Midfield class shapes up as bumper crop
After a couple of average seasons in the midfield ranks, which have largely been made up of solid defensive types with no real attacking flair, we now get a very promising pool. This might be the best midfield group since I started doing rankings, and I feel confident it is the best class since at least 2006.
The bumper crop is due to a good set of seniors who passed on Generation adidas deals in the last few years, combined with this year's Gen adidas class.
I've chosen to include four prospective Gen adidas players in my midfield list, two who have been confirmed by MLS and two I feel confident will sign GA deals. Even after those four we might see even more talent if MLS lands UCLA freshman Amobi Okugo, U.S. U-17 Luis Gil and UNC's Cameron Brown.
Top 10 2010 midfield prospects
1. Tony Tchani, Virginia -- The "next Sharlie Joseph" tag he's earned tells you only a little bit about this sophomore. A massive 6-foot-4, Tchani has frequently dominated the ACC for his first two seasons. ACC Freshman of the Year in 2008, multiple All-America nods this year, and 17 goals and seven assists in two seasons. Tchani can play multiple spots at the next level, but I think he'll start his career as a deep-lying midfielder. Tough as nails and big, he's an enforcer and has technical skills on top of that. He should be ready to start the minute he walks into an MLS camp. He's been reported to have signed with MLS, but it is not yet official. Tchani has the talent to go No. 1 overall.
2. Corben Bone, Wake Forest -- This junior is the best pure attacking talent to come out of the college game in several years. He's had discussions with MLS every year he's been in college but stayed at Wake for the outstanding tactical development in its program. He has phenomenal ball skills and passing vision. Bone may take a season to get 100 percent in the flow with MLS, but expect him to be running a team from the middle as a pure playmaker before too long. He was the 2007 ACC Freshman of the Year and has earned two first-team All-America nods since. Again not confirmed by MLS, but the U.S. U-20 has been reported as leaving Wake. The only question is where he's headed, MLS or Europe.
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3. Toni Stahl, Connecticut -- The most complete and ready-to-go senior in the pool and a dogged, hard-nosed, pure-ball winner. He also should be ready to start in MLS on day one. By comparison, he offers less going forward than last year's senior gem, Sam Cronin, but is a better defender and tackler. Great size at 6-3 and tactically savvy enough for the modern pro midfield. Stahl is from Finland and was 2006 Big East Rookie of the Year in 2006 and first-team Big East every year since. He was also named 2009 Big East Midfielder of the Year and was a second-team All-American.
4. Dilly Duka, Rutgers -- A Generation adidas signing confirmed by MLS, Duka is a former Red Bulls youth player and really vaulted his status with his tremendous performance at the U-20 World Championships. Technically a sophomore, Duka skipped this season at Rutgers to focus on the worlds and has played only one season of college ball. The creative force in the U-20 midfield, Duka has terrific vision and field awareness. He's capable of making the special play to win games. Duka probably isn't ready to make an immediate impact in MLS, but in a couple of seasons he should really be excelling.
5. Blair Gavin, Akron -- A U.S. U-18 and U-20 youth international, this deep-lying junior holding mid has the vision to be a playmaker from deep. He's the anchor in the tremendous Zips midfield that allows their attacking force great freedom. Gavin is the second midfield Generation adidas signing confirmed by MLS. The 6-0 Gavin is a two-time first-team All-Mid-American Conference player. Gavin scored five goals this season, three of which were game winners, and added three assists while leading a defensive unit that had 19 shutouts, the second-highest shutout total in NCAA history.
6. Michael Stephens, UCLA -- The first of two Bruins seniors whose Generation adidas offers in previous years didn't come to fruition and thus enrich this class, Stephens held talks with MLS last year only to have them fall apart late in the process. He's a bit of a cautionary tale, as he's likely going to have cost himself draft status and a bunch of money by staying for one more season. His somewhat lackluster senior season, combined with no roster protection, means Stephens will have to compete for a senior roster spot in MLS. He was the 2008 Pac-10 Player of the Year, only the third such honor in UCLA's storied history. He recorded only seven assists this year for Stephens this year after leading the Pac-10 last year with seven goals and nine assists. Don't let the lesser senior stats fool you: This kid can play.
7. Kyle Nakazawa, UCLA -- One of the stars of the U.S. team at the U-17 worlds back in 2005, Nakazawa negotiated with MLS before going to UCLA and then again after his freshman year. Three years later, he leaves UCLA as a senior saddled with a reputation for amazing skill and an apathetic work rate. The most dangerous free-kick taker in this class, Nakazawa has sublime skills with the ball. Capable of playing in the midfield or as a striker, he's arguably more talented than Stephens but is a less complete player. He had only one Pac-10 honor in his career, a second-team all-conference nod in 2007, before exploding this year with multiple All-America awards thanks to his leading the Bruins in scoring with 12 goals and seven assists.
8. Two-Boys Gumede, Alabama-Birmingham -- The redshirt senior and South Africa native is a second-team All-American and the Conference USA Player of the Year. Only the third player in UAB history with four all-conference nods, Gumede missed the entire 2007 season because of injury but showed in '08 and '09 that he was fully recovered. He's an excellent athlete with tremendous range, and it's the passing vision in the final third that got him the award as the best in Conference USA. Gumede leaves UAB with career totals of 11 goals and 18 assists.
9. Irving Garcia, UC Irvine -- If he weren't 5-5, Garcia might be a more coveted talent. Despite the small stature, Garcia is a terrific soccer player. Good enough on the ball, he has the potential to make it at the MLS level. He started his career at Yavapai College, where he was a JC All-American and a national champion before moving on to UC Irvine. A strong junior year, when he was first-team All-Big West, set up his outstanding senior season, which earned him Big West Offensive Player of the Year and a third-team All-America nod.
10. Nelson Becerra, St. John's -- A midfielder with a solid skill set, Becerra is a player whose intangibles and willpower make him better than his skills alone. He led the Red Storm to last year's College Cup while grabbing the Big East Midfield of the Year award on the strength of his eight goals (five game winners) and seven assists. Becerra is less of a playmaker and more of a difference maker who gets big goals in big games. 2009 was a bit of a step back for St. John's and Becerra. The native of Peru leaves St. John's with career totals of 14 goals (six game winners) and 11 assists.
Ten more seniors to watch
Eric Alexander, Indiana
Mauro Fuzetti, Michigan
Austin da Luz, Wake Forest
Conor O'Brien, Bucknell
Jon Ports, York College
Alan Sanchez, North Carolina State
Michael Strickland, Stanford
Michael Thomas, Notre Dame
Jonathan Villanueva, Virginia
Collen Warner, Portland
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.