The MLS SuperDraft is now less than a month away and after a lot of speculation and debate the Generation Adidas class is starting to take shape and there is finally some consensus over who will be going number one. That consensus is not based on the fact that there is one player in the draft that is clearly more talented than the rest but on the fact that scouts point to one player as the most likely to have an impact early and often in his career.
That player finding himself at the top of all the mock drafts is Andrew Farrell. The junior from Louisville has spent time playing as a defensive midfielder and as a center back in his three seasons with the Cardinals doing a good job in both positions. His rise to the top of a lot of draft boards has been quite unexpected as he entered Louisville as a bit of an unknown player, and it surprised many to see him making 20 appearances as a freshman including starting all 5 of the Cardinals NCAA tournament games that year.
He built on that impressive freshman season in 2011 as he started the season in the midfield before being moved into the back line for the final nine games of the year. Farrell started every one of his team's 23 matches that season scoring a goal and adding 5 assists. It was a solid season but still did not have many people talking about him as a top prospect for eventually making the jump to MLS.
That all changed in 2012 though as Farrell turned in another impressive season that had many scouts taking notice. He once again started every single game for Louisville making 21 appearances, scoring 4 goals, and adding 1 assist. The fact that he was getting more involved in the scoring was a nice little bonus, even though most of his goals came from the penalty spot, but it was his commanding work in defense that really impressed. Louisville had lost a lot of talent from their 2011side but they still managed to get to the NCAA tournament quarter-finals and that was in large part due to the impressive performances of Farrell who helped lead the team to 7 clean sheets and a number of critical 1-0 wins.
He did score one nice goal in 2012 that actually made the voting for the Cardinals top goal of 2012. His long range effort against Wake Forest is the third goal in this clip:
In his junior year Farrell made a name for himself with several impressive performances against some of the nation's top attacking players. Against Notre Dame he shut down Ryan Finley for much of the game and though he managed to get the lone goal for the Irish in a 2-1 loss he certainly did not have his normal impact. He again impressed in his teams 2-2 draw against Indiana. He spent much of the game against Eriq Zavaleta and kept his impact to a minimum holding one of the top scorers to just one goal on the day and very few other chances. If there was one team that really gave Farrell and the rest of the Cardinals trouble it was Maryland who scored 3 goals on them twice in 2012 including a 3-1 win in the NCAA Quarterfinals. Those games were not the best performances from Farrell but not many players or teams looked their best against the barrage of attacking talent that Maryland threw at them this year.
Louisville was a team that was supposed to be in a down year for 2012 having lost so much talent and failing to replace much of it with their recruiting class. They only had two players ranked in Top Drawer Soccer's top 100 upperclassmen so the fact that they even got a tournament berth let alone made it to the quarters was impressive. For his role in that surprising season Farrell has been racking up the awards. He was named the Big East defender of the year and included in the Big East team of the year, was a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann award, and was named a first team all-American by both Top Drawer Soccer and the NSCAA.
He showed the skill in 2012 to suggest that he is ready to make the jump to the next level and is the kind of defender who should be able to make a contribution in his rookie season. He is not the biggest defender out there (5-11, 165) but he is very athletic and know how to use the size that he does have to his advantage. If he is put in a defense with a taller partner with a more physical style it would certainly help him to adjust as it would allow him to match up against the faster forwards in the league where he should do well.
The story of how Farrell even got to this point in his life is one that is well worth reading. He was the son of Presbyterian missionaries who moved to Peru along with him at a young age it was there that he developed his love of soccer. He learned to speak Spanish and play soccer on the streets of Peru and that background still has an impact on the way that he plays the game and often leads to him communicating a lot in Spanish while trying to organize his teams defense. He would return to Louisville in time to finish high school and ended up joining the Cardinals as a relative unknown in 2010.
Farrell went to the school closest to him but by doing so he became part of something special in 2010. He missed several games early in the season with a case of mono but he came back and was a key part of a very young Cardinals squad that was within one win of claiming a NCAA championship as they fell to Akron in the College Cup final.
That 2010 squad already has already seen a handful of players move on to the professional ranks including Colin Rolfe, Nick DeLeon, and 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry. Farrell will likely join that group in 2013 and it would not be a surprise if Dylan Mares (now transferring to Indiana) were to follow him to MLS in 2014.
Producing professional talent is not something new for Louisville but the rate it has been coming through recently is new. In the past, the Cardinals have produced the likes of former Toronto FC and Canadian international defender Adrian Cann but it was not until DeLeon and Berry that the program produced a top 10 draft pick. DeLeon is currently the highest ever selection from the school at 7th overall in 2012 but if Farrell comes out this year it is a safe bet that he will break that mark.
It is no surprise that Louisville has been producing so much talent in recent years though as they became a top program almost over night with the hiring of head coach Ken Lolla in 2006. It was Lolla that turned Akron into a powerhouse during the 90's and early 2000's having honed his coaching skills as an assistant with Duke during the 80's. He came to Louisville and within two years had managed to recruit some of the top players in the nation and turn them into a top 25 team winning Big East Championships, making NCAA tournaments, and producing all Americans. It was a massive turnaround and Farrell has been right in the middle of a lot of that success since arriving in 2010.
It is hard to say if Farrell is really going to be the best defender in the 2013 draft class as there are certainly a few others who could end up having better careers than him in the long run. Walker Zimmerman, Taylor Kemp, or Eric Schoenle could all turn out to be very good professionals but none of them are as ready to make a contribution right away in 2012 as Farrell is.
When looking for players to take first overall in the draft you are not likely to be searching for long term projects as holding that selection almost always mean you had a poor last season and are in need of help in both the short and long terms. Farrell would bring that kind of help whether you see him as a central defender or a holding midfielder.
If Toronto elects to hold onto the top selection it would come as no surprise if they selected Farrell as he is not only one of the most talented players on the board but also is capable of playing in two positions where the club has needs. He would probably look quite good beside Darren O'Dea or Danny Calliff as he would be a physical player but add a bit more pace in the middle than you would get from playing that duo together. He could also add more grit to the middle of the park allowing the aging Torsten Frings to get a few more breaks to try and keep him healthy and providing a better passing option than Terry Dunfield.
I am not quite sold on Farrell yet but I seem to be the only one left that feels he is not the best defender in this draft class. I have watched more Louisville games than most people this year and though he has often impressed me I worry that he is already getting near to reaching his full potential as a 20 year old. It is a feeling that I do not get from watching Zimmerman who I consider to have a higher upside. There is no doubt in my mind that Farrell is ready to play in MLS and could provide solid minutes in 2013 if needed but it is the long run where I have my concerns about him as a first overall selection.
That said, I have spoken to a lot of people about Farrell who know a lot more about scouting than I do and they all seem to be sold on him. There is a reason that he is at the top of so many draft boards and that he is likely to sign a Generation Adidas deal so if he does end up coming to Toronto with the first overall pick I will certainly be hoping that the experts are right and I am wrong.