Opara the grand prize for MLS teams
While the 2009 rookie crop was a great draft class overall, it wasn't a great season for senior defenders. Most of the top defenders last season were either underclassmen or converted midfielders.
In addition to the seniors, there are some really outstanding Generation Adidas targets. Names like U.S. U-20 international Gale Agbossoumonde, Cal junior A.J. Soares, and Duke freshman Christian Ibeagha. I don't usually include many possible GA signings and underclassmen, but this year there are two who warrant mention.
Top 10 2010 defenders
1. Ike Opara, Wake Forest -- I'm including the junior Opara, even though he has not officially signed with anyone, because he's the clear top choice. Opara has been the best defender in college the past two years. As a freshman he broke into the starting lineup due to a preseason injury to Julian Valentin. By the time Valentin returned, Opara had played so well coach Jay Vidovich shuffled his entire lineup to keep Opara on the field, moving several All-Americans to do so. Big, strong, fast and a smart defender, Opara is the complete package. He's probably the best defender to leave college since Chad Marshall and might be the best since Eddie Pope. That is if MLS can land him. Opara missed seven Wake games this year while starting for the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup and was still named ACC Defender of the Year, for the second time, and consensus first-team All-American. Opara has been the No. 1 prospect on my overall list two years in a row now and he should be the first overall pick this year.
|2010 MLS SuperDraft|
Convention Center, Philadelphia
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2. Zach Loyd, North Carolina -- A midfielder or an outside back for most of his college career, Loyd was forced to move to center back this season because of injuries, and he excelled in that position. A first-team All-American and first-team All-ACC, Loyd led the Tar Heels back line to 12 shutouts and only 12 goals allowed all season. Loyd is an extraordinarily fit and athletic player with a great motor and work rate. A smart player and tactically flexible, Loyd can play multiple positions, although I feel his best position and future as a pro is in midfield (even though I left him with the defenders), which just happens to be where MLS listed him for the combine. At 5-foot-9 he's probably considered too short to play center back for most MLS coaches.
3. Chris Schuler, Creighton -- The first of two good defenders coming out of Creighton this year, Schuler is an intimidator and dominant physical presence in the back for the Bluejays. Schuler helped Creighton to eight shutouts this year, a school-record 13 last year and 39 total in his career. A top-10 prospect out of high school, Schuler redshirted at Indiana in 2005 before transferring to Creighton. Despite his size and power at 6-4, 185 pounds, Schuler plays a disciplined game, earning very few yellow cards.
4. Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Connecticut -- The massive Watson-Siriboe (6-3, 196 pounds) dominated play in the Big East this year with UConn to earn the Big East Co-Defender of the Year nod. A former U.S. U-18 player, Watson-Siriboe broke out in 2007 for UConn and might have been ranked higher on this list if not for missing half of 2008 with injury. The UConn back line allowed only 10 goals in 19 games this season while posting 13 shutouts. His superlative senior season should be enough to erase any injury concerns. Watson-Siriboe has pace to go with his size, making him very tough to beat.
5. Sheanon Williams, North Carolina -- Theoretically only a sophomore, Williams left UNC after his outstanding freshman year to focus on the U.S. U-20 team in hopes of signing a professional contract. The somewhat disappointing performance of the U.S. team at the Worlds may have hampered his status as Williams remains "unattached" to any pro club despite trials in Europe. MLS rules can be a bit ambiguous, but, having sat out a season, Williams should be able to sign with MLS as a free agent after the MLS SuperDraft if he doesn't sign a Generation Adidas deal in advance. An outside back with terrific pace, Williams can both defend and get forward to create havoc. He is also a former U.S. U-17 residency player and he did play some PDL soccer with the Carolina Dynamo this past summer.
6. Nick Cardenas, San Diego State -- The towering 6-5 Cardenas was effective at both ends of the pitch for the Aztecs, leaving SDSU with 12 goals and seven assists in his career. A four-time Pac-10 honoree, including Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2006, Cardenas has excelled against heavyweight competition week in and week out and is capable of shutting down an offense. A former U.S. U-20 call-up, Cardenas has been involved in 21 shutouts in his college career.
7. Ryan Peterman, University of San Diego -- Being named West Coast Conference Player of the Year as a left back is a nice feat to pull off. Peterman was also WCC First Team in 2008 and All-Rookie Team back in 2006. Peterman likes the ball at his feet and relishes taking players on the dribble. He was a marked man in 2009, literally, as some teams tried to counter him with a marking forward. Peterman has a really nice left foot and is the kind of two-way player who should excel in MLS.
8. Barry Rice, Kentucky -- A tremendous athlete, Rice is the best player ever produced by the University of Kentucky. He earned back-to-back Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year nods in 2007 and 2008, followed up with an All-American award in 2009. Rice is only 5-11, but is blessed with a tremendous vertical. Kentucky added a stat to its game-tracking just for Rice: headers contested/won. Over '08 and '09 Rice won an astounding 315 of the 373 headers he contested, roughly 84 percent. Rice can get forward dangerously too, leaving UK with career tallies of 12 goals and seven assists. He was also recently named one of 15 players on the ESPN High School All-Decade Team for leading St. Ignatius to back-to-back Ohio state titles.
9. Phil Edginton, Louisville -- Another big (6-3) center back out of the Big East, Edginton was named Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year and was a unanimous selection to the 2009 All-Big East First Team. He led the Cardinal D to 13 shutouts in 20 games and only 12 goals allowed all year. Edginton can provide a little something going forward as well; he grabbed two goals and two assists this season. Recently called to the New Zealand senior national team, Edginton is a former Kiwi U-20, U-16, and U-14 youth international.
10. Seth Sinovic, Creighton -- The other top-notch defender out of Creighton this season is the lefty left back Seth Sinovic. Selected to the MLS Combine last year, the redshirt senior Sinovic made the decision to pull out of the event and return for a final year with the Bluejays. Granted a hardship year by the NCAA, Sinovic had an outstanding season, being named to his second straight All-MVC First Team, his third conference nod in four seasons. A defender capable of shutting down an opposing player one-on-one, Sinovic also contributed offensively. He tied for the Creighton lead in assists with six in 2008, then grabbed three goals and four assists this season to finish second on the team scoring charts.
Ten more seniors to watch
Kris Banghart, Denver
Nick Barclay, Gonzaga
Mark Blades, Northwestern
Kevin Gallaugher, Cal State Dominguez Hills
Joel Gustafsson, St John's
Martin Hedevag, UC Santa Barbara
Tim Ream, St Louis
Ofori Sarkodie, Indiana
Doug Verhoff, Ohio State
Adam Welch, Lehigh
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.