With the regular season just under a month away, rookies across MLS are getting adjusted to the rigors of their first preseason as professionals.
Recent history has shown the tendency for first-year players to leave a mark on the league sooner rather than later. And teams have come to depend on these talents, whether in a more demanding, consistent role, or to provide depth and offer up a different look from the bench.
Though it’s still preseason in preseason, it’s never too soon to start positing which of this year’s SuperDraft class will stand out in the coming season.
Here are five names to watch out for in 2011:
F Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers
Bright Dike’s injury early on in preseason has swung the door of opportunity wide open for the exciting and talented attacker out of Akron. Whether it’s up top partnering with Kenny Cooper or providing width on the flanks, Nagbe is one to watch in Portland.
DF Jalil Anibaba, Chicago Fire
Few MLS rosters have seen as much turnover as Chicago’s. By taking Anibaba in the first round, the Fire nabbed a likely starter from day one who could enjoy the same steady consistency that Tim Ream showed as a rookie.
MF Anthony Ampaipitakwong, San Jose Earthquakes
Small, creative attacking midfielders were available in abundance in this draft. Few possessed the talents that Ampaipitakwong has at his disposal – great passing, vision and instincts for the game. Though some question his size, and considering that he’ll have to battle to find minutes, look for Ampai to create chances for the Quakes when he sees the field.
DF/MF Perry Kitchen, D.C. United
Tough, competitive and levelheaded: Those are a few of the several superlatives are tossed about when discussing United’s first round pick. He’s impressed the coaching staff in the early days of preseason, and don’t be surprised if he’s played his way into a starting spot in United’s back line by the end of the season.
F Justin Meram, Columbus Crew
A quick, athletic forward with an absolute cannon of a right leg, Meram’s finishing ability is uncanny. He’ll likely get a chance to strut his stuff against Real Salt Lake next week when the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League take place. Over the long haul, the key for his success will be adjusting to the physical nature of MLS.