Bumper crop of senior forwards heading to MLS
Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of previews for the 2009 MLS SuperDraft.
There's no doubt that the 2009 SuperDraft is the year of the forward. This is as good a group of senior strikers as I can recall and when the projected Generation adidas players are included it goes off the charts. The forward spot is not often a deep one, and while the talent eventually drops off, there is more depth than usual.
The top five seniors all look like legit pro prospects, and there are a handful of possible hidden gems that will be available later in the draft. Compare that to last year when there was only one legit prospect, Patrick Nyarko, and little to speak of after that. The depth would have been even better in the 2009 class if not for the loss of some solid prospects to Europe like Eliseo Giusfredi from Seton Hall, Alex Elliott from Portland and Dejan Jakovic from Alabama-Birmingham.
Just as I've done with the other positions, the probable Generation adidas players are left out for now because nothing has been announced by MLS. Players like Steve Zakuani from Akron, who could be the top pick, and Peri Masosevic from Michigan, who is also highly sought after, will be at the top of the list if they do decide to enter the draft.
Top 10 forward prospects
1. Marcus Tracy, Wake Forest -- Tracy, a Hermann Trophy finalist and first-team All-American, is one of the best striker prospects to come out of the college game in a long time. Tracy was one of two players in D-I to register double digits in both goals (13) and assists (10) this past season, but it's the pure talent and upside that has him at the top of this list. At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, he has the size, speed and athleticism of an Eddie Johnson. Tracy combines that with fantastic touch, the ability to link and tremendous work ethic and training habits. He's as complete a package as you'll see in the college system.
2. Mike Grella, Duke -- Grella is the ACC Player of the Year, two-time Herman semifinalist and two-time All-American. The only consistent scoring threat for the Blue Devils, Grella still produces despite receiving the entire focus of the opposition defense. He has the rare talent of being able to create his own space to score. Grella has tremendous self confidence, but has the numbers to back it up with a career 41 goals and 27 assists. A former U.S. U-18 and U-20 member, Grella might be eligible for a European Union passport through his Italian-born parents, which makes him a threat to bypass MLS and head overseas to play.
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3. Chris Pontius, California Santa Barbara -- A highly versatile and polished player, Pontius played left midfield early in his college career before moving up front, where he lite up the score sheet. It's unclear yet if he will play up top or wide in the midfield at the pro level, but he has the size and skill to do either. The 2007 Big West Offensive Player of the Year, Pontius added 14 goals in 2008 to bring his career total to 29.
4. Quincy Amarikwa, California Davis -- A terrific athlete who has a great burst, Amarikwa also has a real nose for the goal. At 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, he's a bit on the short side, but has the strength to hold off bigger defenders. Amarikwa exploded with 15 goals in his senior year to win the 2008 Big West Offensive Player of the Year award and ended his career with 31 goals.
5. O'Brian White, Connecticut -- The 2007 Hermann Trophy winner, White chose to pass on MLS last year to stay his senior year with the Huskies. It seems like that move has backfired as White blew out his ACL after 14 games this season. But White still won the Big East Offensive Player of the Year award for the second time and was named an All-American for the second time. While he won't be ready to play until April or so, his talent level is so high that the 6-1 White is still ranked in the top five prospects (he'd would have been second on this list without the injury). White leaves UConn with career totals of 46 goals and 23 assists. Although he went to high school in Toronto, White is a Jamaican who has played with Jamaica's U-15, U-17 and U-20 squads.
6. Graciano Brito, Quinnipiac -- Often listed as a midfielder, I'm going to list Brito as a forward until he proves he can't score in the pro environment. Brito led Quinnipiac in scoring the past three years, was named Northeast Conference Player of the Year twice and has been named an All-American twice. He set a single-season school record with 18 goals, led the nation in goals per game this year with 0.95 and leaves the Bobcat program with the most goals ever (40). At 6-2, 175 pounds, he has the size to play up top at the pro level. Brito is from Sao Nicolau, Cape Verde, but has a green card.
7. Doug DeMartin, Michigan State -- The 6-feet redshirt senior put the Big Ten on notice in his junior year with 12 goals. Apparently the Big Ten wasn't paying attention, because DeMartin scored 17 goals in 2008 to lead the defensive-minded Spartans to Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. He also picked up the Big Ten Player of the Year award and second-team All-American honors. DeMartin has a good soccer brain, terrific positional sense and good vision, but isn't highly regarded in terms of athleticism.
8. Jordan Seabrook, South Florida -- A former U.S. U-20 player and long considered as someone with big upside and potential, Seabrook hasn't progressed all that much at South Florida. Seabrook burst onto the scene as a freshman when he led the Big East in scoring with 14 goals, but hasn't scored more than six goals in a season since. Sure, he's a marked man, but he has underwhelmed with only 31 career goals and a succession of second and third-team Big East awards. Perhaps motivation may have been a problem for him in the college game. However, speed kills and Seabrook has plenty of it.
9. Graham Zusi, Maryland -- Zusi, the standout leader and big-game player for the national champs, has slid down some charts as time moves on from the College Cup, but not this one. Even though he played in the midfield for the Terps and is listed there by most people, I've never thought he was much of a midfielder. Instead, I see a winger or withdrawn striker with a tremendous long-range shot and skills as a free-kick specialist. Zusi also has leadership skills, a professional's work rate, a quick burst, and a opportunistic streak and sense of timing. Is he a can't miss prospect? No, but if you need someone to play the high wing in a 4-3-3 or behind a target as a second striker, you can do much worse than Zusi. A strong combine might prove he's not this year's Xavier Balc.
10. Tosaint Ricketts, Wisconsin Green Bay -- Ricketts, 6-feet, 175 pounds, has been one of the top scorers for Green Bay for four seasons now and was named First Team All-Horizon League the last two years. A former Canadian U-17 member, Ricketts played for Canada's U-20s at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and has most recently been named to the Canadian U-23s. Remarkably five of his six goals in his junior year were game-winners. A top sprinter in high school, pace is certainly not a question here. Ricketts also notably scored a hat trick against the U.S. U-20 team in a friendly on June 6, 2007.
Ten more seniors to watch
Brandon Barklage, St Louis
Mfanafuthi Bhembe, Alabama A&M
Joshua Boateng, Liberty
Kyle Christensen, Denver
Michael Fucito, Harvard
Maxwell Griffin, UCLA
Brad Peters, Eastern Illinois
Daniel Revivo, Winthrop
Chris Salvaggione, North Carolina Charlotte
Chris Wright, New Mexico
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 email@example.com.