As we barrel towards the midway point of 2016, Atlanta United will begin to prepare for the 2017 MLS SuperDraft in January. Atlanta will have the first pick of the best players college soccer has to offer should Minnesota not declare that they will begin play in 2017. Our friends at Top Drawer Soccer recently held their annual survey of Division I college soccer coaches. The coaches were asked to choose who they thought were the most talented players across college soccer. Let's take an in-depth look at what they found and see if they would be good options for Atlanta United.
The first player on the list is Abu Danladi, a forward at UCLA. DI coaches voted him as the best player in college soccer this past season. Danladi recorded six goals and ten assists in 19 appearances during the 2015 season, racking up a total of 22 points. Danladi, a would-be junior at the time of the draft, would be available for the first team after he failed to agree in negotiations with MLS last year.
The Ghanaian striker is, according to prospectxi.com, "a dynamic forward who loves to dribble with the ball and shoot from many areas in the field, Abu uses speed, acceleration and skill moves to beat defenders one-on-one and open space for himself to create opportunities." There aren't many recent highlight videos of the 2013-14 Gatorade National Player of the Year, but he does look a promising talent in highlights from high school.
Could Abu Danladi be Atlanta United's Cyle Larin? To put quite simply, no. I'm not trying to underestimate Danladi's talent, but players of Larin's caliber coming through the draft happen only once in a generation. If DI coaches say he's the best in college soccer right now though, I would be hard-pressed to pass on him in the draft.
Next up, Ian Harkes, a midfielder at Wake Forest. Harkes was the captain of the Demon Deacons this past season where he has amassed four goals and fourteen assists in 59 appearances over three years. His father, John Harkes, played in the English Premier League and MLS for several teams and made 80 appearances for the USMNT. During the 2015 season, Harkes was named to the ACC Championship All-Tournament Team and as a First Team All-ACC performer.
In 2014, Harkes was called into the U-20 U.S. National Team camp before the 2015 U-20 World Cup though he did not make the final roster. He played in the D.C. United Academy from 2010 to 2013 where he played over 75 games and had 15 goals.
Wake Forest Head Coach said, "Ian has a good feel for the game. He keeps getting better all the time. He’s just a soccer player – he knows how to play, he knows where to be, he knows how to get the ball and who needs the ball. He’s improving his defensive ability, and I think he is a player with tremendous upside." That quote already makes me think he's a player worth looking into. Knowing the game, something I like to call soccer IQ, is a huge asset, especially in MLS where I feel a lot of players lack this skill. Having a high soccer IQ not only improves your own game but through positioning and pass selection allows a player to improve his teammates.
As far as highlights go, I could only find this short clip of him destroying a couple of Akron players.
Atlanta United would have to compete with D.C. United for Harkes as DC could offer him a homegrown contract. Harkes is good enough to spark attention, but it would be great to see his full potential at the MLS Combine if he participates.
Another UCLA Bruin and just a freshman, Jackson Yueill, received the second most votes for the best player in men's college soccer. Yueill made 20 appearances in his freshman year and tallied up 20 goals with seven goals and six assists.
The Bruins midfielder has made appearances for the U-18 and U-20 U.S. National Teams. He competed for both the U-20 National Team at the Four Nations Tournament and the U-18 National Team at the NTC Invitational. Yueill was selected to the first team All-Pac-12 in 2015 as well as the Top Drawer SoccerBest Freshman XI.
The only video I could find of Yueill is a few highlights after he was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week.
From what I can tell from the video he can take free kicks and takes on an attacking midfield role. Having a goalscoring option in midfield could be big for Atlanta United. At the very least, if he does enter the draft, he could be an asset for future trades.
Our final player on the list, Grant Lillard, is a junior-year defender at Indiana University. Lillard was voted best defender in men's college soccer by DI coaches. The Hoosier center back was selected to the First-Team All-Big Ten and First-Team NSCAA All-Midwest Region.
In his 43 starts across two seasons for the Hoosiers, Lillard has nine goals and six assists. He has recorded ten clean sheets during this season alone. Lillard played in the Chicago Fire Academy for the U-16 and U-18 and is in the U-20 U.S. National Team player pool.
I couldn't find any highlights of Lillard, but his ability to keep clean sheets as well as score and create goals is something not many central defenders possess.
If I were Carlos Bocanegra, I would probably pick Grant Lillard out of these four players. Abu Danladi provides a promising attacking option, but if Atlanta United can get a star center back straight out of the draft without having to use any allocated monies, I'm taking him. I'd rather spend more on our midfielders and forwards so Lillard would be my pick.
Nevertheless, none of these players may be available in the draft, they might not declare or another team might sign them as a homegrown player, their futures are ambiguous, but I'm sure Atlanta United will soon prepare for the draft if they haven't haven't started already. Let us know in the comments who you would take as the number one draft pick or recommend a new player entirely.