Scouting the draft
There won't be any Mel Kipers at Friday's MLS Draft. There won't be any seating rooms where anxious draftees compare 12-button suits and new Rolexes that their agents purchased as a gift for signing with them. There won't be any throws around the country to War Rooms, either.
If you want to see it unfold on TV, save yourself the trouble because you won't find it.
That's ok, though. Perhaps someday it'll be televised on ESPN5. Don't laugh - it wasn't that long ago when TV execs said, "Why in the world would anyone want to watch this?" when televising the NFL Draft was discussed.
But, whether or not the MLS Draft is on the tube or it even makes the section in your local paper where high school box scores are printed, this year's draft is the most intriguing one in the league's seven-year history.
Stocked with an influx of talent from the Under-17 and U-20 National Teams, the group of players who are selected on Friday represent the best collection available for any one draft.
With all the deals being discussed as we speak, it's impossible to get a true read on who will go where and when, so use the following Mock Draft of the first round as more of a scouting report than anything.
1. D.C. United - Alecko Eskandarian, University of Virginia
I talked to over a dozen college coaches this week and not one of them found any holes in this striker's game.
Though Ray Hudson's squad has been upgraded tremendously since we last saw it in the fall, including the Wednesday signing of Earnie Stewart, Eskandarian would be able to fight for a starting role right away.
One opposing coach said, "I think he can make the step to the next level rather smoothly and make an immediate impact." Another said, "He's simply an all-around goal scorer, which is hard to come by. There's just not that many of those around."
If you haven't seen him, think Diego Serna (the Miami version, not the New England one) said Virginia's assistant coach and former MLS standout John Maessner.
"Every time they [Serna, Eskandarian] get the ball, they are predictable in that you know they will take you on and go right at the goal. But they are also unpredictable with the ball and strong and fast on the attack.
Maessner thinks he'll shine from the get-go.
"He has such a desire to score and take people on. He's got a competitive spirit out there, and is always hungry with a nose for the goal. That's a great thing to have as a striker. He should contribute right away."
2. MetroStars - Mike Magee, U-20 National Team
Bob Bradley coveted this player in Chicago. Magee's time would have been better spent with him in Chicago to learn under an established developer of talent, but he tested the waters in Europe to no avail over the past year. He's now back playing with Thomas Rongen's U-20 squad and seemingly ready for MLS this time around.
As he showed last year when he led the U-20s with 14 goals, Magee has a knack for scoring and would make a fine addition to the MetroStars, where he could learn from Jaime Moreno and Clint Mathis - two of the more clever strikers Major League Soccer has ever produced.
The key for the Metros is adding players to a thin roster. Bradley is trying to make deals, and will continue right through the draft. If this selection is kept, Ricardo Clark is an option, as well.
3. Chicago Fire - Ricardo Clark, Furman
This do-it-all midfielder would make a devastating tandem with Chris Armas in Dave Sarachan's central midfield.
One top college coach singled Clark out as being a can't-miss player, saying that he's the most gifted player in the draft. Another believes he could play defensive midfielder as he does for the U-20 squad or in a more offensive role, depending on the needs of the team.
Chicago needs to go Project-40 due to salary cap issues, and Clark is one of the few ready to play right away, and in a variety of positions.
Says one head coach, "The question is whether he plays defensive midfielder or at right back. He played a little bit wide as a right midfielder in a 3-5-2 at Furman this year. I look at him as a defensive midfielder. Winning balls, keeping possession and occasionally going forward and being dangerous is his best role."
4. Dallas Burn - Shavar Thomas, University of Connecticut
The best defender in the draft, no doubt. His coach at UCONN, Ray Reid, is so high on this Jamaican international that he said he's as good as Eddie Pope.
"He's very gifted, very strong and very athletic," said Reid. "He can play right away."
Thomas played as a center-back in college, but is also able to play as a right-back, which is where he played a bit during the Combine in Florida earlier this week.
5. D.C. United - David Stokes, University of North Carolina
Hudson needs some size in his defense now that Pope is gone. At 6-3, 185 pounds, this UNC center-back is known for his man-marking and strength in the air. "He's hard to get beat one-on-one," said one opposing coach in the ACC.
What Stokes is not is the next coming of Eddie Pope, the player he is compared most to.
"I think it's just a label and not a very good comparison," said longtime UNC coach Elmar Bolowich. "They are very different in their approach and very different in their attitudes and how they go about playing. It would be unfair to put that comparison on them."
Stokes isn't as strong with the ball at his feet as some of the other center-backs in this draft, but his potential due to his size, strength and athleticism is daunting.
6. San Jose Earthquakes - Nate Jaqua, University of Portland
Perhaps the future pairing for Landon Donovan? Jaqua would be the perfect type for such a job, as he has the size (6-3) and work ethic to complement Donovan's playmaking and dazzling skills on the ball. At the same time, he plays a lot quicker than his size and has unique talents for a player over 6-foot.
Says one coach whose team played against Jaqua this year, "He's a very interesting player because even though he's a huge target striker he plays more like a clever smaller player. He loves the ball at his feet. He's dangerous around the goal with both feet. He sees the game and can create. He's an oddity because his physical dimensions don't add up to what you expect."
7. Columbus Crew - Ricky Lewis, Clemson University
Greg Andrulis wants to upgrade his defense, so what better player to draft than someone like Lewis who can fill-in at every role in the Crew's 4-4-2.
Clemson coach Trevor Adair recruited him as a forward, but quickly moved him to defense where he started all but three games in his three-year career for the Tigers.
"He's a very athletic defender with great speed," said Adair. "He has qualities that you need to make it at the next level. He likes to come forward and get in to the attack, but I think his best position will be as a holding type of defender in the middle."
8. L.A. Galaxy - Memo Gonzalez, U-17 National Team
For a team that has no weaknesses, Gonzalez would make a great fit as a star-in-waiting to one day control the midfield for Sigi Schmid.
Having recently turned 17, Gonzalez will miss a lot of his rookie campaign due to U-17 World Cup duties, but may help out on the left side of the midfield when available.
"If he's in the right situation, he can play," said U-17 head coach John Ellinger. "He's willing to play all positions and will do a great job for whoever gets him."
9. New England Revolution - Eddie Gaven, U-17 National Team
Gaven turned 16 last October, so no one is expecting fireworks right away.
With his position ever-changing with the U-17s, he could end up playing as a target striker in the future rather than as a central midfielder where he has logged more time in his impressive youth career.
If needed, he could step in at a variety of roles for Steve Nicol, whose team is strong but in need of more skill and creativity on offense outside of what Taylor Twellman gives them.
10. L.A. Galaxy - Diego Walsh, Southern Methodist
At 23, Walsh is one of the older players available in this draft. He was a two-time All-American as an attacking midfielder in college, and may be able to shift around the midfield.
Walsh would be just another tall (6-1) and athletic player that Schmid can add to his impressive stable to help give his ever-changing system some added versatility. Learning from a talented and extremely professional player like Mauricio Cienfuegos won't hurt Walsh's development as a player, either.
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.