One of my favorite MLS-related tasks over the last few years has been trying to track which players in college soccer have ties to MLS academies and are eligible to sign home-grown contracts. It's pretty cool to be able to nod understandingly when Alex Dixon, Connor Lade, or Matt Lampson signs a home-grown contract and be able to say they had been on your radar for a few years.
So I have a long list of players I believe to be associated with each club, although confirming their status on that club's protected-player list is usually tricky, if not impossible. This summer, I worked with the tireless Travis Clark at Top Drawer Soccer, and he's posted some of the top MLS-associated players to watch in college soccer this year. The list is a must-read and will get you acquainted with guys who could definitely be in MLS next year.
I agree with all the names on that list, but I wanted to add a few more that you may want to keep an eye on. Check them out after the jump:
I'm not saying all of these guys are close to a home-grown contract, but they should at least come up in their MLS team's conversation in one of the next two offseasons:
Leo Ayala, So. DF, UCF -- Houston Dynamo
Ayala is a steady left back who started 13 games out of UCF's 21 last year as part of the team's breakthrough season. He's likely a four-year college guy, but he's been a leader at every level.
Steven Evans, Jr. MF, Portland -- Portland Timbers
Every Timbers home-grown prospect seems controversial at this point, but Evans trained with EastSide United, the same club as Timbers signee Brent Richards, so he should qualify. He's been playing with the Timbers' U23s every summer since he was in high school, and I saw him profiled on a Timbers TV program, so you get the sense they like him a lot. All-West Coast Conference with 6 goals, 5 assists last year.
Roberto Farfan, Sr. MF, Oregon State -- Portland Timbers
Like Evans and most Timbers players in college, Farfan played club soccer at EastSide United and in Oregon ODP. He transferred from UNLV after 2009 and was a second team all-Pac 12 selection last year, when he had four goals and two assists. I don't know much about him as a player, but I expect Portland's scouts will be watching him closely this fall to see if he's ready.
Ian Hines-Ike, So. DF, Seattle University -- Chivas USA
This is an interesting one. As recently as July 2011, Hines-Ike - a U.S. U-20 international - was being described as "on the brink" of a home-grown contract with Chivas USA (after moving from Colorado to live in LA.) He then seemed to drop off the soccer scene altogether, but it turned out he had enrolled at Seattle University and is on scholarship there as a sophomore this fall. His younger brother, Brendan, is entering his freshman season at Creighton and should also be affiliated with Chivas USA.
Phan Kavita, So. DF, Clemson -- Real Salt Lake
I first saw Kavita at the 2010 SUM U-17 Cup in Houston. He stood out because of his size, his skill, and the fact that he was actually from Utah, unlike so many members of the RSL team that came from their academy in Arizona. He was the only player to start every game for Clemson as a freshman last year and scored the game-winning goal in an upset of top-ranked Maryland.
Andy Lubahn, Sr. MF, Wake Forest -- Columbus
The Crew seem to have quite the pipeline going, with Lubahn joining fellow seniors Chad Barson and Matt Wiet as players trying to join collegiate signings Aaron Horton, Matt Lampson, and Ben Speas on the first-team roster. They have several younger players in the mix as well, plus Boston College goalkeeper Justin Luthy (do they need another GK?) and surely only a few spots to offer, so even Lubahn - a player who has led an ACC school in points for the last two years - is no sure thing.
Chris Prince, Jr. FW, Wisconsin -- Chicago Fire
Another MLS team that is loaded with Midwestern collegiate players, Chicago had three players on the TopDrawerSoccer list and has another two on mine. Prince is probably a darkhorse, but he was second team all-Big Ten as a sophomore, so you would think he could be on the MLS radar next year.
Harry Shipp, Jr. MF, Notre Dame -- Chicago Fire
A top recruit out of high school, Shipp notched five goals and two assists as a sophomore despite only starting one game, indicating he could be an offensive difference-maker. There's a lot of competition, however, to earn offers from Chicago. He's joined at Notre Dame this year by his younger brother, Michael, also a Fire prospect.
Patrick Slogic, Jr. DF, Cornell -- Colorado Rapids I've seen him listed as anywhere from 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6, but the fact remains: He's tall. Anybody with that size is going to get consideration, and Slogic has the added bonus of being named to the (biased but still prestigious) Hermann Trophy watch list as a junior. He did not miss a minute for Cornell, which had the best defense in the Ivy League last year, and he scored three goals from set pieces. Sounds like an MLS player to me.
Alex Sweetin, Jr. MF, St. Louis -- Sporting Kansas City
He's flown under the radar because he plays at a smaller school and missed 2011 due to injury, but Sweetin was the 2009 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year after a season in which he started every game and had six assists for an NCAA tournament team. That and his high school resume keep him on my list as a darkhorse.
Minh Vu, Sr. MF, Penn State -- Real Salt Lake
I'm honestly not sure if he's still tied to RSL (he played for the RSL-Arizona team in 2008), so there's a chance that Vu is not eligible for a home-grown signing. But after two years at Pima Community College in Arizona and a standout first Division I season at Penn State (2011 Big Ten Tournament Offensive MVP), he will have the chance to prove himself with a big senior season.
Now this is just a small sampling; I have more than 650 players listed in college soccer that could be tied to MLS academies, although I sincerely doubt that they're all on protected-player lists. But these are some of the better prospects. I haven't seen very many of these guys in person, so take this with a grain of salt, but here are my top five senior prospects for 2012 and my top five sophomore/junior prospects for 2012:
1. Scott Caldwell, Sr. MF, Akron -- New England Revolution
I'll be shocked if he doesn't sign; he's trained with the Revs several times in the summer.
2. London Woodberry, Sr. DF, Maryland -- FC Dallas
A lockdown ACC defender has worked pretty well for Schellas Hyndman this year.
3. Chris Hegngi, Sr. FW, Ohio State -- D.C. United
I haven't seen him play, but based on his size and his numbers, this will be a no-brainer for Ben Olsen.
4. Matt Wiet, Sr. DF, UCLA -- Columbus
5. Chad Barson, Sr. DF, Akron -- Columbus
As Travis Clark pointed out, it seems like the Crew will sign either Wiet or Barson, but probably not both, in the offseason.
1. Gyasi Zardes, Jr. FW, Cal State Bakersfield -- LA Galaxy
A lock if he decides on MLS, but you'd have to think Europe could be tempting.
2. Sebastien Ibeagha, Jr. DF, Duke -- Houston Dynamo
The second-most MLS-ready underclassmen and another player who has reportedly received contract offers in the past. His parents no longer live in Houston, however, and he may have his eyes overseas.
3. Wil Trapp, So. MF, Akron -- Columbus Crew
A youth national team veteran, it's more a matter of 'when?' than 'if?'
4. Patrick Slogic, Jr. DF, Cornell -- Colorado Rapids
I have yet to meet an MLS coach that will turn down a 6-foot-6 defender who can play at both ends of the field.
5. Nick Palodichuk, So. MF, Duke -- Seattle Sounders
Great numbers as a freshman (8g,6a) and the only freshman on the top two all-ACC teams. That means business.