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What are they putting in the water in Akron?

Next time you find yourself in Ohio searching for the best soccer action the Buckeye State has to offer, skip Crew Stadium and drive the 121 miles northeast to  Lee Jackson Field, where the Akron Zips are fast becoming the pride of American college soccer.  Following up his side’s heart-breaking penalty shoot-out loss in the 2009 national championship to Wake Forest, Coach Caleb Porter led this year’s edition of the Zips to the promised land, knocking off number one seeded Louisville 1-0 to claim this year’s crown, the first D1 national championship in the school’s history.

And while the 2009 Zips saw two excellent players in Teal Bunbury and Blair Gavin drafted in the first round (fourth and tenth, respectively), the 2011 MLS Draft is projected to see SEVEN Akron Zips selected in the first two rounds.  Again, that means that of the first thirty-six selections made this afternoon, seven of them, or roughly 20% of them will remember the 2010 national championship victory as the final cherry on their collegiate careers.  Additionally, a record 5 Zips are amongst this year’s Generation Adidas Class (of only 9 players, total).

A look at the 2011 draft class from Akron reveals not only a high-level of potential but, to Coach Porter’s great credit, a great amount of polish that will lead to players contributing quickly to their new MLS clubs.

Nagbe - Probable No. 1 Pick

Darlington Nagbe, striker, Generation Adidas.  Nagbe made sure that soccer’s version of the Heisman, The Hermann Trophy, stayed in Akron for a second straight season following Teal Bunbury’s capture of the prestigious award in 2009.  In 25 matches in the 2010 season, Nagbe led the Zips attack with 7 goals and 13 assists and is expected to be announced as the number one pick in the draft.  Much like our own Danny Mwanga, Nagbe has impressed scouts and coaches with an amazing mixture of raw athletic ability and soccer intelligence.  The son of Joe Nagbe, former captain of the Liberian national team, Nagbe, quite literally, has the game in his blood and projects to be a top talent in the league.

Ampaipitakwong - Try saying that three times fast

Anthony Ampaipitakwong, midfielder.  Wearing the number 10 shirt and the captain’s armband for the Zips, Ampaipitakwong pulled the string’s for the Akron attack from the central, attacking midfield position.  Despite his 5′-8″, 160 lbs stature, Ampaipitakwong can mix it up with any opposition and his technical excellence keeps him on the front foot and allows him to slide out onto the wing or even drop deeper into a holding role.  Any team in need of a creative spark would do well to take a long look at the four-year Akron playmaker.

Kitchen - Top 3 potential

Perry Kitchen, midfielder, Generation Adidas.  Despite having only one year of college soccer under his belt, Kitchen enters this year’s draft considered as one of the most pro-ready players.  Occupying the holding midfield role for Akron, he started all 25 matches and upon completion of the season received basically every award that can be bestowed on a freshmen player.  With a body and skill-set large enough to see time in central defense, Kitchen could be the first of his teammates to join Nagbe on stage in Baltimore, perhaps with the number two or three pick.

Michael Nanchoff, midfielder, Generation Adidas.  In a league where garbage service is not only tolerated, but expected, Nanchoff will provide any MLS team with an upgrade on the wing.  Expertly skilled on the ball, Nanchoff’s ability to whip in accurate crosses sets him apart from most current professional wingers (let alone any college prospects) trying to get a game in MLS these days.  While he does not have elite speed, Nanchoff makes up for it with a tireless workrate and any team in need of a polished, skillful wide player will be keeping an eye on the Generation Adidas prospect.

Valentin - Local product

Zarek Valentin, defender, Generation Adidas.  Despite a lot of chatter about the Union making Valentin, a Lancaster, PA product, their first pick in the draft, his lack of big-time stature (only 5′-11″, 155 lbs) means he will likely see more time at right back than in the middle of the pitch.  Unlike the modern fullback who is trained to push up the field, acting as an additional winger, Valentin’s time at center back makes him far more of a sound, stay at home defender, making his selection by the Union seem less likely.

Sarkodie - Dangerous speedster

Kofi Sarkodie, defender, Generation Adidas.  Much of Valentin’s defensive positioning was acquired while covering for the marauding Sarkodie.  Despite playing at right back, Sarkodie outscored Darlington Nagbe with 8 goals and 6 assists on his way to being named Soccer America’s National Player of the Year.  While there are minor concerns about his defensive instincts, coaches across the league will be salivating at his excellent pace and skill.  A probable top 5 pick.

Chris Korb, defender.  With all of his teammates stealing the headlines, Korb could slip into the second round where a team in need of a quality left back could acquire him as one of the steals of the draft (ahem, clears throat).  A sound defensive player well versed in bailing out his team and making the telling tackles that preserve victories and clean sheets, Korb also has strong, natural attacking instincts making him a well-rounded, if not spectacular, player capable of an impressive MLS career.

So there you have it.  The team that stamped its authority on this year’s college season is about to put the same mark onto the 2011 MLS Draft.  Ampaipitakwong could provide the attacking spark the Union needs if he falls into the second round and Korb clearly fills the long term of finding a suitable replacements for Jordan Harvey.  Is the hype over Valentin over-exaggerated?  Who on this list would you like to see suiting up for the Bimbo Warriors?  Enjoy the draft!

4 Comments

  1. If Kitchen slips to #5 the Union have to take him, right? Even though he’s a D-middie that’s too much talent to pass up.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      It is a boatload of talent, but I think you do have to pass. This team has too many pressing issues to take on another holding midfielder. The point is probably moot though because its highly unlikely he’ll still be on the board by no. 5

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