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Jan 9, 2009

Gen adidas crop set to make first-year impact

When scouts look at the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, they see a deep crop of talent at multiple positions. Unlike the 2008 draft, which lost much of its luster after the first round, this year's edition will see quality senior prospects available even in the third round.

So why exactly is this year's draft so much stronger and deeper? It boils down to an improved Generation adidas class that signed up this year. (Players who join MLS as part of the Generation adidas program receive educational grants to further their college education and also do not count against an MLS team's salary budget.)

A year ago, that was far from the case. Led by a very young group of Generation adidas prospects, the 2008 draft class was expected to struggle in year one. This year's Generation adidas group looks much more ready to step on the field and contribute.

Here is a closer look at the nine players who make up the 2009 MLS Generation adidas draft class and the order they're projected to be selected:

Steve Zakuani, forward, Akron (Sophomore)

The speedy and shifty striker is a former Arsenal youth player and boasts the skill set and pace to be an impact forward. If he goes No. 1 overall to Seattle as expected, Zakuani could be dangerous on the Qwest Field turf, especially playing in front of what could be a loaded midfield.

"He can take people on and create his own chances, which you always like seeing in a forward," one MLS coach said. "A solid player who should be ready from day one."

Omar Gonzalez, defender, Maryland (Junior)

A converted forward who has adapted quickly to the central defender position, the 6-foot-5 center back has some coaches drooling at his size-skill combination as well at his ability to score on set pieces. There are some concerns about his lateral quickness, but he is the clear-cut top defender in the draft, and is almost certain to be a top-two pick.

"Physically he's gifted and there's a lot of similarities in terms of a Chad Marshall when he came out of college," said one MLS technical director/GM. "In the right environment, with the right coaching, he could wind up being a special player."

Stefan Frei, goalkeeper, California (Junior)

2009 MLS SuperDraft
Jan. 15
St. Louis
2 p.m. ET, ESPN2

A 6-3 standout who has been considered the best goalkeeper in college for the past two seasons, Frei is regarded as a future star who is as good or better at his age than some of the best Americans in the game.

"This kid is along the lines of a [Brad] Guzan, and could eventually be better," said one MLS GM/technical director. "He's not ready to step in and be a starting goalkeeper, but if you bring him into the right situation and let him develop, you could have someone special."

Rodney Wallace, defender, Maryland (Sophomore)

Arguably the best athlete of the bunch, Wallace boasts blazing speed and good size. A converted midfielder, Wallace now brings strong attacking qualities to the left back position. The Costa Rican-born left footer might still be a little raw as a defender, but his physical attributes and age (20) have scouts' attention and teams may try to move up to draft the player many consider the best full back in the draft.

"He gets up and down the wing as well as anybody in this draft," said one MLS technical director/GM. "I'm not sure if he's got the position in his grasp yet but you can't teach the speed he has."

Jeremy Hall, midfielder, Maryland (Junior)

Like his college teammate Wallace, Hall boasts impressive speed on the flanks, and while not a natural left-footer, he has shown an ability to attack from either wing. In his junior season, Hall also showed a good nose for the goal and a more complete overall game that has him projected to be taken in the top half of the first round of the MLS Draft.

"Before last year he needed some maturity and this year you really saw him become a 90-minute player," said one scout. "He's not a guy who flat-out takes guys on and puts service in, but he gets up and down and puts in the work defensively that you like to see on the professional level."

Kevin Alston, defender, Indiana (Junior)

Overshadowed in this class by Gonzalez and Wallace, Alston is a polished full back who is fast and versatile enough to play either left back or right back. A natural on the right side, Alston anchored the left back spot for Indiana last season and held his own. At 5-8, he isn't the biggest player but his tenaciousness and ability to get forward out of the back makes him an attractive prospect who may be the most MLS-ready defender in this class.

"He's a former [U.S.] U-17 [national team player] who has gotten better every year and has a skill set and maturity that makes him a safer pick than most," said one scout. "He can play on either side, which is a big plus in [MLS], but I see him winding up on the right."

Baggio Husidic, midfielder, Illinois-Chicago (Junior)

The best pure playmaker in this class, Husidic combines size (6-1), speed and technical ability. The biggest question mark about him is whether his success on the college level, particularly in a league not considered to be one of the strongest, will translate to the professional ranks. The Bosnian-born midfielder is arguably the most skillful midfielder in the draft and is a target of several teams looking to add a creative boost to their rosters.

"He's got a very good mind for the game, a very creative player, but he wasn't really challenged physically in the league he played in," one technical director/GM said. "The Combine is going to be key for him to show that he can do the same things against top competition that he did during the year. If he can show that, he'll go high in the draft."

Peri Marosevic, forward, Michigan (Sophomore)

The U.S. U-20 national team's leading scorer, Marosevic is a relentless forward who is dangerous inside the penalty area and who, at 19, still has plenty of room for growth. Along with Cruz, Marosevic is likely seen as more of a long-term prospect than the rest of the class, but his success on the international level has scouts ready to grab him in the first round as a long-term investment.

"He's a worthy candidate, in the mold of an Alejandro Moreno, very good around the box and works hard on the other side of the ball as well," said one coach. "He isn't the most technically-gifted player in the draft but he has all the tools and work ethic to be a good pro for years."

Daniel Cruz, midfielder, UNLV (Sophomore)

A U.S. U-20 midfielder, Cruz was a standout striker at UNLV and can play a variety of positions, with right wing being his most likely destination at the pro level. A strong and aggressive attacker who performs well in bigger games, Cruz, 19, is also the youngest player in the draft. A relative newcomer to the game, having started playing in high school, Cruz still has much more room to grow, but still has the tools to contribute right away.

"He is a handful, a player who works hard, gets crosses in and makes it tough on teams to play against him," said one coach. "He is extremely fit, can go end-line to end-line, and is really what Generation adidas is all about."

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.

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