MLS SuperDraft Preview: Defenders

In the second part of our MLS SuperDraft preview, we examine how this year's crop of defenders could play out next week in Philadelphia.

Each year, the MLS SuperDraft takes on its own personality, as players of different make-ups are picked around the league. Each draft class has its own strengths and weaknesses and today we examine the greatest strength of the 2014 class, as JR Eskilson and Travis Clark from TopDrawerSoccer.com examine the defenders and, more specifically, the center backs at this year’s SuperDraft.

“There just seems to be an endless supply of center backs,” pined Clark.

That idea is rooted in a solid group of senior defenders, but also in a Generation adidas class that includes three center backs and another capable of playing centrally, but more suited as a right back, according to many analysts.

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Even still, California senior Steve Birnbaum is the consensus top pick between Clark and Eskilson.

A semifinalist for the MAC Hermann trophy this year, Birnbaum was an NSCAA First Team All-American after missing all but two matches in 2012 because of injury. The former U.S. U-18 and U-20 player was the captain of a highly successful Cal team in his senior season.

“I think he could step into an MLS team immediately,” Eskilson said. “He offers a good presence. He organizes the backline well. He’s good in the air and he’s a competitor. He made the players at Cal around him better.”

Birnbaum and Generation adidas defender Christian Dean made for an imposing center back tandem at Cal, with both earning First Team All-Pac-12 honors. While Birnbaum is an out-and-out center back, Dean came to college as a left wing, moved to left back and eventually found his home as a center back.

Additionally, Wisconsin’s AJ Cochran and Hartford’s Damion Lowe round out the Generation adidas center backs while Washington’s Taylor Peay, New Mexico’s Kyle Venter and Notre Dame’s Grant Van De Casteele solidify the deep group of central defenders.

“They’re big enough, fast enough and have enough ball skill and defending ability that they should get drafted and have a good chance of making a roster,” Clark said. “Center back is the best position of this draft class.”

While the center backs are particularly strong, there is much less depth in wide defending roles, even with Creighton’s Eric Miller projecting as a right back.

“There are a ton of good center backs, but when you look at the outside backs, it’s not a very strong draft,” Eskilson said.

Along with Miller, Marco Franco from UC-Irvine and Ben Sweat from South Florida provide talented options on either side of the defense and while there are others that could earn playing time, they aren’t as clear-cut.

The 2014 MLS SuperDraft starts Thursday at 9 am PT from the Philadelphia Convention Center. Sounders FC holds the 13th, 21st, 55th and 77th overall.

Players to watch

Center Backs
Steve Birnbaum, California, 6’2”, 180 pounds, 74 games, 12 goals, 7 assists
AJ Cochran, Wisconsin, 6’3”, 195 pounds, 57 games, 5 goals, 5 assists
Christian Dean, California, 6’3”, 198 pounds, 55 games, 1 goal, 6 assists
Damion Lowe, Hartford, 6’3”, 175 pounds, 44 games, 8 goals, 4 assists
Taylor Peay, Washington, 6’2”, 185 pounds, 70 games, 8 goals, 1 assist
Grant Van De Casteele, Notre Dame, 6’2”, 165 pounds, 84 games, 4 goals, 1 assist
Kyle Venter, New Mexico, 6’3”, 190 pounds, 86 games, 8 goals, 4 assists

Outside Backs
Eric Miller, Creighton, 6’1”, 175 pounds, 63 games, 4 goals, 4 assists
Marco Franco, UC Irvine, 5’11”, 155 pounds, 66 games, 10 assists
Ben Sweat, South Florida, 6’2”, 175 pounds, 72 games, 2 goals, 8 assists

Follow @travismclark and @jreskilson on Twitter for great college soccer coverage.

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