX Soccer 2012 MLS Draft Big Board:

Rank   Player Pos. School
1 Andrew Wenger M/D Duke

2011 Stats: 22 games, 17 goals, 8 assists

Projected to be a defensive midfielder or defender on the pro level, Wenger shifted to forward this season and established himself as one of the most dangerous strikers in the nation. He delivered 17 goals and eight assists, showing the versatility to play anywhere on the field. A lock top two pick, Wenger is expected to leave school and sign a Generation adidas contract.

Rank   Player Pos. School
2 Darren Mattocks F Akron

2011 Stats: 22 games, 21 goals, 4 assists

A fast and physical forward who could have been a first-round pick in 2011 had he left school early, Mattocks is the consensus pick as the best forward prospect in college. A sophomore, Mattocks answered questions about whether he could still score goals without a loaded team around him, netting 21 goals (2nd most in the nation) on a young Akron squad. A top-two lock along with Wenger, though he could bolt to Europe.

Rank   Player Pos. School
3 Kelyn Rowe M UCLA

2011 Stats: 22 games, 5 goals, 10 assists

Despite a slow start to the season that dropped his stock a bit, Rowe is still considered the college game's most highly-regarded playmaker, and his role in UCLA’s late-season surge has helped solidify his place as one of the best prospects in the draft. He has the vision and creativity to excel, but there are questions about his ability to deal with the physicality of the MLS game. If he can help UCLA win an NCAA title, it could help him challenge Wenger and Mattocks for top-pick status.

Rank   Player Pos. School
4 Billy Schuler F North Carolina

2011 Stats: 22 games, 15 goals, 4 assists

After missing most of 2010 with major shoulder surgery, Schuler has used his redshirt junior season to remind scouts of the talents that once made him a US Under-17 national team standout. Fast and technically gifted, Schuler's been the driving force in North Carolina’s high-powered offense, a key reason the Tar Heels are the favorites to win the NCAA title heading into this weekend’s quarterfinals. A lock Generation adidas selection, Schuler should be a top five pick in January.

Rank   Player Pos. School
5 Enzo Martinez M North Carolina

2011 Stats: 23 games, 9 goals, 10 assists

While Rowe has long been considered the best playmaker in this class, Martinez has just as many fans of his game. The Tar Heels junior has great vision and beautiful passing ability, and there is a widely-held belief that Martinez’s talents can transition to MLS. He has boosted his stock with an outstanding junior season and is a guaranteed Generation adidas selection if his immigration status can be sorted out.

Rank   Player Pos. School
6 Luis Silva M UC Santa Barbara

2011 Stats: 22 games, 17 goals, 10 assists

A talented attacking midfielder with the two-way qualities that should serve him well on the pro level, Silva was on the Generation adidas radar as a junior but is now widely-regarded as the top senior in the upcoming draft. He can score goals and create for teammates, as evidenced by his impressive numbers. He also boasts better size than the other top playmakers in the draft mix.

Rank   Player Pos. School
7 Brian "Cobi" Span M Virginia

 

2011 Stats: 21 games, 7 goals, 5 assists

When you talk about players with upside, there may be no player with more than Span, a physical freak who combines good size with blazing speed. He has been compared in some circles to a young Brek Shea. While there are many scouts in love with his upside, the Cavaliers sophomore also has detractors who believe he should stay in school and mature more.

Rank   Player Pos. School
8 Nick DeLeon M Louisville

2011 Stats: 21 games, 6 goals, 6 assists

DeLeon is a highly-skilled central midfielder who has been a key figure in Louisville rebounding after some mid-season struggles. Scouts rave about his technical ability and passing touch, and if he can push the Cardinals to a return to the College Cup Final, he could vault himself up a few spots on this list. DeLeon has already cleared one hurdle heading toward the draft after MLS rejected Real Salt Lake’s Homegrown Player claim on him. Now, DeLeon should be a top 10 pick.

Rank   Player Pos. School
9 Casey Townsend F Maryland

2011 Stats: 21 games 17 goals, 2 assists

A player who has been on the MLS radar since a standout freshman season, Townsend has recaptured the attention of MLS scouts with a strong senior season. He scored 17 goals for the Terrapins (tied with Wenger for the most in the ACC), and perhaps just as importantly, he has managed to show durability. A sure-fire first-round pick, Townsend is on the short list of seniors MLS is trying to pre-sign ahead of the MLS Combine.

Rank   Player Pos. School
10 Matthew Hedges D North Carolina

2011 Stats: 23 games, 5 goals, 1 assist

Considered the most MLS-ready centerback in the draft, Hedges boasts good technical ability and passing skills to go with strength and size (6-foot-4). He has anchored North Carolina’s stingy defense and has played himself into a potential top 10 pick.

Rank   Player Pos. School
11 Chandler Hoffman F UCLA

2011 Stats: 22 games, 18 goals, 4 assists

The biggest mover on this list in the past month, Hoffman has been on a torrid scoring streak and has been the key driving force behind UCLA’s late-season charge into the NCAA quarterfinals. He’s on 18 goals right now and has a chance to boost his stock even further if the Bruins can beat Louisville and reach the College Cup semis. A natural finisher with good size, Hoffman has gone from the fringes of the Generation adidas discussion to a strong candidate who can lock up a GA spot with a strong finish in the NCAAs.

Rank   Player Pos. School
12 Tony Cascio D Connecticut

2011 Stats: 24 games, 4 goals, 8 assists

A talented winger, Cascio is a good athlete who has shown a goal-scoring touch and ability to go at defenders. He hasn’t had as good a senior year as junior year, but Cascio has still played a key role in UConn’s strong season. Scouts will have a close eye on him in the NCAA tournament to see if he is someone worthy of a mid-first round pick. Like DeLeon, Cascio had a Homegrown Player claim on him made by Real Salt Lake rejected by MLS, so he will be available in the draft. He is being pursued by MLS to sign a pre-draft contract.

 

Rank   Player Pos. School
13 David Opoku F UCSB

2011 Stats: 23 games, 9 goals, 2 assists

Though he wasn’t a regular starter for UCSB, Opoku wowed scouts with his physical tools and potential. Only a sophomore, Opoku is still learning the game, but at a strong 6-foot-2 with impressive athletic ability, Opoku is seen as a worthwhile long-term project, and MLS teams are pushing his name for a Generation adidas contract.

Rank   Player Pos. School
14 Dom Dwyer F South Florida

2011 Stats: 20 games, 16 goals, 2 assists

There may not have been a player who emerged from obscurity more than Dwyer, who went from junior college standout to NCAA star and sudden MLS draft target. Boasting speed and strength, Dwyer has the tools to make an immediate impact as a pro striker. He has scored 16 goals to date, and has helped lead South Florida to the NCAA quarterfinals.

Rank   Player Pos. School
15 Andrew Jean-Baptiste D Connecticut

2011 Stats: 24 games, 2 goals, 1 assist

Scouts sure love their young prospects, and Jean-Baptiste is a sophomore centerback with imposing size who MLS teams rate as a potential standout on the pro level. He was named Big East Defender of the Year, and while his blunder cost the Huskies the Big East Tournament championship, Jean-Baptiste has still emerged as a key Generation adidas target. That is in no small part due to the dearth of central defender options in the 2012 MLS Draft.

Rank   Player Pos. School
16 Colin Rolfe F Louisville

2011 Stats: 22 games, 9 goals, 10 assists

One of the best forwards in the nation as a junior, Rolfe has revived his draft stock after seeing his season get off to a poor start. His outstanding performance in the Cardinals’ victory against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament surely raised eyebrows. He is being pursued for a pre-draft MLS contract and can secure a first-round place with a strong finish to his NCAA tournament and good showing at the MLS Combine.

Rank   Player Pos. School
17 Sam Garza F UCSB

2011 Stats: 23 games, 8 goals, 4 assists

After a standout sophomore season that came following major knee surgery, Garza entered the 2011 campaign needing to show he could stay healthy. He did just that, reprising his role as a regular starter, though his eight goal tally was below what was expected of him. Scouts still love him though and with interest now coming from Mexico and from MLS, where he is a Generation adidas possibility, Garza is a safe bet to leave school early. If he signs with MLS, Garza should be a first-round selection.

Rank   Player Pos. School
18 Dillon Powers M Notre Dame

2011 Stats: 18 games, 1 goal, 4 assists

In terms of risers and fallers, Powers is in the category of players who have seen their stock drop. Sources tell FOX Soccer that he intends on leaving school but has gone from a Generation adidas lock to a fringe GA option. Why the drop? A year ago he was riding the buzz of some outstanding performances as a box-to-box midfielder with the Under-20 national team. Now? He’s suffering from an underwhelming junior season at Notre Dame that has raised questions about his value. Some scouts still love him though, and if he secures a GA deal, it would be tough to see him slip out of the first round.

Rank   Player Pos. School
19 Eric Schoenle D West Virginia

20 games, 3 goals, 3 assists

A highly-skilled centerback with good size (6-foot-2) and aerial ability, Schoenle has seen his stock take a serious dip as concerns about his strength and ability to transition to MLS from a physical standpoint keep growing. Some teams absolutely love his outstanding technical ability, so he could be a first-round pick, but right now he’s on the outside of the Generation adidas conversation.

Rank   Player Pos. School
20 Aaron Maund D Notre Dame

2011 Stats: 18 games, 0 goals, 2 assists

Another good centerback prospect, Maund originally made his name as a promising fullback prospect for the US Under-20 national team but now projects as a central defender on the pro level. The Fighting Irish senior wasn’t helped by Notre Dame’s early exit from the Big East tournament and absence from the NCAA Tournament, but a strong combine could help him push into the first round of the MLS Draft.

Rank   Player Pos. School
21 Hunter Jumper D Virginia

2011 Stats: 17 games, 2 goals, 4 assists

With MLS teams always on the hunt for quality left backs, Jumper is an extremely attractive prospect for teams looking to fill a void there. Jumper brings impressive attacking qualities to the position, though he showed some clear defensive deficiencies during his senior season. His ability to serve good crosses, as well as deliver quality set pieces, make him a target for several teams looking to upgrade their left side.

Rank   Player Pos. School
22 Robbie Derschang M Southern Methodist

2011 Stats: 17 games, 1 goal, 1 assist

Much like Jumper, Derschang drew plenty of attention early in the season as a top left wing prospect, but he failed to take advantage of that attention and saw his stock plummet as a result. Now, he has tumbled down the Generation adidas pecking order and is looking like a long-shot pick. If he doesn’t sign with MLS, Derschang will still be a top prospect heading into 2012.

Rank   Player Pos. School
23 Brian Ownby F Virginia

2011 Stats: 18 games, 6 goals, 2 assists

The speedy but injury-plagued forward stepped up late in the season to pick up the slack for the injured Will Bates, impressing scouts who had written him off. Now, after staying healthy for his entire senior season, Ownby is back on the draft radar, with his blazing speed certainly drawing interest from teams looking for a speed forward option.

Rank   Player Pos. School
24 Austin Berry D Louisville

2011 Stats: 22 games, 1 goal, 2 assists

Much like the other Louisville players on this list, Berry saw his stock take a hit during the team’s early-season struggles, but unlike most of those players, Berry has yet to convince scouts that he is an MLS-ready centerback. He is dominant in the air and has good leadership abilities, but concerns about quickness and ability in space have hurt. If he can have a strong showing in the rest of the NCAA Tournament and the MLS Combine, he could ease some concerns and play his way back into the first round.

Rank   Player Pos. School
25 Chris Blais G South Florida

2011 Stats: 20 games, 0.86 GAA, 8 shutouts

The 2012 draft pool is lacking a standout goalkeeper prospect, but Blais has impressed scouts after first landing on radar at Michigan. UCLA’s Brian Rowe and Fordham’s Ryan Meara are also in the mix for “Best Goalkeeper in the Draft” honors, but for now, Blais is the pick. He’ll have plenty of eyes on him in the NCAA quarterfinals and beyond, if South Florida can keep winning.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.

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