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Jan 18, 2008

Unpredictability rules the day at the SuperDraft

BALTIMORE -- When MLS coaches sized up the talent in the 2008 MLS draft, most came away feeling like there were no players ready to make immediate impacts, but some very promising prospects who could be difference makers down the road.

This reality led many MLS teams to think about long-term prospects who won't cost much against the salary cap, rather than more experienced draftees with less upside. The result was a first round that was impossible to predict. Here is a closer look at how the first round shook out:

1. Chance Myers, D, Kansas City Wizards.

The best fullback in the draft, Myers impressed coaches when he played left back at the combine and looked like a natural there despite being a right back by trade. Speedy and sharp with a deft passing touch, Myers is young (20) but can step in and start at right back for the Wizards, who plan on moving Jack Jewsbury to the right wing. As a Generation adidas player, Myers won't count against the salary cap.

2. Brek Shea, M, FC Dallas

No player increased his stock at the MLS combine more than Shea, who impressed coaches with his ability to beat defenders with speed and aggressiveness. Only 17, Shea is a well-built 6-foot-3 player who could step in and see good minutes for FC Dallas, which considered Shea one of the draft's top prospects even before his impressive showing at the MLS combine.

3. Tony Beltran, D/M, Real Salt Lake

Arguably the most questionable pick of the first round, Beltran missed the combine with an injury but RSL liked him enough to pass on several more established defenders. Beltran can play a wing midfield role or fullback, but is small and is unlikely to make an impact as a rookie.

4. Sean Franklin, D, Los Angeles Galaxy

The Galaxy would have preferred Myers for salary cap purposes but Franklin is a great consolation prize. A strong and fast player with impeccable positional sense, Franklin was the best right back in the draft and is polished enough to step in and start, which would allow veteran Chris Klein to move up to right wing.

5. Ciaran O'Brien, M, Colorado Rapids

The Rapids could have addressed a variety of needs but chose instead to draft a young player at a position of strength. O'Brien projects as a defensive midfielder, where Pablo Mastroeni currently resides. O'Brien is a nice passer who is a bit smaller than you'd like from a defensive midfielder. How the Rapids didn't grab forward Patrick Nyarko or defender Julius James is beyond me.

6. Andy Iro, D, Columbus Crew

The Crew had their pick of central defenders and went with Iro, a 6-foot-5 physical specimen who could develop into an all-star caliber center back. There are concerns about his lateral quickness, with some coaches believing he has bad feet, but his upside was tough to pass up and Iro joins Chad Marshall and Marcos Gonzalez in an impressive stable of central defenders.

7. Patrick Nyarko, F, Chicago Fire

Fire coach Denis Hamlett had to be pinching himself after landing a forward many coaches considered the best talent in the draft. Nyarko didn't have an impressive combine but he still showed the tools that you look for in a quality striker. He has speed, strength and a good finishing touch and will challenge for major minutes on a Fire squad that desperately needed some goal-scoring help.

8. Josh Lambo, GK, FC Dallas

Another surprise pick, Lambo joins a Hoops squad that already has a talented young goalkeeper in Ray Burse. He is 17, built like a tank, and has as much talent at his age as any American goalkeeper in the past 10 years. FC Dallas couldn't pass that up.

9. Julius James, D, Toronto FC

Coach Mo Johnston has made some great picks through the years, but he got a little help with this one. Johnston couldn't contain his grin when he was able to grab James, the best defender in the draft, a player who should step in and start for TFC in year one.

10. Pat Phelan, D/M, Toronto FC

Another stellar selection for Johnston, who took one of the best defenders available, and a player who can provide cover at defensive midfielder when Maurice Edu is on Olympic and national team duty. Overshadowed by James and Iro before the draft, Phelan has the ability and leadership qualities to be a future captain.

11. Roger Espinoza, M, Kansas City

One of the only truly talented true left-sided players in the draft, Espinoza didn't impress at the combine but the Wizards were already sold on him well before that. Kansas City projects Espinoza as a left wing/left fullback and you could see Espinoza and Myers as a fullback tandem for years to come. Felt like a bit of a reach, but the Wizards are happy.

12. Dominic Cervi, GK, Chicago Fire

With Matt Pickens looking as if he could move to English club Norwich City, the Fire jumped at the chance to draft arguably the best goalkeeper in the pool. Cervi is big, quick, confident and fearless. His 6-foot-6 frame is imposing and he should fit in perfectly as backup and eventual successor to Jon Busch, assuming Pickens doesn't return.

13. Rob Valentino, D, New England

The Revs added some good defensive depth late with Valentino, a 6-foot-3 central defender who could be groomed as Michael Parkhurst's eventual successor if he leaves for Europe after the 2008 season. Valentino missed the combine with a neck injury.

14. David Horst, D, Real Salt Lake

If Jason Kreis wanted a strong central defender with good size, he found one in Horst (6-foot-4), who enjoyed a good MLS combine and could challenge for a starting role if RSL chooses to play Nathan Sturgis in defensive midfield.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.