With the success of Canadian MLS clubs during the 2016 MLS season, the 2017 MLS Superdraft is more about Canadian players in the draft than the picks of the Canadian clubs. Canada has five players in the 2017 MLS Superdraft who could be drafted in the first two rounds. Vermont's and Ajax-native Brian Wright has already signed a MLS contract, Sigma alumni Chris Nanco and Kwame Awuah, as well as Adonijah Reid and Shamit Shome who became the first players given the new Canadian Generation Adidas contract, which means they will not count on the salary cap for the team who drafts them.
Wright, Nanco and Awuah were all a part of my NCAA All-Canadian teams and should have proven over their four years of college that they are ready for the next step. Like other Generation Adidas contracts in the past, these contracts are given on potential, and in my opinion, at the U-20 age group and not currently attached with a MLS/European club, Reid and Shome are deserving candidates. I do have some concerns in terms of what type of professional players they will become, but I have been impressed by them in the combine and when you include other Canadians in that age group this is a very exciting time for Canadian youth soccer.
Outside of the Canadian story I still rank five players above any Canadian, including four Americans. My top player in the draft is UCLA, Ghanaian and Right to Dream Academy player Abu Danladi. Abu has had some criticism in college over health and attitude, although for me he is by far the most exciting player in the 2017 SuperDraft and worth the risk for any club who drafts him. Jonathan Lewis and Jackson Yueill have also impressed me for their play on the field, while Jeremy Ebobisse (seen as the Number 1 pick) and Miles Robinson have a lot of athletic upside, but there could be a learning curve when they become pro.
The other major story for this draft, which also reflects the current state of College Soccer in general, is the amount of foreign players in the draft. MLS doesn't seem to have an issue inviting many non-Americans to the combine while giving senior contracts to three non-Americans, including Brian Wright. Although when it comes to the draft it is yet to be determined if these players meet the performance expectations, as MLS clubs like to use their international roster spots on more established players.
In terms of the Canadian MLS club in the draft, Vancouver drafts seventh and could take Reid or Shome, while Maryland's Chris Odoi-Atsem fits the type of player Vancouver drafted in the past, but he would count against the salary cap. Montreal drafts 19th and should take Reid or Shome if they fall that far, and someone under the radar, although highly talented pick, is Louisville's Daniel Johnson who other draft analysts rank lower than I do.
While Toronto, based on history, is unlikely to draft a Canadian and I think most likely their potential picks would be right backs Colton Storm or Reagan Dunk, or TFC could also take a risk on a foreign player in the draft whose talent is better than the Reds 21st overall pick. Toronto also have two of the top picks in the second round and could do the same or trade their picks and move up in the draft.
The following are my top 25 players for the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. I was assisted in my analysis this year by AJ Barnold (@AJBarnold) who works in performance analysis with the University of Virginia. For more information regarding US and Canadian Youth Soccer including the MLS Draft follow ProspectXI (@ProspectXI) twitter acount
25. Kwame Awuah, LB/LM, UCONN
I feel Awuah been given the worst press regarding coverage of the draft. Part of this is he's been overshadowed by the Canadian Generation Adidas contracts and part of this is he hasn't been highlighted in what I feel is his best position at left-back. I still feel Awuah has top 25 talent in this draft and has shown some of this in the combine, especially in his ability to cross the ball. Awuah’s lack of size has hurt him although the fact he qualifies as an American signing means he should be on the radar of many MLS clubs.
24. Sam Hamilton, DM, Denver
He’s not going to wow you, but Hamilton might be the most effective holding midfielder in the draft both for his passing and defensive awareness. The lynchpin of Denver's midfield in college, including nine assists during the 2016 season, although there are concerns he always looks for the simple pass which might not be as effective at a pro level. Hamilton also doesn't have the athletic upside, but is a player who could turn out being a long term pro, doing most of the dirty work on the pitch.
23. Walker Hume, CB, North Carolina
The first thing that stands out about Walker is his 6'5 frame, which lead strong aerial numbers both in challenges as well getting headers on net during set-play situations. Although Walker also showed good numbers in other key defensive stats such as tackles and overall defensive actions. Concerns about him are his overall technical ability and so far he hasn't shown to have the passing and ball control numbers of Axel Sjoberg a MLS defender with a comparable size.
22. Joseph Holland, CM, Hofstra
Another International player who also played at a smaller school, Holland has impressed in the combine and also those who saw him prior. His is known as a play maker with outside shooting ability, but it is the little things that impress the scouts. How much ground he covers, the simple passes and possession ability has made him the standout central midfielder in the combine. The question is how he will adapt in the MLS not playing his college position as a number 10.
21. Jordan Wilson, CB, Kentucky
Wilson has been underutilized in the combine (also asked to play full back) and would count as an International Signing, although the no nonsense Scottish defender might be the best defensive center back in the draft. He has good size 6'3/180 with a strong defensive header for clearing the ball. Controls set plays and worked well with Kentucky keepers in managing set plays/corners. Before college, Wilson played with the Glasgow Rangers Academy and his father was a professional player.
20. Colton Storm, RB, North Carolina
Identified as an option for Toronto FC, Colton Storm could be seen as a replacement to Mark Bloom and probably have a comparable MLS career. Storm played with North Carolina, who made it to the National Championship Final Four and had good passing and tackling numbers, although played more a center back/holding midfield role than an outside back. During the combine, Storm look strong at Right Back but struggled when asked to play Left Back.
19. Eric Klenofsky, GK, Monmouth
I don't feel the goalkeeping option for this draft is that great. Duke's Robert Moewes has impressed me the most in the combine, although would count as an International Signing. Second would be Eric Klenofsky, who came to the combine after a trial with Everton in England. He has great size and has potential of being a dominating keeper, although also looks like he's capable of making a mistake, something you don't want to see in that position.
18. Lalas Abubakar, CB, Dayton
The first thing you notice about Abubakar is how athletic he is, something he is also aware of throwing his body around to make contact with the ball. The Ghanian played at Dayton so wasn't as profiled in college, but outside of Danladi and Robinson might have the most raw talent in the draft. The question is, can this talent develop itself into a quality player and will a MLS team use an international roster spot in relation to potentially what Lalas might become?
17. Reagan Dunk, RB, Denver
Dunk didn't stand out at the combine, which in my opinion lowered his overall draft ranking. At Denver, he showed an ability to run the wing and deliver a good cross while in possession. In my opinion, he compares well with former Montreal Impact draft pick Eric Miller and a player who should last beyond his first contract in the MLS but doesn't have the potential talent of players I rank above him.
16. Zeiko Lewis, AM, Boston College / MLS Contract
Lewis would be ranked higher on my list if he didn't take an international roster spot. The Bermudan International had a good combine showcasing both his strong left foot as well his leadership skills in an attacking midfield position. Lewis lacks size, but is strong, fast and a willing runner. He also makes good decisions both moving with the ball and on set plays.
15. Chris Nanco, M, Syracuse
There is a lot we already know about Nanco, although what impressed me at the combine was his physical presence. The Canadian, Sigma-trained winger showed the athletic ability of what you expect for MLS. Nanco has good speed and acceleration and moves with a willingness to shoot. There are still questions about can he develop into a complete player, including having a greater defensive awareness, although in my opinion talent-wise Nanco is a first round pick.
14. Julian Gressel, AM, Providence / MLS Contract
The combine showed me what I expected from Gressel, who is a German winger/midfielder/forward with good size and attacking instincts. He anticipates the ball well, as well looks to break on the counter. While 1v1, he has enough ball playing skills to challenge a defender. The versatility is also an asset, although he would count as an international signing and not sure there is much upside to his game. Would be useful on a team who has roster space to add attacking depth.
13. Dominic Oduro, DM, Manchester City
The most interesting thing about Oduro to MLS fans is having the same name to the Montreal forward. Personally, I was aware of Oduro as part of the Manchester City youth set up. Another player from the Right to Dream Academy, Oduro played a number of games in the Manchester City youth team as well as playing for teams in Denmark, Belgium and Sweden. Undersized, but has good technical skill in the midfield both in distribution as well as defending, although the question become is he worth an International Roster spot.
12. Brian Wright, FW, Vermont / MLS Contract
I've mentioned Wright a few times on RedNation Online and like him as a player. Since Draft talk has started he has received a lot of hype, including comparison to Clye Larin. I don't feel Wright has the same upside as Larin but he has a lot of good ability and plays well with teammates. During the combine, former Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid compared him to Bright Dike which says a lot about Wright's physical attributes.
11. Brandon Aubrey, CB, Notre Dame / MLS Contract
Aubrey was touted as one of the top Center Backs in a perceived heavy Center Back draft. One thing noticeable at the combine is Aubrey and others need to improve their defensive ability to be considered starters in MLS. Brandon is very dangerous on set pieces and is a good header of the ball. He also has good passing and ball control skills for a center back but will need to show he can beat forwards 1v1 to become a staring CB in MLS.
10. Chris Odoi-Atsem, RB, Maryland
The very athletic Maryland right back is known for flying forward to provide service and was one of the top prospects going into the recent college season. His technical ability is a bit inconsistent, so he relies on athleticism, but is often dangerous on the overlap. Also needs to improve his overall defensive awareness. Odoi-Atsem still has a lot of potential but might need some time to develop into a useful MLS player.
9. Shamit Shome, CM, FC Edmonton / Can Gen Adidas
Shome is a ball-playing possession-based central midfielder. In NASL had an 83.5% passing rating from 443 passes and equally successful in both halves of the field. Needs to be a more active defender, although showed some tackling potential. My concern regarding Shome is the position he plays in the MLS, Shome didn't show much offensive final product while with the Eddies and also needs to improve his defensive effort to be a holding midfielder. Shome is still only 19 years old so there is still a lot potential.
8. Daniel Johnson, LM, Louisville
A right-footed player playing on the left side who loves the cut inside. Was the top dribbler in the ACC, although there were questions if he could offer anything else. However, after an impressive combine, Johnson showed that his Pro level ball control could very well be effective at the MLS level. Johnson also trained a number of years with the West Ham United Academy in England.
7. Jacori Hayes, CM, Wake Forest
A very successful college career, including making the 2016 NCAA Championship Game. Played more a winger in college using his ball playing ability who is also fast and tricky. Good passer who worked well with his fellow midfielder and has good vision on the break. Questions regarding his defensive ability especially if asked to play a deeper role in the MLS.
6. Adonijah Reid, FW, ANB Futbol / CAN Gen Adidas
For me, this pick is based on potential as much as it is on what we can expect from Reid during his first season in MLS. Reid has been on my radar since playing in League1 Ontario, although he had success prior to that and since added an Ontario High School Championship to his CV. Reid has some question marks, especially in relation to his size, but he has some good attributes which he showed at the combine. The thing that impressed the most about Reid at the combine was his awareness of the game and he was also was not intimidated playing against players five years his senior.
5. Miles Robinson, DF, Syracuse / Generation Adidas
A defensive partner with Canadian Kamal Miller at Syracuse, Robinson has high athletic upside. He is 6’2/185 with good speed as well. Has ball-playing ability to play full back as well with strong aerial abilities and lead the ACC among CB in aerial challenges. Strong long throw and needs to improve his general awareness of the game especially marking attackers 1v1.
4. Jackson Yueill, CM, UCLA / Generation Adidas
A star with Minnesota USSDA side and while he looked good at UCLA, it could be said he also under performed. Did do well in finding his teammates, including registering 17 assists in 40 games, although many assists were goals through individual performances by teammates. Was most effective in the midfield both dictating possession and pressing opponents and could develop into more of a defensive midfielder. Has good athletic skills, although better than average speed especially in full stride but lacks acceleration.
3. Jonathan Lewis, WG, Akron / Generation Adidas
A smaller attacking midfielder with good offensive awareness. Only played one year of college at Akron, although had 12 assists to go with his two goals, but worth noting he was more of a goalscorer at the USSDA level. Plays with the ball well at his feet and is able to find his attacking partners with a through-ball. As witness at the combine can also follow up on play and score himself.
2. Jeremy Ebobisse, FW, Duke / MLS Contract
Signed a MLS Contract
An athletically gifted forward who is also comfortable with the ball at his feet. Scored a large amount of goals in USSDA although didn't have the same impact with Duke. Good size and willing to play deeper and be part of the possession movement. Was loaned out to Charleston in USL and looked comfortable playing against more experienced defenders.
1. Abu Danladi, WG, UCLA / Generation Adidas
The attacking winger hails from the Ghana Right to Dream Academy. He has great acceleration, including with ball at his feet and has been described as having pro level dribbling skills. Looks to shoot at every opportunity and has a high shot on target conversion rate based on the type of shots he take. Great awareness on the pitch while good on the press and knows how disposes defenders. Had injury/attitude concerns in College although best pro prospect in the draft in my opinion.
Aaron Neilsen is a co-founder of Prospect XI (Prospect Eleven), a scouting network and online magazine dedicated to tracking/highlighting young players that refer to as "prospects" as well as their development pathways both within North America and worldwide. Follow PXI via www.prospectxi.com or on twitter @ProspectXI.