Get to Know Your College Speedsters

Recently SBN held a mock draft drawing on the insights of all the great blogs here on SBN. By far the most surprising pick came from the Brotherly Game’s own Scott Kessler where he drafted speedy left-back Michael Tetteh with the fifth overall pick. Leaving plenty of Sounders fans looking deep down the draft board for the next good fullback (it was a long look down…all the way to JT Murray). Scott doubled down on speed when he selected forward/outside midfielder Levi Houapeu. Both are solid picks for a young Philly team that needs more speed on the wings.

So, who am I? I recently did a write-up on some of the interesting college prospects for the Sounders in over at sister blog Sounder-at-Heart. Scott found them useful as he was putting together his draft list and after the mock-draft asked me to do a write-up on his picks. It sounded like a good time and it gave me an opportunity to look more at Houapeu who I hadn’t done any research on the first time around. So, below I give some of what is out there on the internet on these two young players and how they might fit in with the Union next year if they’re picked up in the real draft.

Who is Michael Tetteh?

Tetteh is a 22-year old left back/left winger from Ghana whose blazing speed has kept him on the G.A. radar for a while. According to Ives Galarcep he’s been on the G.A. radar since last year and the MLS has been looking to sign him for quite a while. Unfortunately for Tetteh, injuries put a big damper on his 2010 season and he played in only 15 games. With a somewhat lackluster year it wasn’t certain that Tetteh would come out of college a year early.

However, the MLS got their man and signed him with the last G.A. contract. In other years, Tetteh would probably be a top five talent, but recent injuries, combined with the depth of this year’s class, has many mock draft boards putting him in the middle of the first round. Of course, things won’t nearly be that simple come draft day. Tetteh is clearly the best left-back in a draft that is very shallow on fullbacks. It’s very likely a team with a need at left-back will either reach down to grab him earlier in the draft or arrange a trade with a team further down the draft board. I fully expect the Union to get either some allocation dollars, a 2nd round pick or a reserve player by trading down if they want to get Tetteh to fill that hole at left-back.

Like his fellow countrymen plying their trade in the MLS, the Nyassi brothers, Tetteh’s best asset is his blazing speed on the wing (correction - Tetteh is from Ghana not Gambia like the Nyassi brothers). At 5’8" and 155 pounds he won’t be the most physically intimidating player on the pitch, but that’s hardly a pre-requisite for the positions he plays. His speed allows him to get both forward to attack from the left-back position which made him a key part of the University of California at Santa Barbara (USCB) offense.

Michael managed 21 shots on goal and 3 goals in 2010 despite playing only 15 games. Michael does have other skills to go with his speed. On the defensive end he is a hard tackler and combines well with strong, physical center-backs like his UCSB teammate Michael Boxall. One the offensive end, he has very good ball control and can bring the ball into the center of the pitch to create opportunities. The clips I’ve seen online he has good passing skills, a good cross and an accurate (if not terribly powerful) shot.

Who is Levi Houapeu?

In many ways this is a much more interesting question for Houapeu than it is for Tetteh. Michael Tetteh has been on the MLS radar for a couple of years and has played against some very strong college teams. His biggest question marks are all related to his recent injuries. Houapeu is much more of an unknown that will need a good combine to raise his draft stock.

Houapeu was a senior on a relatively unknown University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) squad that went to the NCAA Division I championships for only the 2nd time in school history. Houapeu was in the top 10 for the NCAA last year in both goals and points-per-game. However, it’s important to keep in mind; UMBC was playing in a smaller conference than most other potential draftees. I don’t think many people really know how he’ll play against better defenders and as part of a much better team.

Outside of the field he seems like a very likable, quiet, team-oriented guy. Houapeu grew up in the Ivory Coast where he played street-ball there before moving to the U.S. Now, I’m not entirely clear on his history, but in an interview he did for UMBC, it sounds like he came to the U.S. when he was 12 and at some point played for Reading United A.C. of the PDL league. Which is a really neat local connection for the Union and I’m sure their staff has contacts with Reading United.

Levi has explosive speed, excellent dribbling skills, a soft first touch and a low center of gravity that helps him get behind defenders. He’s not imposing at 5’8" and 145 pounds, but he’s tenacious and can use his great balance and agility to stay on the ball while being muscled by larger defenders. He likes to play in that pocket of space just above the defense and has a powerful shot from outside once he gets an open look. So far he sounds like a great prospect. Hell, if this was all there was on the kid, he probably be a first round pick. Unfortunately, there seem to be some other notable flaws to his game. According to pro player pipeline, one of the best sources available for game reviews on college soccer players, there is plenty for Houapeu to work on. The major knock that I find in the game reviews is his inconsistency and inability to find his teammates. The game reviews also deride his lack of defensive effort.

In the MLS, I can see him working either as a withdrawn forward using his speed and ball skills to get open shots or as an inverted winger that uses his speed to come in from the left to create opportunities. I really don’t see him as a traditional winger as I’ve found no mention (or even highlight clips) of his cross. He’s also been knocked for not playing defense so he wouldn’t work in a system that requires strong defense from their outside midfielders. So, he’d probably fit a 4-4-2 formation where the wingers are inverted, stay high, come inside and act much more like extra forwards on the attack. In any case, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of assists from Houapeu as he clearly is a player that looks for his own shot first.

Of the players that I’m familiar with, Houapeu sounds the most like Sanna Nyassi, who is roughly the same age and has roughly the same skill set. Nyassi has amazing speed and ball control that he uses as an inverted winger to get past defenders, but instead of looking for the pass or the cross, he often keeps the ball too long giving defenders opportunities to trap and disposes him. Nyassi provides more defensive pressure while Houapeu has a much better shot. They both have the same tendency to overuse their speed and ball control to create opportunities. Houapeu could stay on the ball and eventually find his own shot against slower and less skillful college defenders. It’s not at all clear he’ll be able to do the same against the faster and more skilled defenders in MLS or even at the MLS combine.

I’d imagine that like Nyassi, it will take some time for him to make the mental adjustments needed to succeed at the next level. He’ll need to be much more aware of his teammates and start looking to create opportunities for them. He’ll also need to step-in and provide defensive pressure in the opposing third, especially if he wants to be successful on a Piotr Nowak team. If he can make these changes, I believe he’ll have a very successful career in the MLS and on the Union.