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Defensive crop deep in quality prospects

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of previews for the 2008 MLS SuperDraft.

With the MLS SuperDraft set to take place Jan. 18 in Baltimore, MLS teams are hard at work trying to identify the best talent coming out of college that will fill the four rounds of the SuperDraft and the four subsequent rounds of the supplemental draft. The bulk of the draft pool will be college seniors, but MLS also will sign 10-20 underclassmen to the Generation adidas program and enter them into the SuperDraft pool.

The defender pool is one of the most talented and deep pools in this year's draft -- and is one of the deepest in quite a few years.

Top 10 senior defender prospects

1. Julius James, Connecticut -- Two years ago, a former MLS assistant described James as a "beast" and told me he was MLS-ready. James is the complete package of speed, skill, strength and talent who can start in MLS from day one. The Trinidadian tops his résumé with a remarkable three Big East Defensive Player of the Year awards. James is the only player in UConn history to be named a first team All-American twice. The two-time Hermann Trophy semifinalist should have been signed a couple of years ago; now MLS almost certainly will have to sign him in advance of the draft to keep him from going to Europe.

2. Andy Iro, UC Santa Barbara -- Another non-American, this one a Brit, Iro put together a terrific career with the Gauchos. At 6-foot-5 and 220-pounds, Iro is an immense physical presence in the back and is capable of dominating games at both ends of the field. He is a good reader of the game, and his commanding personality is a bonus addition to the mix. Iro has quick enough feet to not be exposed on the dribble and can play out of the back. Iro was also defensive MVP of the College Cup in 2006, when he led his team to the national title while playing with a nagging knee injury.

3. Pat Phelan, Wake Forest -- He was named a first team All-American this year as a defensive midfielder after two seasons as a starting center back, which shows Phelan's soccer smarts and versatility. A tremendously quick reader of the game, Phelan is blessed with terrific work rate and energy and has great range despite not being noticeably fast. With a solid touch and passing skills, his best asset is his soccer brain. He's probably better-suited for the back line at the next level as the time and space shrink. Phelan also showed he was capable of playing wide as a starting freshman outside back for Wake. A former U.S. U-20 who went to the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in Holland, Phelan was the 2003 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year.

4. Sean Franklin, Cal State Northridge -- Despite missing most of his senior year, Franklin showed enough in just seven games to be named All-Big West first team for the third straight time. Franklin was called into the U.S. U-23s last February for their tour of Japan and was a member of the U.S. U-20 squad in 2004. The fleet right back also was named to the PDL All-League Team with the San Fernando Valley Quakes and has the athleticism to really get up and down the field.

5. David Horst, Old Dominion -- Horst is the first ever back-to-back winner of the Colonial Athletic Association Defender of the Year award. The 6-foot-4 Horst led the ODU defense to 12 shutouts and a 0.63 goals-against average in 2007. Horst also was named the 2007 Defender of the Year in the Premier Development League (of the United Soccer Leagues). Horst's PDL team, the Hampton Roads Piranhas, set a Premier Development League record with 10 consecutive shutouts. Horst leaves ODU after the school's best four-year stretch in history as its all-time leader in starts and games played.

6. Eric Brunner, Ohio State -- A tall (6-foot-4) and lanky (165 pounds) defender with good speed who transferred from Maryland, Brunner is great in the air and dangerous on set plays in the offensive end. He played as a center back the past two seasons for the 2007 Division I runners-up, but he has the versatility to play wide, having started at left back earlier in his career. A first team All-American in 2007 and two-time first team nod in the very competitive Big Ten. He needs to improve his skill on the ball but could help an MLS team by being able to play multiple spots. Brunner has been compared favorably to Clarence Goodson.

7. Rob Valentino, San Francisco -- An outstanding leader and versatile center back, Valentino would have been ranked higher if he had not lost his entire senior year to a preseason knee injury. The Dons' co-captain is skilled enough to have played both midfield and forward for San Francisco on various occasions. A U.S. U-23 in early 2007, Valentino almost certainly will be drafted despite the injury if he chooses to leave school. Will he redshirt and return for another year with the Dons to help his pro prospects?

8. Adrian Chevannes, SMU -- A versatile player who followed a bizarre path to get to this point, Chevannes has one thing MLS scouts love and coaches know can't be taught: serious speed. The dreadlocked Chevannes played forward, midfield and defense for SMU over the years, but he projects as an outside back in MLS. After coming out of the U.S. U-17 residency program, Chevannes started his college career in 2003 at Clemson before transferring to SMU for the 2004 season. He scored four goals and added two assists in 2004 playing mostly in the back line before losing the last three games of the year to a knee injury. In 2005 Chevannes went to Utah and spent a year training with Real Salt Lake before returning to SMU in 2006. As a junior he was moved to forward and was the second-leading scorer with six goals and six assists to earn a second team Conference USA nod. Used in the back line for 2007, he was named to the C-USA first team. Chevannes scored 13 goals and added nine assists in his long, winding college career.

9. Mike Zaher, UCLA -- Zaher was a two-year starter for an exceptional Bruins program. He's a quick, average-sized outside back who is a dangerous threat on the offensive end and a solid defender on the defensive end. A two-time first team All-Pac-10 player, Zaher was UCLA's second-leading scorer in 2007 with four goals and three assists out of the right back spot, and he displayed leadership on and off the field. You might also recognize him as the soccer-playing leading man in the video for the song "Too Little Too Late" by JoJo.

10. Jon Leathers, Furman -- The undersized 5-foot-8, 150-pound Leathers was a terrific four-year starter at center back, but he has already talked about switching to outside back at the pro level. Leathers was the Southern Conference Player of the Year for the second straight season. He was also named the 2006-07 Furman Male Athlete of the Year and second team All-American. A recent U-23 call-up for the trip to China, Leathers is the only current collegiate player on the U.S. roster that includes 20 professionals.

Others to keep an eye on

Scott Bolkan, Stanford

Joe Donoho, Bradley

Rauwshan McKenzie, Michigan State

Ryan Miller, Notre Dame

Brandon Owens, UCLA

Jamil Roberts, Santa Clara

Andre Sherard, North Carolina

Corey Sipos, Akron

Julian Valentin, Wake Forest

David Worthen, UNC-Greensboro

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.