By Chest Rockwell
DC United: A
Before the draft, DC United was rumored to be after Perry Kitchen. However, this likely required trading up, so head coach Ben Olsen and GM Dave Kasper both talked about targeting an offensive player with the #3 pick. It seemed likely that a striker - either Will Bruin or Omar Salgado - was on the way.
Instead, the Vancouver Whitecaps opted to take Salgado, and Kitchen suddenly fell into DC's lap. Olsen said that, in his opinion, Kitchen was the best player in the draft and that United would have selected him over any other player. Kitchen is one of the few players in the draft that has the potential to play for the United States (and not just in the annual January friendly). Despite the fact that Kitchen's nineteenth birthday will happen during the preseason, there is a chance that he will compete from day one for playing time at center back. Sure, this wouldn't be the case if we had a strong back four, but it's still quite impressive. There is also the chance that Kitchen will see significant time in defensive midfield as a late-game sub when (if?) DC is winning. Getting a player with this much quality at a young age is great; getting him with a Generation Adidas deal is spectacular enough to actually restore at least some confidence in the club's ability to acquire talent that is actually, you know, talented.
Late in the 2nd round, United brought in Kitchen's Akron teammate, Chris Korb. Korb was "the other Akron player," but this Akron team was one of the all-time great college soccer teams. Korb featured at left back for the Zips in his senior season, which is probably where he'll be fighting for time in MLS. The current incumbent, Marc Burch, is arguably our weakest starting player and has been troubled by a series of foot surgeries over the past two seasons. Korb went under the radar a bit in the pre-draft hype, but there's a chance he could find himself battling for real minutes sooner rather than later. This pick isn't as sensational as getting Kitchen at #3, but it's a solid, well- thought-out selection.
Finally, United traded two 1st Round Supplemental Draft picks to the Galaxy to grab University of Denver keeper Joe Willis late in the 3rd round. Willis has a towering presence at 6'5", and will find himself in a dogfight for DC's third-string goalkeeper job. The club has already confirmed that Chase Harrison - who has over 40 professional games under his belt - and Alex Horvath will be invited to preseason camp to play for the same job, but obviously the club sees something in Willis if they were willing to trade up for him. It's worth noting that assistant coach Chad Ashton's previous job was the head coaching position at Denver, so it seems likely that he knows Willis well.
All in all, United improved the depth of a thin defensive group for 2011, and in Kitchen might have a future MLS Best 11-caliber player on their hands. Olsen seems to want to make his team harder to beat, and Caleb Porter called Kitchen and Korb his "most competitive players." That kind of winning attitude was sorely lacking from last year's Black-and-Red. At worst, DC's draft day performance appears to be in the top three around MLS, and you could make a strong case that we did the best of anyone.
Most Improved: New England Revolution
This is a really tough one, because you can make a great case for the Houston Dynamo, Chivas USA, and possibly the Philadelphia Union. However, I think Steve Nicol grabbed two likely 2011 starters in AJ Soares and Steven McCarthy, and he'll get the most out of both of them. McCarthy could be an especially clever pick as a second rounder, as he has the size, intelligence, and passing acumen to potentially replace what the Revs lost when they traded Jeff Larentowicz away.
Team That Did The Least: Columbus Crew
I considered the San Jose Earthquakes (Ampaipitakwong is not going to fit Yallop's style of play unless he toughens up significantly, and Steven Lenhart is pretty similar to Ryan Johnson) and the Colorado Rapids here, but ultimately I went with the Crew, who appear to be getting nearly everything wrong at the moment. Rich Balchan is a solid, versatile player, but at #12 he was a massive reach (especially when Bobby Warshaw, a better utility player, was still available). Balchan may have been available when the Crew picked in the 2nd round, and they could have easily used the #12 pick to take Justin Meram without trading Steven Lenhart away. Balchan may prove me wrong, but the Crew's 1st round performance looked like amateur hour from where I sit.
Meram is a decent player, and Cole Grossman addresses a central midfield need, but neither player strikes me as a guy that will become a solid MLS starter in the next couple of seasons. Both add depth, but that's about it. If the Crew signs Jeff Cunningham, Meram could find himself in a battle with Tommy Heinemann just to make the gameday bench as their fourth-choice striker, and Grossman doesn't offer much that Kevin Burns doesn't already bring to the table. 3rd rounder Bernardo Anor is an unknown, and the Venezuelan takes up an international roster spot to boot.
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By Martin Shatzer
Most improved: Houston Dynamo
The Dynamo were able to grab two of the top five rated players on the board and didn't even have to give up much to do it. Will Bruin looks to be the most MLS-ready of all the forwards available in the draft, and while questions still linger about whether Kofi Sarkodie is a right back or right winger, there's no questioning his talent. Dominic Kinnear did well and these two guys should put them in a position to compete for a playoff spot again after a disappointing 2010.
Least improved: LA Galaxy
With their 16th overall pick, the Galaxy attempted to draft Brian McBride, thinking he would fit in well with other recent acquisitions Juan Pablo Angel and Frankie Hejduk. Upon realizing that McBride wasn't eligible for selection since he graduated from college 18 years ago, Bruce Arena just wrote down the most Hispanic-sounding name he could think of. The Galaxy wound up with Paolo Cardozo.