J.R. Eskilson covers soccer across the country for Top Drawer Soccer and always has a pulse on the college game. We asked him about the quality of the 2014 SuperDraft class, who the Sounders may look to draft on Thursday, and what the club is getting in homegrown signings Aaron Kovar and Sean Okoli.
Seattle Times: As of this moment, what player do you think D.C. United will take with the first overall pick?
J.R. Eskilson: D.C. United is in a tricky spot. The franchise would be better off if it traded out of the top pick – added a player and more picks. The Generation Adidas class does not have any breakout stars – there are a lot of good players but no player that I would point to and say that guy is going to be great from day one. If D.C. United sticks with the spot, I think they roll the dice and take Christian Dean with the top pick. He is a big center back, athletic, strikes the ball clean. I don’t think he is the most pro-ready out of the bunch – I actually prefer his teammate Steve Birnbaum – but he is Generation Adidas so the salary does not count against the cap and it gives D.C. something to build around for now.
ST: If you were starting a new MLS franchise and had the first pick of the draft, would you still take Dean?
JE: No. I’d go after Andre Blake. D.C. United has a good, young keeper in Bill Hamid so there is no need to select a keeper in this draft. The reason Blake appeals to me beyond the obvious skills and athleticism is the vast difference between him and the next goalkeeper in the draft. Defensively, I think there are center backs that could go in round two or three that are close to par with the top names on the board. The same could be said in midfield – maybe to a lesser extent at forward. Goalkeeper is the position where the greatest difference is between the first players and second on my draft board.
ST: How would you classify the strength of the 2014 draft class in comparison to the past few years?
JE: It is a good draft. There is plenty of depth at the center back position with a number of talented, pro-level options available. The outsid back spot is a little weak with less talent there. The center midfield position is a good group of players, too. The draft lacks a real superstar like a Darlington Nagbe or Steve Zakuani in the attack.
ST: What would you consider the Sounders’ biggest need to address as the SuperDraft approaches?
JE: Depth at outside back. With Marc Burch gone, there is little depth on the outside of the back four. Although, the more pressing concern for Seattle could be cap relief and finding a Generation Adidas player in the draft would be a welcome sight for the club.
ST: Are there any wide players the Sounders could target with the 13th or 21st picks after Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani left the club?
JE: I think Seattle is hoping Aaron Kovar fills in for some of the width issues, especially on the left. I don’t really see a player in this draft who is a winger at Zakuani’s level. There are some talented midfielders who could try to step into Rosales’ shoes as a creative force on the wing – Aodhan Quinn being one of those options.
ST: In an ideal scenario for the club, what players is the Sounders choice with the 13th pick?
JE: Ben Sweat (South Florida). He is a left back who has done well at the college level for the past few seasons. He is good in one-on-one situations as well as good with keeping possession of the ball. I think he’d be a good pickup for the club.
ST: What are the Sounders getting in Stanford’s Aaron Kovar and Wake Forest’s Sean Okoli as homegrown players?
JE: Kovar is a left midfielder. He whips in a great cross and he is tough as nails on the tackle. From my understanding, the hope is that he can take over the role at left midfield. I’m not sure he has the speed to really make his mark there. His game is built on beating players on the dribble and then whipping in the cross. If the option isn’t available, he may struggle at first. He is a smart kid, though, and I think he will figure it out. It might take some time before he has a Yedlin-esque impact.
Okoli is a project. He lacks the consistency that I think professional players need. There were games in college when he was the best player on the field and then there were games when you wondered why he was on the field. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sounders loan him out for a season and hope that the experience in a professional environment will iron out some of the flaws in his game.