I would love to say I saved the best for last for this series of posts on Superdraft prospects (you can see my other posts in the FanPosts section). Now, when I say that, it’s not because there aren’t some good center-back prospects in the draft. There are a number of center-backs that will have long and productive careers in the MLS. No, this is the last post because of all the positions I’ve looked at, this is the least likely to be filled by the Sounders in the Superdraft. The Sounders are currently stacked with talent at the center-back spot.
It will be tough for a rookie center-back to get playing time even with the new reserve league. The Sounders have three proven, high caliber defenders fighting for two starting spots (Hurtado, Parke and Ianni). Julien Baudet, a high-quality international veteran, will be fighting for both a contract and the fourth spot on the team. Also fighting for that fourth spot is long-time Sounder, and quality rotational player, Taylor Graham. Tyson Wahl can also play center-back and has done so on multiple occasions to good effect.
However, for the sake of completeness, if nothing else, I’m going to run down some of the center-back prospects in the draft. There are a couple reasons these prospects could be of interest to the Sounders. It’s possible that both Soares and Anibaba drop to the back half of the draft where a sign and trade or a trade of picks to reach up higher in the draft might make sense for the Sounders. There are plenty of teams picking above us who need some immediate defensive help and could be willing to trade down if the Sounders combine the 11th pick with one of our many 2nd round picks. Besides, a hidden gem might drop far enough that even the Sounders can’t pass picking them up as a long-term prospect. They could then cut Baudet to free up cap space or try them out at CDM where the Sounders are in need of quality depth.
A.J. SOARES – Soares looks like the best senior center-back in the draft and might go earlier in the first round. He anchored the University of California’s backline as the Bear’s co-captain, provided solid passes out of the back third and provided a solid aerial threat on set-pieces. He has the size, temperament and skill to come into MLS and play significant minutes. If the Sounders select him, frequent SAH poster Little Old Me, believes he could also play the CDM role, similar to Ianni.
JALIL ANIBABA – A close second for the best senior center-back in the draft is Jalil Anibaba. He’s a good ball winner in the air and a very good tackler. He’s regarded as a good athlete with a high ceiling. Like Soares, he could come into an MLS team in need of extra help in the back and play significant minutes. He could also play the CDM role for the Sounders, but it may not be his best position.
MICHAEL BOXALL – Do you think the Sounders need an enforcer type in the back? If yes, then Boxall might be your guy. Boxall’s a solid 6’2", 200 pounds and just looks like he can kick some serious butt. Boxall provides a solid physical presence in the air, has good positioning and a good long ball. What he lacks in speed he makes up for with hard, physical play. For example, a 2009 game review from pro player pipeline contained this little gem on Boxall breaking up an on-field fight "…this ended when Boxall put his hands around this players neck. In the past 2 years, I’ve seen UCSB three times and twice they’ve been involved in fisticuffs."
TYLER LASSITER – Lassiter is an interesting player that could be an excellent pick for the Sounders as a center-back or a center-mid. The senior center-midfielder started as an outside defender for North Carolina State and then later moved to central defense and midfield. Lassiter has good ball skills, an excellent first touch and a solid short passing game. He’s tall enough at 6’0" to win aerial battles and he’s an excellent defender on the ground. He’s listed at 160 pounds, which could be a bit light for MLS, but he looks like he has the frame to add strength if he hits the gym and gets good advice from a professional strength coach.
CURTIS USHEDO - Ushedo is a tall, lanky 6’4" senior defender who played for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He’ll need a good combine to increase his draft stock and will need to work on technical skills such as dibbling and passing. Not much else out there on Ushedo.
INDY SMITH – Smith was the senior anchor for the University of North Carolina Wilmington. At 6’4" he dominates in the air and has a good read of the game. However, his lack the speed could be a huge detriment in the MLS where he will be facing faster and more technically savvy forwards. Smith also needs to work on his passing from the back.
KURT CAMERON – Cameron is a big, physical senior center-back listed on the Seton Hall website at 6’2" and 188 pounds. He was invited to the Sounder Vegas Combine, but not the MLS Combine. He needs to work on his technical skills, especially the offensive variety. I’m not sure he’ll be drafted, but if he does, he’ll probably just squeeze into the third round.
I also covered some good center-backs that could potentially play the CDM or fullback role for the Sounders in my post on Center-mids and Fullbacks. I’ve reposted them below. I personally think the Sounders, if they take a center-back, are likely to grab one that can play CDM as they are in need of depth at that position.
ZAREK VALENTIN – Another underclassman that played soccer for the NCAA champion Akron Zips. He plays center back currently, but at an undersized 5’11’’ he’ll probably need to switch to fullback in MLS. He’s a good, consistent passer that can ignite an attack out of the defense. He’s secured a G.A. deal and looks like he might be selected before the Sounder’s 11th pick. However, he might fall down the draft board or the Sounders could possible make a trade to move up for him.
BOBBY WARSHAW - Warshaw was a well-regarded senior leader, dedicated player and a fierce, fierce competitor in the back for Stanford this last season. He's a versatile player who'll play anywhere on the pitch. Bobby was the leading scorer for Standford three times which is a remarkable feat for a player who spent most of college career as a center-back. He sounds like a great utility guy who can play in multiple positions and can bring some passion and toughness off the bench. Currently, he looks like he'll be a second round pick although a good combine showing could have him moving up into the late 1st round.