The MLS draft class for 2013 is rounding into focus as another member was added to the Generation Adidas class while top seniors continue to sign deals with the league to ensure that they will be around for the 2013 season and available in the SuperDraft.
Eriq Zavaleta, a forward from Indiana, has become the fifth player to sign a Generation Adidas deal this year and will join Walker Zimmerman, Andrew Farrell, Mikey Lopez, and Jason Johnson as underclassmen available when teams head to Indianapolis on the 17th. After helping lead Indiana to a National title in 2012 Zavaleta goes into the draft with questions about what position he is best suited to playing but there is no doubt that he has the talent to succeed in MLS. (You can find my full scouting report on Zavaleta here)
He impressed this season at Indiana playing the entire campaign as a forward starting all 24 games and notching 18 goals. He missed out on many of college's top awards but was still named the Big Ten Player of the Year and was included in a variety of Teams of the Year including for the College Cup. It was an impressive campaign that has a lot of people believing that he has the ability to be a forward at the next level.
He showed that he has a good blend of size and speed that allows him to find space but also to battle to win the contested balls. He also proved that he is more than a capable finisher when the chances come his way. His 28 goals in just 46 NCAA games over two season make for an impressive total and if you are looking for him to be a forward in MLS he might just be the best one available in the draft thanks to his high work rate and solid technical skills.
Despite the impressive numbers as a forward at Indiana there are those who still think he will be better off as a central defender in the professional ranks. He was a forward for his high school and in college but with his club sides and in the US National Team program he was more often asking to play as a defender. He excelled there thanks in large part to the same things that make him a dangerous forward. He has the size and strength to engage in defensive battles and come out on the winning side of things more often than not plus he uses an extremely high work rate to make up for lacking a bit on the technical side of things.
The knock on him being a defender is generally that he is not quite quick enough over the short distances that defender need to cover and that he lacks in lateral quickness which may cost him against the faster attackers he would be facing. Moving him back to defense would likely turn him into a long term project as he has a lot more learning to do at the position and would take more time to settle in. Keeping him at forward might just allow him to contribute more in 2013 as he could hit the ground running as a quality goal scored.
The big thing for whatever team ends up selecting him will be to pick a position for him to play and stick to it. He is similar to Andrew Wenger from last year's draft in that he could probably be a quality professional player in either spot but the worst thing a team could do is not make up their mind about where he will play right away.
The other big signing for MLS in recent days was Canadian midfielder Kyle Bekker (more on him here). He wrapped up four successful seasons at Boston College and was heavily linked with a move to Europe in recent years so it was good to see him making the choice to stay in North America and sign with MLS. Having a deal in place prior to the draft will certainly help his stock to rise as teams will now be assured of having him under contract should they select him and won't have to worry about losing him to a European club.
Signing a deal also indicates that there is a fair bit of interest in the Oakville native among MLS clubs. He has trained with the Montreal Impact, Seattle Sounders, and Toronto FC in the past and reportedly impressed at each training stint which should help his stock.
Bekker is coming off a bit of a rough senior season with BC having been hampered by injury for most of the campaign. He only scored on goal and added four assists in his 17 appearances in 2012 but still leaves Boston College as one of their top producers of all time and was included in the All-ACC team for season. His numbers were certainly lower than he would have been hoping for but he still proved that even if he is not contributing a lot to the attack he is still capable of being a valuable player.
He proved that there is a lot more to his game than just scoring free kicks and setting up goals when he was with the Canadian U23 team back in the spring. During Olympic qualifying Bekker was asked to take on a much more defensive role than he was used to and did such a good job in that unfamiliar role that he managed to catch a lot of attention. With that U23 team he was one of the leaders and was a big part in helping that team come within one game of earning an Olympic berth.
Bekker is set to have a very interesting next month as he will have the MLS combine and draft before joining up with the Canadian National team for a pair of friendlies according to this report by The Canadian Press on Sportsnet. It will be a whirlwind start to his professional career but for Canadian soccer fans he is one that is certainly worth keeping an eye.
If he can impress with the national team and maybe push for more regular call-ups that would be a huge boost to the program. There is a clear need for some fresh faces in the midfield for Canada as the core group continues to age and cannot be counted on for much longer. The likes of Dwayne De Rosario, Julian De Guzman, Terry Dunfield, Patrice Bernier, and even Atiba Hutchinson are going to need replacing in the coming years and Bekker is poised to at least fill one of those spots and this next month will provide a big step towards making that happen should he make the most of it.
It remains unclear where Bekker will end up being taken in the draft but there is certainly interest from both Toronto and Montreal in landing the Canadian's services. There is also the possibility of him going to an American team that sees him as being talented enough that they would risk using an international roster slot to bring him in. If teams can look past his senior season being a bit of a down year they might be able to grab a very talented player latter than he would have otherwise gone.
Could he end up being taken by TFC at 3rd overall in the draft? That would probably be a bit of a stretch on their part but if they were able to swing a deal that allowed them to pick up a solid player while trading down a couple of spots and selecting Bekker that could be a very wise move. There will certainly be a number of teams that would be interested in moving up to a top 3 pick to land one of the top defenders and maybe one of them has a spare part that would fit well in Toronto.
No matter what happens on the 17th we now know that Bekker will be playing in MLS next year and the Sigma FC graduate is certainly an up-and-coming Canadian for all of us to keep an eye on in the next month and well beyond.