Ranking the Top 12 2019 MLS SuperDraft senior prospects
The 2019 MLS SuperDraft is less than two weeks away, with the annual 2019 adidas MLS Player Combine beginning on January 3 in Florida.
In addition to the underclassmen that will join the league via the Generation adidas program ahead of the SuperDraft, here are the seniors that can be expected to be among the most coveted in the top spots of the January 11 SuperDraft:
Kamal Miller, Syracuse
Skill set: While perhaps slightly undersized for center back, Miller’s been a solid defender for the Orange during his four-year career in upstate New York. He has enough of the physical traits to keep up with the ever-improving quality of attackers in the final third, although some adjustment period is likely to be required.
Claim to college soccer fame: There’s little doubt that a healthy Miller made a huge difference for the Orange. As a sophomore, he started all 20 games as the team picked up 11 shutouts during the 2016 season. This past campaign, he led Syracuse to the NCAA tournament, picking up Third Team All-ACC honors on the way.
Reasons behind the ranking: Having been tested by ACC opponents over his college career, Miller enters the Combine with that boost to his resumé. The center back spot does not boast significant depth among seniors, helping Miller’s qualities stand out.
Best MLS fits: The Ontario native wouldn’t be a bad target for Toronto FC, as he could spend time with the USL team and add depth in central defense, particularly if they keep the three-back system.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: Rookie center backs rarely step into starting lineups from day one, though you never know. At this point, a 10 percent chance of getting five starts in MLS sound about right.
Akeem Ward, Creighton
Skill set: A left back that fits the profile of the modern fullback, Ward showed that he can handle both sides of the ball well enough to emerge as a standout defender in the 2018 college season.
Claim to fame: Ward’s Creighton side missed out on the NCAA tournament this season, but the senior started all 18 games, earning All-Big East First Team honors at the end of the campaign.
Reasons behind the ranking: A strong Combine performance would certainly boost Ward’s stock, although part of the fact that he’s not in the Top 10 is more down to the plethora of other outside backs than it is about Ward.
Best MLS fits: Any team looking for help at outside back can line up and take a number for Ward, especially at the tail end of the first round and beginning of the second. A native of Virginia, local club D.C. United might come calling. The Chicago Fire are expected to add Indiana left back Andrew Gutman as a Homegrown player, but they could nab Ward as competition.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: Given his position, Ward has decent odds of both sticking and ending up starting a handful of games this season, perhaps in the 5-7 percent range.
Sergio Rivas, Seattle
Skill set: The heartbeat of Seattle’s engine room, Rivas is an attacking midfielder who has excelled the past four seasons in the Pacific Northwest. He can score and create goals with the best of them, and the lone thing standing between him and a pro career is carving out a clear spot.
Claim to college soccer fame: Few players have enjoyed the same four-year arc as Rivas. Named as the Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year back in 2015, he remained one of the best players on the West Coast during his stint at Seattle U. Over the course of his college career, he scored 19 goals and added 27 assists.
Reasons behind the ranking: As noted above, there’s no doubting Rivas’s talent, and he could be close to the top five. If he can handle a wide attacking role, there’s a gem here in the New Mexico native.
Best MLS fits: Local side Seattle Sounders could be a good fit for him, as they tend to value versatility in the attacking positions. He could be an option for Minnesota United as they look to add creativity to their roster.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: In the right system, Rivas has about a 15 percent chance of working his way into the lineup from time to time. He has plenty of quality.
Abdi Mohamed, Akron
Skill set: A central midfielder before he transferred to Akron ahead of the 2018 season, Mohamed swapped positions, playing right back for the Zips this season. He’s a smart soccer player and can hold his own against more physically dominant opponents. Could also play in central midfield at the next level.
Claim to college soccer fame: Mohamed played all but 75 minutes of the season for Akron, showing both durability and quality after a few bumps while learning a new position. During his three seasons at Ohio State, he was always one of the team’s best players, if not their best.
Reasons behind the ranking: As an outside back, Mohamed doesn’t have the same kind of physical traits as some of his other peers at the position. That, and his relative uncertainty and experience at the spot could hold him back.
Best MLS fits: With the No. 1 pick, Mohamed’s likely not a candidate to go to FC Cincinnati, but the new MLS side would be smart to snap up the Ohio native. He could also thrive under Columbus Crew SC if they go with Caleb Porter as the new head coach.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: As noted previously, outside backs have a better chance of making a more immediate impact in MLS. If Mohamed can make it work, he has about a 20 percent chance of getting some starts under his belt as a rookie.
Camden Riley, Pacific
Skill set: Graceful and elegant in possession, the Texas native is a talented attacker who can score and create goals. He might not have the speed or athleticism to impact the game in the same way against superior defenders, so that’ll be the big focus for the WCC standout.
Claim to college soccer fame: Riley enters the draft coming off back-to-back seasons as a First Team All-WCC honoree and he was the Conference Player of the Year. He scored nine goals and added five assists this past season.
Reasons behind the ranking: Projecting the success of attacking players making the jump from college to MLS is a bit of a crapshoot, and Riley’s athleticism keeps him outside the top five. The skills are there, however.
Best MLS fits: After snapping up teammate Tristan Blackmon, LAFC could bolster their depth in wide areas with a player like Riley. He could be a good fit for New York City FC at the No. 7 or No. 11 pick.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: Add Riley to the category of an attacker facing an uphill battle for minutes. He has about a 10 percent chance of starting at least five games.
Santiago Patino, Florida International
Skill set: A classic target forward, Patino’s been one of the best strikers in the country over the past two seasons. Also a standout for Seattle Sounders U-23 in the USL PDL this past summer, Patino can connect play, makes smart runs and gets himself into dangerous goal-scoring positions in and around the six-yard box.
Claim to college soccer fame: While Patino finished this past season with a solid 12 goals from 16 games, it was 2017 where he led FIU to a sensational campaign. In 2017, he scored 15 from 18 games, leading the Panthers to a 12W-2L-4D record and a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Reasons behind the ranking: His goalscoring record in college is impressive, and it’s more about his movement and ability to combine with teammates than it is about his physical ability. Patino will need to show that he can get a shot off quickly and get separation from MLS defenders. If he can do that, it’s going to only boost his chances at carving out a pro career.
Best MLS fits: Patino wouldn’t make a bad backup at the Montreal Impact, as he could fill out the depth chart up front along with Maxi Urruti. How about the New York Red Bulls as insurance behind Bradley Wright-Phillips or Brian White?
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: Given his position and the tendency of MLS teams to rely upon expensive options up front, Patino’s chances hover around 5 percent of getting a significant run in MLS. In the right spot with a USL team, that could ease his adjustment to the pro game.
Amar Sejdic, Maryland
Skill set: A cultured and impressive player on the ball, Sejdic is a smooth operator in tight spaces that can help a team retain possession. His intangibles and leadership this past season are sure to stand out when scouts look at his game, although he’s also going to need to show the ability to play as a box-to-box midfielder to excel in MLS.
Claim to college soccer fame: Captain of the 2018 NCAA champions, Sejdic scored the winning goal from the penalty spot in Maryland’s 1-0 win against Akron. He led a defense-first Terp side in goals with eight on the season, one off his career high of nine scored in 2016.
Reasons behind the ranking: There’s no doubting Sejdic’s soccer quality, as he’s shown the ability to lead a team, score goals, create chances and dictate the tempo of the game. But he’ll need to carve out a clear position in MLS to stick, and if he can do that, he has the makings of a top-five talent.
Best MLS fits: Sejdic possesses some of the intangibles and traits that new San Jose Earthquakeshead coach Matias Almeyda might value. He could also potentially boost the central midfield depth of the Houston Dynamo or look to carve out a creative role for a team like the Philadelphia Union or even boost central depth at FC Dallas.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: Given the positional uncertainty of players like Sejdic, who would benefit from a start in the reserves, he seems at about a 5-10 percent chance of starting five MLS games in 2019.
Logan Gdula, Wake Forest
Skill set: If there’s one area of depth for this group of seniors, it’s at outside back. Along with solid defense, Gdula’s an attacking option from his right back spot, thriving in Wake Forest’s system. He can do the job defensively, and if he can continue to make strides in that regard, he could be one of the highest-ceiling seniors in this group.
Claim to college soccer fame: After winning a starting job as a sophomore during the 2016 season, Gdula refined his ability to contribute goals. He notched 12 assists across his final two years at Wake Forest. His career ended in ignominious fashion, getting a red card late in the game for a vicious tackle in Wake’s 1-0 loss to Akron in the NCAA tournament.
Reasons behind the ranking: Coaches doing their homework on Gdula could be leery about his final act in college. But that shouldn’t hold him back, as he has the kind of talent that could be a nice addition to a team’s backline depth.
Best MLS fits: Gdula has the tools, and as a right back could be a good fit for the Portland Timbersor Seattle Sounders. But just about any team is in play given his position and ability to play as a modern fullback, getting up and down the touchline for 90 minutes.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: In the right spot, Gdula has a good chance of playing significant minutes, with a 40 percent chance of earning at least five starts as a rookie.
Marcello Borges, Michigan
Skill set: A left back who can use both feet, Borges is the first of what should be several outside backs looking to make the jump from college to MLS. While not as athletically inclined as some of his peers on the Combine list, he’s a smart player that positions himself well and is tidy on the ball.
Claim to college soccer fame: Part of the US Under-20 player pool for the 2017 cycle, Borges is also notable as a product of an MLS academy. He played several seasons for the New York Red Bulls before embarking on his collegiate career at Michigan.
Reasons behind the ranking: Teams looking at Borges might be concerned by his lack of athleticism, which has been the determining factor for some defenders that stick from the draft (see Jake Nerwinski and Brandon Bye as recent examples). Regardless, Borges’s soccer brain puts him ahead of Gdula when it comes to this pre-draft ranking.
Best MLS fits: Atlanta United just traded Greg Garza to FC Cincinnati, so if Borges is available at the end of the first round it could make sense – even with Mikey Ambrose and George Bello waiting in the wings. Even after signing veteran Edgar Castillo as their ostensible replacement for Chris Tierney, the New England Revolution could be in the hunt for a young left back.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: Provided he can keep up with the wide attackers in MLS, Borges is a candidate to get decent run this season. At this point, it’s about a 20 percent chance of getting at least five starts.
Andre Shinyashiki, Denver
Skill set: Tough and tenacious, Shinyashiki is a hard-working center forward who can outwork opponents and finish chances when they come his way. He’ll need to show he can beat better defenders to make the successful jump to MLS, especially since he’s Brazilian and will require an international spot.
Claim to college soccer fame: After scoring a combined 23 goals during his first three seasons with the Pioneers, Shinyashiki had one of the most memorable campaigns as a senior, scoring 28 goals, including five hat tricks.
Reasons behind the ranking: Scoring goals in college and in MLS are two different realities. But Shinyashiki has a Dom Dwyer-like mentality that the right coach will love and harness into something with decent upside.
Best MLS fits: Shinyashiki’s ability to play as a lone striker is something that he will need to demonstrate, be it at the Combine or in preseason. That could determine what team would be likely to take him, though it’s going to be one on the hunt for goals. The Colorado Rapids are a good fit even after the acquisitions of Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio, and they should have an extensive scouting report on him.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: Getting significant run as an attacker is rare, so we’ll set the bar at 10 percent for the Brazilian starting five times. Could be a useful impact player from the bench, if he makes the adjustments quickly.
Callum Montgomery, Charlotte
Skill set: Left-footed central defenders are both a rarity and a commodity in the MLS draft, and Callum Montgomery is going to be in high demand provided he shows well at the Combine. The British Columbia native has been one of the best defenders in college soccer this season.
Claim to college soccer fame: Along with being the Conference USA Defender of the Year in 2018, Montgomery offers a threat from set pieces, scoring 11 goals in his 73 games over four years with the 49ers.
Reasons behind the ranking: Standing at 6-foot-2 and clean with the ball, Montgomery seems like a pretty sure bet to at least stick for the first season. Being a left-footed defender bolsters him in the rankings, as it helps teams fill a position of need.
Best MLS fits: It’s easy to lump in the Canadian sides, though the Vancouver Whitecaps are sure to be on the hunt for a center back after the departure of Kendall Waston. He could be considered by Real Salt Lake as a depth option.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: Montgomery has interesting tools, and center backs are known for being successful making the jump to MLS when given opportunities to play. He’s in the 25-30 percent range of getting at least five starts.
Bradley Dunwell, Wake Forest
Skill set: A classic No. 6, Brad Dunwell is one of college soccer’s best four-year players. His ability to keep possession in tight spaces and circulate the ball helped Wake Forest play arguably the best style of soccer during his time in Winston-Salem.
Claim to college soccer fame: Despite logging 91 games during his career at the ACC powerhouse, Dunwell scored just one goal. Obviously, holding midfielders aren’t asked to influence the game in the final third, and Dunwell brings plenty of other qualities to the field.
Reasons behind the ranking: If you’ve watched college soccer over the past four years, and specifically Wake Forest, you can probably count on one hand the number of turnovers Dunwell has made. While he’s system-dependent when projecting pro success, Dunwell’s quality is clear to see when he has the ball.
Best MLS fits: Teams looking to bolster central midfield depth should think about trading up in the draft, provided that they will be interested in a pass-first option as opposed to a destroyer-centric No. 6. Atlanta United (depending on who the new manager is) and Toronto FC are two sides that come to mind, though they would likely need to move up and get him.
Percentage chance of starting 5 or more games in ’19: If Dunwell gets a true chance to see minutes and can adapt, he has about 25 percent chance on the right team. Like a lot of his peers on this list, USL minutes would help.