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Dec 28, 2006

No clear top prospect among the defenders

As the SuperDraft gets closer, we should begin to hear more about underclassman coming out of college early to sign with Major League Soccer. So far, only one back has come out and said he is leaving school, Bakary Soumare of Virginia. Soumare has not signed a contract with MLS, but we will go ahead and rank him.

I also would expect two or three more defenders to sign early, and given that MLS named only 11 seniors to the combine on defense, there could be several more beyond that.

Similarly to last year, the defender pool is not very deep. At this time, there is not a lot of separation at the top of the defender board, either. Who might go when will be determined more by how much a given MLS coach just likes a guy, unlike last year, when Marvell Wynne was clearly going at the top of the list.

Top 10 Defender Prospects

1. Andrew Boyens, New Mexico -- Boyens, a 6-foot-4 New Zealand U-23 international, was a huge part of the recent success of the New Mexico program. A two-time All-American, first team in 2006 and third team in '05, Boyens is also a two-time Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year ('06, '04). Not to mention the accomplishment of making the Hermann semifinalist list this year. Bowens is superior in the air, fast and willing to mix it up, but his best attribute is probably his will and desire to win and his presence on the field. He also scored 11 goals in his career, many of them with his head.

2. Michael Harrington, North Carolina -- The best outside back on the boards. Blessed with good size, strength, athleticism and terrific pace, Harrington loves to get forward and has the skills to do so. Capable of playing in the midfield, something he did quite a bit for the Tar Heels until he switched to D for the U.S. U-20s, Harrington probably will focus on the back line at the next level. He's an offensive threat, too, with 14 career assists and four goals. Harrington did flirt with MLS last year and has just returned from a trial with Kaiserslautern in the German Bundesliga.

3. Jay Needham, Southern Methodist -- The SMU captain and four-year starter took a step forward and became the player many had expected to see in his senior year. A very technical defender and a better athlete than he appears at first glance, Needham dominated Conference USA this season, bringing home the league defender of the year award and consensus first-team All-American nods (NSCAA, College Soccer News and Top Drawer Soccer) to go with his Hermann finalist recognition. Needham has 10 goals and nine assists in his career, scoring with his head, from free kicks and in the run of play. He can be exposed by pace when he tries to do too much, but that trouble area should be correctable at the next level.

4. Steve Purdy, California -- Purdy can boast four league honors in his career, which is quite an achievement in a power conference like the Pac-10. With five goals and two assists in '06, Purdy was Cal's second-leading scorer, an impressive feat for a defender. A consensus second-team All-American, the Golden Bears defender has been a member of the U.S. U-18 and U-20 pools. A four-year starter, at 6-4, 190 pounds, Purdy has the size and stamina to survive MLS. In 2006, Purdy's outstanding play helped lead Cal to its first Pac-10 title.

MLS SuperDraft Preview
Buzz Carrick will provide a four-part analysis of the top prospects for the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, to be held Jan. 12 in Indianapolis.

• Part 1: Goalkeepers

5. Bakary Soumare, Virginia -- The redshirt freshman missed all but one minute of the 2005 season but returned in 2006 to lead the Cavs to the College Cup. Soumare is blessed with immense raw tools and vast upside. Tall, quick and rangy, with the speed to recover and close down forwards, Soumare should be more than up to the challenge of MLS. Perhaps not ready to start on Day 1 in MLS, so anyone drafting him will be doing so for the future. Upside is the key word for this raw young center back, who also has the skills to play outside early in his career.

6. Ty Harden, Washington -- Another four-year starter in the Pac-10, Harden, although he has more accolades than Purdy, isn't blessed with the size of the Cal standout. Team captain the past two seasons, Harden has been named to the Pac-10 first or second team every year. Harden led the Huskies' back line to eight shutouts in 2006 and to an NCAA postseason appearance in three of his four years (including the team's second-ever trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 2003).

7. Aaron Holhbein, Wisconsin -- Another two-time captain and four-year starter, this time in the Big Ten. Holhbein led the Badgers to within one game of the conference crown and an impressive 15 goals allowed in 2006, the third-lowest GAA in Wisconsin history. Not blessed with superior size like some on the list before him, Holhbein put up some solid numbers, with six goals and seven assists during his impressive career.

8. Billy Meier, UW Milwaukee -- The Panthers' standout defender doesn't play in one of the power conferences but still has managed to attract the attention of MLS scouts and get a combine invite. At 6-3, the senior has the size for MLS and won numerous awards for his leadership and work ethic at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, along with his two team MVPs. The Horizon League Defender of the Year redshirted as a freshman in 2002 and has won numerous academic athletic awards. Meier should be easily coachable, a characteristic highly desired by some MLS coaches who view the college ranks with trepidation.

9. John O'Reilly, Lehigh -- The All-American broke onto the national scene in his senior year with some impressive numbers. O'Reilly led the Mountain Hawks' defense in allowing only 10 goals in '06, the school's lowest total since 1964. O'Reilly did it at both ends for Lehigh, also netting six goals (15 for his career), showing skill with the feet and ability in the air despite being only 6-1. O'Reilly is the only player in my top 10 not invited to the MLS combine.

10. Hugh MacDonald, Monmouth -- The two-time Northeast Conference Defender of the Year is the first player in Monmouth history to be invited to the MLS combine. The 6-4 senior from Kearny, N.J., led the Hawks to two straight undefeated NEC titles and, in 2006, to their first NCAA postseason appearance. The 0.45 GAA for the Hawks this season was the second-best mark in the country. MacDonald spent two seasons at Virginia Commonwealth before transferring to Monmouth.

10 senior defenders to watch

Bobby Burling, Loyola Marymount
Justin Douglass, Missouri State
Kyle Helton, Duke
Greg Janicki, Michigan State
Ryan Junge, Creighton
Dustin Kirby, Ohio State
Zach Kirby, Boston University
Nigel Marples, Towson
Jason Massoglia, Detroit
Kiel McClung, UCLA

Buzz Carrick is the publisher of 3rd Degree, the FC Dallas News Source. He also works in the freelance sports television business and can be reached by e-mail at buzz@3rddegree.net.