With only two weeks left until the 2013 MLS SuperDraft takes place in Indianapolis things are starting to ramp up. The final list of players that will be at the combine in Florida is starting to take shape and it got a lot clearer today as the league confirmed the first four underclassman that have been signed to Generation Adidas contracts ensuring their inclusion in this years draft.
The initial crop is made up of Walker Zimmerman, Andrew Farrell, Mikey Lopez, and Jason Johnson who are all top rated prospects that could all have something to offer should Toronto select them at either first or third. Zimmerman and Farrell are both defenders that are highly rated and many figure they can make a contribution early in their rookie seasons thanks to their physical builds and advanced technical skills. Lopez is one of the best midfielders in college proving with North Carolina that he can play in a holding role despite lacking in size and then proving with the USA U20 side that when needed he can take on a more attacking role. The group is rounded out by Jason Johnson who is a forward that has already earned a cap for Jamaica and uses a combination of physical ability and technical skills to regularly find the back of the net.
All four players are capable of being top 10 or even top 5 picks and some even consider them the likely top four selections in the draft. There is almost no doubt that Zimmerman and Farrell are going to be the first two defenders selected in this years draft with the main debate being which will be taken first. Many seem to be leaning to Farrell as he is a bit more versatile and seems to be better prepared to jump right in at the next level while Zimmerman still has some developing to do.
Zimmerman is coming off a solid sophomore season at Furman and with the US U20 program. He showed that he has poise beyond his years and is comfortable with the ball at his feet. His 6 foot 3 inch frame is his biggest plus and allows him to lean on attacking players and he excels at playing a physical game when he needs to. He also brings another attacking option as he has proven to be a threat in the box on attacking set pieces thanks to his height. At only 19 years of age he still has a fair bit of development ahead of him but he is already at a point where he should be able to play some role for a MLS team in 2013. For more on Zimmerman you can read my full scouting report on the Paladin defender.
Farrell, a Louisville Cardinal, is coming off another very good season in his junior year. He came to Louisville as a barely recruited midfielder three years ago and is now set to leave the school as a central defender who is clearly ready to go pro. It was an interesting ride that got him there but along the way he proved that he can play both as a holding midfielder and as a CB when needed. He will likely be a CB in MLS but if he needs to move out wide or into the midfield it would not be out of the question. That versatility is a direct result of his top notch athletic ability which when combined with above average technical skills for an NCAA defender make many scouts feel that he could contribute right away for a MLS club in need of defensive help despite being only 20 years old. I am not totally sold on him as you can see in my scouting report but if Toronto keeps both of its top selections there is a good chance one of them is used on Farrell.
Lopez is the top midfielder on most draft boards and he might just benefit from the confusing policies at Chivas USA and get selected second overall thanks to the fact that he is a Mexican-American. Add to that the fact that he is one of the top talents in the draft and it would be a shocker if he were to somehow slip out of the top 5 selections. From what I have seen Lopez seems to have the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft class but is also still some ways from being an impact level at the next level. Given the right time and chance to develop he could turn into a special talent no matter where he is played in the middle of the park.
He was part of a national championship winning team as a freshman and then became a key player during his sophomore season helping to lead North Carolina back to the NCAA tournament once again. While playing with the Tar Heels and the national U20 side he has frequently proven that he is capable of dictating the flow of a game no matter when he is played in the midfield. With UNC he is used in a deeper role and serves as the primary ball winner. It is a role that he excels at thanks to his tackling ability and the fact that once he does win the ball he keeps it and launches the attack for his team. He is not the kind of holding midfielder who just wins the ball and then is forced to make a safe short pass or just ends up turning it right back over but instead is capable of turning defending into attack with his dribble or by picking out the right pass to spring a counter attack. He also dictates the game when used in the attack by having the attack run through him picking up the ball from the deeper players and then getting the attackers involved and creating the scoring chances for them.
Lopez will likely be used in that deeper role at the next level but if the team that takes him needs more attacking help he could certainly be a viable option. He is still a teenager and has a fair bit of work to do before he reaches his full potential which may scare some teams off. Lopez may face a bit of a challenge adjusting the pace and physicality of MLS play as he is only 5 foot 8 and 160 pounds which is on the small side for a midfielder but when he does learn how to make his game work at this level he could end up being the best player to come out of this class. As I said in my scouting report about Lopez he might just be an interesting option for TFC now that they have less need for help in defense and are lacking in midfielder.
Then there is Jason Johnson who seems to be surrounded by the most debate in this group. Some think that even if Eriq Zavaleta does wind up signing a GA deal he will still be the top forward in this class. Patrick Mullins reportedly rejected his GA offer, DeShorn Brown has not signed one yet, and Zavaleta is still in some doubt so for now I am willing to say that Johnson is the best forward that will certainly be available in the draft. He is a more appealing prospect than the top seniors heading into the draft and that might just be enough to land him in the top 5 selections as well.
I will have a more in depth look at Johnson in the coming days but the fact that he has managed to collect 28 goals and 10 assists in his three seasons at Virginia Commonwealth University speaks volumes about his abilities in front of goal. At 6-0, 180 pounds he has a blend of size and speed that make him tough for any defender to handle and he has improved his technical ability over the past three seasons to the point that he is able to finish quite well and set up his teammates on a regular basis. He has an impressive international resume as well having been included in a camp with the senior team and earning his first cap in a friendly against Argentina (Feb 10, 2010) when he was just a teenager but even then he looked and played like a man compared to others his age. He is without a doubt ready to move on from the college game and could certainly play a role no matter what team selects him and could be a good addition to a number of teams that are draft early and are in need of help up front.
The people saying that this draft class is a bit on the weak side are probably right and it is certainly not the most impressive senior class we have ever seen but these four additions go quite a way in making the top of the draft board a lot stronger which is great news for Toronto FC and the long suffering fans as they have a chance to land two of these players should they choose to.