The 2012 MLS SuperDraft will start at 12 pm EST today on ESPN2.
The 2012 SuperDraft has been criticized as being a weak draft, but the positions that the Brotherly Game feels the Philadelphia Union should target have plenty of options from which to choose. Center back is one of the few positions that this SuperDraft has enough depth to wait until the second round to take a player, but it also has a few intriguing first round prospects.
- Matt Hedges: The senior is probably the best of his class in the draft at any position. Much like Chris Estridge, he didn't have a great combine to stake a claim for a higher draft position, but his collegiate career speaks for itself. Most pundits have Hedges as the first center back taken in the draft, if not the first defender taken. Despite Hedges being a senior and Andrew Jean-Baptise (see below) signing into the Generation Adidas program, Hedges is the most MLS ready center defender available to teams in this SuperDraft. He can immediately start for almost any team, so expect teams needing players at his position to take him high.
- Andrew Jean-Baptise: The Generation Adidas player narrowly edges out Austin Berry (see blow) on my list because of his potential, not current level of play. Jean-Baptise needs time to develop, along the lines of fellow Generation Adidas defender Tyler Polak (left back). He is known as an athletic center back with plenty of potential, but problems involving soccer intelligence and ability on the ball (see Aaron Maund below for a similar situation with the latter). It would be hard for any team to pass up the opportunity to draft Jean-Baptise with his high potential and Generation Adidas status.
- Austin Berry: The center back quickly jumped up mock drafts and draft boards with his quality of play during the combine. Berry is known for his ability to utilize his height and jumping skills, consistently out classing his opponents in the air. For a team like the Union, height is a necessary upgrade needed for the future defensively. Even head coach Piotr Nowak has admitted his want to increase the height of the defense after a 2011 season in which set pieces were a major problem for Philadelphia. Berry could potentially last until the Union's first second round pick, or end up a top ten pick.
- Tommy Mayer: The best on the ball center back in the draft, hands down. Mayer is even considered a "play maker" from the position, a compliment that most center backs never see their names in the same sentence as. Mayer's collegiate career resume isn't as strong as Berry's or Hedge's are, but any team would benefit from Mayer. There are a few pundits that feel he is the strongest center back in the draft.
- Aaron Maund: The former USMNT youth international has struggled to quell the one criticism of his game: on the ball weakness. Maund is strong, over six feet tall and has well above average speed for a center back. His physical traits and abilities are not under question, especially after thriving at Notre Dame for four years, but his on the ball problems are being probed. The story on Maund is that he fell from favor in the national team youth system because of those problems and they've hampered his ability to gain traction heading into the Superdraft. Given the Union's strong center back partnership between Carlos Valdes and Danny Califf, Maund would have time to learn from them about how to use the ball properly, especially from Valdes.