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Jan 19, 2008

Toronto and Chicago the clear-cut winners

BALTIMORE -- The 2008 MLS draft was widely regarded as being thin in the talent department, but that didn't keep some teams from coming away from it as big winners.

The unpredictability of the first round, and the inexplicable decisions of certain teams, set the stage for a handful of teams to leave the Baltimore Convention Center flush with success. It also left some teams with just as many needs as they had entering the draft.

The Chicago Fire, Toronto FC and Kansas City Wizards were the big winners Friday, but Colorado and Real Salt Lake returned to the Rocky Mountains with some questionable selections.

Here is how all 14 teams did Friday:

Chicago (Patrick Nyarko, Dominic Cervi, Peter Lowry, Dwight Barnett, Stephen King, Austin Washington)

The Fire wound up with arguably the draft's best forward (Nyarko), goalkeeper (Cervi) and attacking midfielder (Lowry) and threw in a third-round steal in midfielder King. Nyarko could step in and start, and Cervi provides great insurance in case Matt Pickens leaves for England. King will be a player to watch. Grade: A

Toronto (Julius James, Pat Phelan, Brian Edwards, Mike Zaher, Joe Lapira)

Mo Johnston must have thought Christmas came early when the draft's two most polished defenders fell in Toronto's lap at picks 9 and 10. James should step in and start, as could Phelan. Edwards might be the goalkeeper of the future, and Johnston could wind up with the steal of the draft when he grabbed Lapira in the third round. If Lapira signs with MLS, Toronto will have run away with this draft. Grade: A

Kansas City (Chance Myers, Roger Espinoza, Yomby William, Jon Leathers, Matt Marquess, Rauwshan McKenzie)

The Wizards walked away with a wealth of defensive reinforcements. Myers and Espinoza could wind up being a fullback tandem for years (KC projects Espinoza as a left back), and William and Leathers were two of the better defenders at the MLS combine. The lack of any quality attacking prospects keeps the Wizards from a higher grade. Grade: A-

Columbus (Andy Iro, George Josten, Ricardo Pierre-Louis, Steven Lenhart)

The Crew went in hoping for some forward help and found it with two quality prospects in Josten and Pierre-Louis, two of the best forwards at the combine. Iro will make or break this draft. If the 6-foot-5 defender steps in and emerges as a dominant force, the Crew will wind up with an A+. If his slow feet make him a whipping boy for the league's top forwards, though, the grade will drop considerably. Grade: A-

FC Dallas (Brek Shea, Josh Lambo, Eric Avila, Ryan Miller, Jamil Roberts, Ben Nason)

In terms of upside, the Hoops scored the best crop of young talent in the draft. The Shea-Lambo-Avila trio could wind up being the foundation for a championship team years from now, with Shea a star in the making. The Lambo pick was a bit of a surprise, considering FC Dallas already has Ray Burse Jr., but nabbing Avila in the second round could prove to be one of the steals of the draft. The grade would be higher if there were more game-ready talent in the group, but this could wind up being an all-time best MLS draft if the youngsters live up to the hype. Grade: B

Los Angeles (Sean Franklin, Ely Allen, Matt Allen, Julian Valentin, Brandon McDonald, Matt Hatzke)

Los Angeles needed a strong draft to help fill out its roster with reasonably priced talent, and a strong draft it had. Franklin is an MLS-ready fullback who will making having dealt away Chris Albright easier. Ely Allen is a forward/winger who should provide a better bench option than some the Galaxy had last year. Goalie Matt Allen was a steal at the end of the second round and could wind up an MLS starter in a few years, and Valentin has some tools to develop into a contributor. Grade: B

New England (Rob Valentino, Michael Videira, Joe Germanese, Matthew Britner, Spencer Wadsworth)

The best move of the day for the Revs was acquiring defender Chris Albright for allocation money, but as that doesn't count toward the draft grade, we will focus on another solid draft from the perennial draft masters. Valentino has the size and skill to play good minutes and could be groomed to replace MLS defender of the year Michael Parkhurst if Parkhurst leaves after next season. Videira intends to test the European market, but if he winds up with the Revs, this grade goes up. Germanese is a speedy winger who should bring some energy off the bench. Grade: C+

New York (Eric Brunner, Luke Sassano, Dave Roth)

The Red Bulls wanted a quality defender and found one in Brunner, a first-round talent acquired in the second round. Brunner has the talent to challenge for a starting job and could outplay several defenders taken ahead of him. Sassano had a poor combine but the Red Bulls like his versatility. Roth could be a sleeper pick late as one of the draft's few left-sided talents. Grade: C+

D.C. United (Andrew Jacobson, Ryan Cordeiro, Tony Schmitz)

Considering D.C. didn't have a pick until late in the second round, the closest thing to the home team at the draft scored well by grabbing Jacobson, one of the best defensive midfield prospects in the draft. Cordeiro played forward in college but might wind up being a defender in MLS. Grade: C

Real Salt Lake (Tony Beltran, David Horst, Alex Nimo, Brennan Tennelle)

The first draft for coach Jason Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerwey was a forgettable one. Grabbing Beltran third overall was a major reach, and grabbing Nimo in the second round is a boom-or-bust move. Nimo has nice tools and a great story, but he looks at least two years away from making a first-team impact. Horst saves RSL from a worse grade by giving the team a prospect who could play major minutes in central defense. Grade: C

San Jose (Shea Salinas)

Frank Yallop wasn't really impressed with the talent in this draft and traded away the first overall pick for veteran defender Nick Garcia. Grabbing Salinas in the early second round was a quality move, but doesn't make up for dealing the draft's top pick at a bargain price. Grade: D

Colorado (Ciaran O'Brien, Adrian Chevannes)

Fernando Clavijo has always been regarded as a good judge of talent, but that didn't stop many from scratching their heads at the Rapids' two picks Friday. Clavijo passed on a top forward (Nyarko) and can't-miss defender (James) to draft a young and undersized defensive midfielder (O'Brien) who doesn't really fill a need. Could the pick have been the product of feeling guilty for essentially giving away Kyle Beckerman last year? Are the Rapids dealing Pablo Mastroeni? Colorado's second pick, Chevannes, is forgettable. O'Brien has talent, but the Rapids earn the worst possible grade for passing on so many players who could have made more of an impact. Grade: F

Chivas USA (Keith Savage)

The Goats came into the draft with just one fourth-round pick and left with a big forward in Savage, who really didn't impress at the combine. Grade: F

Houston (Geoff Cameron, Jeremy Barlow)

The defending champions couldn't do much with two low picks, but failing to trade up for a goalkeeper could prove costly in a draft in which there were some quality ones. Cameron is a strong defensive midfielder who will struggle to make the team, as will speedy midfielder Barlow. Grade: F

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.