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Jan 14, 2009

Grella the top prospect but a risky pick

This is a stronger draft pool than the past two classes and might be one of the best in some time. What makes it potentially so strong isn't the top-tier prospects, a couple of whom look to have been lost to Europe, but rather the depth of talent that could see impact players as deep as the third round.

Wake Forest's Marcus Tracy would have been the top player on this list, but is signing with Aalborg in Denmark. He's likely to still be selected in the SuperDraft in the lower rounds.

Top 20 prospects

1. Mike Grella, F, Duke -- With Tracy out of the mix, Grella is the best striker available but is also a risk since he's considering Europe. He has gifted feet and he moves to make space and score goals all on his own. He's a player who can score from anywhere and is also capable of mixing it up in the box.

2. Stefan Frei, GK, California -- Frei is clearly the best keeper and is being compared to Brad Guzan by some even though he's older coming out of school. If he's even close to Guzan's ability, he's an MLS starter and could be bound for Europe in three or four years. Frei is Swiss by birth but attended high school in the U.S.

3. Sam Cronin, M, Wake Forest -- The best midfielder available and the most-ready-to-start field player. He's smooth, aware, and confident, a team leader and tactical dictator of pace and flow. I'd like to see a bit more bite in the tackle, but a quality deep-lying midfielder.

4. O'Brian White, F, Connecticut -- Without the ACL injury he'd be No. 1 on this list. Fast and strong, he has so much talent that someone will risk a pick on him early in the draft. He's a Jamaican international but has Canadian residency. It may take a year for him to be ready to seriously contribute. Even though he's injured, he'll still go in the first round.

2009 MLS SuperDraft
Jan. 15
St. Louis
2 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360

5. Steve Zakuani, F, Akron -- A Brit, Zakuani was the best of the attacking talent at the MLS combine and is a Generation adidas signing. He can beat people on the run with pace or with moves. Hasn't shown the back-to-goal skill of a target-type forward and doesn't finish well enough yet. He may be slipping a bit.

6. Omar Gonzalez, D, Maryland -- Used the MLS combine to cement himself as the top defender in the pool, but isn't in the same class of talent as Ike Opara, who stayed in school. He's big, tall, has relatively good feet, and is dominate in the air, but he may be missing some lateral quickness. He gets mixed love/hate reviews from various MLS coaches.

7. Kevin Alston, D, Indiana -- Extremely fast and has some skill to beat people when he gets forward. Alston is a solid defender but will need improvement on that part of his game, but he has the recovery speed to compensate. He's naturally right-footed but can also play on the left side. He's a Generation adidas signing.

8. Chris Pontius, F/M, UCSB -- The most complete player out of the forwards on display at the combine, but without as much upside perhaps. A smart player with good skills, he may start his career as a wide mid, but should end up a second striker or high winger. Pontius has a powerful shot and can make space on his own.

9. Jeremy Hall, M/F, Maryland -- Considered by most the best wide midfield talent in the pool, he didn't get much chance to show it at the combine because of team play. Has top end pace with and without the ball. He's also willing to play defense, a rare commodity in an attacking player. Hall is a Generation adidas signing.

10. Michael Lahoud, M, Wake Forest -- Usually regarded in college as a two-way wide midfielder, but he seems to be making a switch to the middle. Fast and skilled, he can play defense as well as attack. He has signed with MLS pre-draft, but some questions remain about which spot he'll play in MLS.

11. Brad Ring, M, Indiana -- Based on reputation and career, Ring is the second-best central player in this pool and the best pure holding mid. Tackles much better than Cronin but isn't as polished otherwise. He does have good range and can score from distance. He missed the MLS combine with a lingering injury, but that hasn't hurt his status.

12. Peri Marosevic, F, Michigan -- An in-the-box striker who works his tail off, he's not a nifty dribbler but has a knack for scoring goals. At 19, and a Generation adidas signing, he's one of the younger players in the pool and should be improving for years. He's a bit unpolished and temperamental but is very confident in his talent and is a real fighter.

13. Jordan Seabrook, F, South Florida -- Seabrook showed at the combine that he has all the tools to be a successful pro and that his early college success wasn't a mirage. There are still some concerns about production, but he's fast, strong, and makes good runs. He can beat defenders one-on-one, and that will get some attention.

14. Lyle Adams, D, Wake Forest -- Very tall, lanky and fleet of foot, he played left back in college but is right-footed, so will likely move to right back in the pros. Adams is the second-best attacking outside back available behind Alston.

15. Kyle Patterson, M, Saint Louis -- British wide attacking talent who can play striker as well. He likes to cut inside, can shoot well from there, and will pop up on both wings. He was one of the more complete wide players on display at the combine. His crossing will need to improve but he could contribute his rookie year.

16. Matt Besler, D, Notre Dame -- A very smart and tactical defender reminiscent of Michael Parkhurst in style. Has a finesse game and reads the play well in advance of the ball. He's a good organizer in the back with plenty of skills to be good at the next level.

17. Daniel Cruz, M, UNLV -- A young Generation adidas player out of the U.S. youth program. A tenacious worker and runner at wide midfield, he has the raw soccer skills that should eventually make him a standout pro, but that will take a few years. There are lower-ranked players who will contribute sooner, but in the long run, Cruz has higher upside.

18. David Hertel, D, Michigan State -- A strong combine moves him up as the top left back available. Lefties are hard to find and Hertel has good pace, can get forward and plays good defense. Hertel is also not afraid to get physical, but has solid technical skill, too.

19. Darrius Barnes, D, Duke -- An athletic central defender who really helped his status with a good combine, notably shutting down Zakuani on the second day. He might even have vaulted himself into the top three or four center backs available on some boards. Fast and strong, but will need some tactical coaching. He also saw some time at outside back at the combine.

20. Rodney Wallace, D, Maryland -- An outside left back or flank player who has some top-end speed. He's highly coveted in some quarters, although I don't rate him as high. Has upside and is a Generation adidas signing. At 20, he will probably need a season or two to progress and he looks much better as a left back than a left mid. Wallace is Costa Rican but has a green card.

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.

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