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Jan 8, 2010

Generation adidas prospects bolster forward pool

As we get to the final positional ranking of the this year's previews, we now know most of the Generation adidas class. As usually happens with the strikers, those signings take us from an average senior class to a good one overall. Every year, MLS is plucking more of the top-tier forward talent out of the pool early. That's a trend that is only going to continue. With the Generation adidas additions, there are players spaced well through the top 10 who could get playing time early in MLS.

One interesting aspect in evaluating strikers, particularly senior strikers, is that many will be changing positions at the next level (Seattle's Brad Evans is a good example). Some will make the attempt at the combine, and some will be moved once they are chosen by MLS coaches.

Top 10 2010 forward prospects

1. Danny Mwanga, Oregon State -- The difference between the top two on this list isn't great. Mwanga is the likely top pick because Philadelphia coach Peter Nowak helped convince the Beavers sophomore to sign a Generation adidas contract. This was Mwanga's last college season either way, as he had trials lined up in France, so landing the exciting attacking threat is a real get for MLS, even if he will command a hefty salary. Mwanga is the first player in Oregon State history to be named Pac-10 Player of the Year, and he led the conference in five statistical categories: points, points per game, goals scored, goals per game and game-winning goals. Second team All-American in 2009 and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in '08. A citizen of the Republic of Congo, Mwanga has a U.S. refugee travel document, a U.S. green card and resident alien card. He is strong, fast, dynamic, dangerous, has terrific feet, wonderful skill and instincts, and some good size (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) to go with the amazing athleticism.

2. Teal Bunbury, Akron -- The other exciting, dynamic, game-changing talent in this pool is Akron's terrific striker. A former Canadian U-17 international, Bunbury is the son of Canadian international Alex Bunbury, who played for West Ham, Maritimo (Portugal) and the Kansas City Wizards. After making 10 starts as a freshman, Teal Bunbury stepped into the spot vacated by last year's No. 1 pick, Steve Zakuani, and proceeded to light up the MAC with 17 goals and five assists. Bunbury is very similar to Mwanga in skill set, albeit with less polish and perhaps a touch less top-end speed. By comparison, Bunbury is a more pure striker than Zakuani, his Akron predecessor. The Hermann finalist is a first team All-American and the MAC Player of the Year.

2010 MLS SuperDraft
Jan. 14
Convention Center, Philadelphia
2 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

3. Andre Akpan, Harvard -- A Generation adidas target for three straight seasons, Akpan continually passed on the MLS offers so he could get his Harvard degree instead. MLS finally gets its man this year, signing our top-ranked senior to a contract prior to the combine. A member of the powerhouse Dallas Texans 88 team that won multiple national championships and the Dallas Cup Super Group, Akpan moved on to Harvard rather than a standard name-brand soccer program. The lack of competitiveness in the Ivy League, frequently mentioned as a knock, doesn't seem to have hurt his game based on his strong performances with the U.S. U-20s in the previous cycle. Not surprisingly, Akpan is a very smart and tactically savvy player with impressive positional sense. Akpan does have some pace but isn't a pure burner like the previous two strikers on this list. Instead, Akpan is a high striker who can play with his back to the goal if needed, but also excels at getting into dangerous scoring positions and putting away goals. Akpan is a three-time All-American and four-time Ivy League first-teamer, leaving Harvard with 47 career goals and 33 assists.

4. Andrew Wiedeman, California -- The third Generation adidas striker on our list, the Cal junior is a former U.S. U-18 and U-20 international. A three-time Pac-10 honoree, first team in 2008 and '09, and an All-American in '08; Wiedeman leaves the Bears with 30 goals and 16 assists in three seasons of Pac-10 play. While he does have a fair number of assists, Wiedeman has a reputation as a goal poacher, scrapper and opportunistic goal scorer.

5. Zach Schilawski, Wake Forest -- What happens when you are a terrific attacking talent, but you go to a school where Cody Arnoux and Marcus Tracy play? You don't start is what happens. But when those two terrific players leave for Europe, if you are good enough, you do what Schilawski did -- and that's lead the ACC with 14 goals, five of them game winners, to earn a third-team All-American nod and a first-team ACC nod. Not being a starter at Wake doesn't mean the kid can't play; he was a key contributor on the great Wake teams of the last few years. He has remarkable career totals of 26 goals and 13 assists in only 18 starts though his junior year. Schilawski has the skills to be a nice off striker or wide mid at the next level; he likes to break down players on the dribble and can play in combination through midfield or on the run.

6. Jack McInerney, U.S. U-17 -- Despite the fact that he's shown great potential, McInerney is a high-risk, high-reward pick at 17 years old. Few teams in the top half of the draft can take a flier on a kid this young, even if he is this talented. McInerney made his name with fans at this year's U-17 Worlds after his terrific performance in the U-17 qualifiers. Blessed with nice feet and touch, McInerney tends to play slightly behind a high striker for the U.S. He likes to shoot from range, but can also dribble through gaps and play off his partner. Nice work by MLS to keep him home and not let him get away to Europe. At 5-foot-8, McInerney is probably still growing, but the size and the physical nature of MLS will be a factor early in his career.

7. Jason Yeisley, Penn State -- What might this young man's career have been without injury? Big Ten second team as a freshman before tearing his MCL in 2006. Rebounded in 2007 before tearing both his MCL and ACL late in the year. Still managed a Big 10 first-team nod despite missing the last month of that season. Redshirted in 2008 rehabbing the knee, missed the entire season, and then came back strong in 2009 to be named Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year with eight goals and five assists. That's 24 goals and 16 assists in a truncated 63-game career. While the knee injuries will scare off some teams, perhaps the clear determination, resiliency and work ethic it takes to recover from that kind of injury and not miss a step will attract some instead.

8. David Estrada, UCLA -- Many people seem to have forgotten how good Estrada was when he burst onto the scene in his walk-on freshman campaign. Estrada led UCLA with a school freshman-record 12 goals and was named almost everyone's national Freshman of the Year that season. A marked man since, Estrada has been given little room to work and not a lot of help up top the last few seasons. Surgery for a fractured metatarsal cost him the first half of the 2007 season. Fully healthy in 2009, Estrada picked up his fourth career Pac-10 nod with a first-team honor on the strength of his three goals and seven assists. A former U.S. U-18 with terrific feet, vision and ball skill, Estrada has always been a combination striker who flourishes in a good partnership. Estrada leaves UCLA with 22 goals and 14 assists in four seasons.

9. Bright Dike, Notre Dame -- At 6-1 and 223 pounds, Dike (pronounced Dee-Kay) is the kind of physical specimen who makes scouts drool, fans cheer and defenders flinch. Big, strong and fast, Dike can blast it with either foot but doesn't have great close control. Dike is kind of an old-fashioned big American striker. Only four starts prior to 2008, and he missed 2007 for a lack of academic credits; Dike demolished defenses in the Big East the last two seasons with 12 goals in 2008 and 11 goals in '09, earning first-team Big East nods each time, and adding Big East Offensive Player of the Year this season.

10. Justin Davis, New Mexico -- "Fast" and "lefty" are the two key words you need to know when talking about Davis, although "good long-range shot" and "nose for goal" don't hurt. Like Schilawski before him on this list, Davis might find a living out wide in midfield at the next level. With multiple Mountain Pacific Sports Federation first-team nods to his credit, Davis notched 13 goals and 12 assists through his junior year and then led the Lobos in scoring this season with seven goals and six assists.

Ten more seniors to watch

Conor Chinn, San Francisco

Chris Cutshaw, Bradley

David Walker, UCSB

Garrett Webb, Drake

Ronnie Bouemboue, North Carolina State

Mike Seamon, Villanova

Andrew Hoxie, William and Mary

Carlos Villa, Hartford

Connor O'Brien, Bucknell

Sam Maheu, St. Bonaventure

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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