January 17th is still a long ways off but that does not mean it is too soon to start looking at players who Toronto could potentially select first overall. In fact, if you want to get an idea about any of the top prospects the next few weeks will be your last chance until the combine kicks off. That is because the NCAA tournament is about to get under way and for some of the top players the season is already over while others will not be far behind.
I caught up with Travis Clark (follow him on twitter @travismclark) of TopDrawerSoccer.com, the sight is a great source for all kinds of US amateur soccer news, to help form a list of prospects that could potentially go number one in Indianapolis. There is no consensus number one in the draft this year and it is still a bit soon to be forecasting just which under-classmen will be signed to Generation Adidas deal so that means there are a fair few options worth looking at.
Over the coming weeks I will be taking a deeper look at each of the players on the list and making the case as to why they might be a good choice for Toronto at first overall. I will also be looking at some of the Canadian talent that will be hoping to have their name called on draft day. For now though we will start with the basics about a few names to keep an eye out for if you get the chance to watch any of the NCAA tournament. It is no March Madness but it is still certainly worth tuning in just to get even more soccer in your lives and then you can claim to be a draft expert too!
The following is a list of players that Travis pointed out as potentials to go early in the draft. It is by no means a complete list as there are other names that will certainly enter the conversation at some point but until the complete list of players who sign Generation Adidas deals comes out these are a few names to get to know in the mean time:
The Fighting Irish are heading into the NCAA tournament as a number one seed having claimed title in a very tough Big East Conference. Powers was a key part of that success as the midfielder played almost every minute of the Irish's season starting 20 times and collecting 5 goals and 7 assists. If you get the chance to watch the Irish play you will see that Powers is the engine that makes them go. He is not likely to be a star player at the next year but he looks like he is MLS ready and could hold his own in the physical battles that often take place in the middle of the park. He would certainly make a better box to box midfielder than the last player Toronto selected from Notre Dame, Aaron Maund. His Irish side will be in action Sunday at 7:00 EST against the winner of Cleveland State and Michigan State.
Another key member of a very strong Fighting Irish Side Finley leading the way with 20 goals in his 20 appearances. He was the key to the Irish attack all season and will look to continue to pace the way in the NCAA tournament. At 6 feet and 180 pounds he should have the size to handle to physical side of things at the MLS level and his four years of proven scoring at the NCAA level suggest that he is the kind of finisher you want in the attack. One of the best attacking seniors this season he will certainly attract the interest of some MLS clubs.
Creighton head into the NCAA tournament as the number 12 seed following an impressive season that saw them go 15-3-2 and win the Missouri Valley Conference title. That success had a lot to do with the play of Gomez as the Santa Ana native was the anchor of their midfield. He made 20 starts for the Blue Jays so far this season leading them in minutes played, assists (with 8) and was second on the team in goals (with 6). It was an impressive season for the senior who proved to be an attacking force in the middle of the park. At 5'9" 155 pounds he could certainly stand to do some bulking up this offseason but he seems to have the skill and poise with the ball needed to make a contribution at the next level. His Blue Jays will be in action Sunday at 6:00 EST when they play the winner of Air Force and Washington.
The University of Connecticut enter the tournament as surprise number 4 seeds following a 15-3-1 season that saw them knocked out by the Irish in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. Alvarez is a 5'10", 160 pound attacking midfielder who brings the whole attacking package to the table. He was second on the team in scoring with 7 goals while leading the way with 8 assists. His efforts saw him named to the All Big East team and named the top midfielder in the conference. He is just one of the stars worth watching on the UCONN team when they take on the winner of Boston College and Northeastern on Sunday at 1:00 EST
Maryland are coming into the tournament as Atlantic Coast Conference champions and the number 2 overall seed. They boasted a fairly balanced attack this season but one of the key pieces to it was always Stertzer. The senior has made 19 appearances so far scoring 7 goals and adding 6 assists. At 6' and 170 pounds he is a decent size for an attacking midfielder and has a proven ability to score having notched 14 in his Junior year. He will look to follow in a long line of Maryland players to make an impact at the MLS level that includes the likes of Taylor Twellman and Graham Zusi. His Terps team takes on the winner of Brown and Drexel on Sunday at 5:00 EST.
Possible Generation Adidas Players:
Starting in goal for UCONN this year he was a key part of the Huskies success as he only allowed 10 goals in the 19 games he has played so far. It is not often that a top goal keeping prospect comes out of NCAA so the fact that people are talking about Blake as a possible early pick speaks to the amount of talent that he possesses. As a freshman he made 25 starts for the Huskies and again only allowed 10 goals saving nearly 90% of the shots he faced. He will only be 22 at the time of the draft but many feel that he could compete for a starting MLS job next season if given the chance. His 6'4" frame could still stand to fill out a bit but he possesses the natural shot stopping ability that coaches are looking for in a keeper. If he does sign a GA deal the Big East Keeper of the year should be on a lot of clubs radars.
Indiana are heading into tournament play as the 16th seed having gone 11-5-3 and finishing a disappointing fourth in Big Ten conference play. A lot of their success this season is a direct result of the play of Zavaleta who has been finding the back of the net on a regular basis for the Hoosiers. As a freshman he has 10 goals and 5 assists in 22 games and he has only managed to build on those numbers in his sophomore season. Through 19 games he has 16 goals and 2 assists. His scoring total is even more impressive when you consider that it accounts for half the goals his team has scored all season. At 6'1", 185 pounds he already has the size needed to play at the MLS level despite having just turned 20. The interesting thing about Zavaleta is that he has also played as a defender for the US U20 side and has done quite well in that role. Like Andrew Wenger last year, the biggest question about him is where he would best fit at the next level. His Hoosiers will take on the winner of Xavier and Kentucky on Sunday at 1:00 EST. If they win that it would set up a very interesting date with Notre Dame in the third round.
The Tar Heels are coming off a loss to Maryland in the ACC Championship but they still find themselves going into the tournament as 9th overall seed. They lost a lot of talent off of last years team with Enzo Martinez and Matt Hedges going on to the MLS level meaning they needed some players to step up. One player who did that was Lopez who was coming off a freshman year where he tallied 3 goals and 4 assists in 25 matches earning ACC freshman of the year honours. This year his numbers dropped off with only 2 goals and 1 assist in 18 matches but much of that was due to a change in his role as he became a more complete midfielder. He is by no means a big player at 5'8", 160 pounds but he can cover a lot of ground in the middle of the park and should he sign a GA deal this year will be a player to watch out for in the combine. His Tar Heels open their tournament play Sunday at 6:00 against the winner of UMBC and Old Dominion.
Furman are not exactly a powerhouse of collegiate spots so not many people will have heard of them despite their 12-4-3 record this year. It would be understandable if you had never heard of Zimmerman either but the sophomore defender is a US U20 player who might just be ready to make the jump to MLS. He has the size (6'3", 185 pounds), physical style of play and athletisim to make a contribution at the MLS level right away but is far from the finished product. Coming out of a school like Furman he will need to continue to impress with the US U20 team and have a good combine. With his team missing out on the NCAA tournament he will now have to decide if he wants to come back for his junior season or try to turn pro.
Another product of the consistently strong Maryland program, Mullins is a forward who has a proven knack for creating and scoring goals. He leads the Terps this year with 13 goals and 8 assists, both career highs, and will be a key part of any tournament run that they hope to have. His year at Maryland, one of the nations top programs from producing talent, will certainly not go unnoticed and he should be near the top of the list for a possible GA contract. He was named the ACC's top offensive player this season and will look to build on that when the number 2 seed Terps get their tournament under way on Sunday.