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MLS Prospects: Forwards

Article Written by J.R. Eskilson & Travis Clark
Published: January 4, 2013

Scoring goals. It’s the reason why the game is played, making the stars who can find the back of the net all the more important.

Most often, when examining MLS, a successful college goal scorer is far from a guarantee to find success at the next level. The defending is better, players are bigger, stronger and faster, and it takes time to adjust.

Often a player who excelled as a striker changes position, sometimes dropping into the midfield or even to the back line. Expect to see more of the same from what is a decent crop of senior strikers looking to land somewhere in MLS.

Will Bates Virginia soccerVirginia's Will Bates

Don Anding, Northeastern
Numbers:
5-11, 74 games, 25 goals, 12 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: Finishing a college career strong always helps to earn a combine invite, and Anding did just that with 14 goals playing mainly as a forward last fall. He’s lumped into the versatile category, and could end up playing as an outside back at the pro level.

Ashton Bennett, Coastal Carolina
Numbers:
5-9/167, 47 games, 39 goals, 16 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: A junior college transfer who burst onto the season in 2011, Bennett’s numbers are extremely gaudy, and the pacey Jamaican striker is a proven scorer. His demeanor and attitude has sometimes caused problem, but if he can find the right fit -- and someone willing to take an international -- he could land on his feet somewhere.

Will Bates, Virginia
Numbers:
6-0/185, 77 games, 46 goals, 10 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: For many college forwards, the biggest challenge in adapting to MLS is coping with the physical demands, and Bates is tailor made to deal with that from day one. However, he’s not just a bruising body, but can also hold the ball up, connect passes and most importantly, finishing. He tore his ACL in the middle of the 2011 season and returned to carry a young Virginia squad all the way to the NCAA tournament.

Ryan Finley, Notre Dame
Numbers:
6-0/180, 78 games, 56 goals, 14 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: There isn’t more of an enigma in the senior draft class than Finley. After starting his college career at Duke, Finley was kicked off the team, before landing at Notre Dame, where he did go on to find success in his final two years of eligibility. There, he continued to bang in goals while coming off the bench, and he has the most career Division 1 goals of his forward peers. Given his gaudy numbers, it’s likely a team will give him a shot, and provided that he's left the past behind him, he could end up scoring goals at the next level.

Coleton Henning, Furman
Numbers:
5-11/170, 77 games, 24 goals, 12 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: Playing different stretches as both a forward and a midfielder, Henning evolved and shaped himself into a good college striker. Whether he has the tools to go beyond that remains to be seen, as he’ll need to put on a show at the combine to attract enough attention, after Furman struggled to make it far last fall.

READ: Goalkeeping Prospects | Defensive Prospects | Midfield Prospects | MLS Mock Draft

Erik Hurtado, Santa Clara
Numbers:
5-9/180, 76 games, 33 goals, 20 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: Don’t let the numbers fool you. There are MLS coaches/scouts who believe Hurtado is in the conversation for the best talent from this group. He is dynamic on the ball and elusive in tight spaces. He is going to make an MLS roster as a winger, who could start early in his career.

Paul Islas, Fresno Pacific
Numbers:
5-7, 69 games, 55 goals, 33 assists
Combine invite:
No

Rundown: Fresno Pacific played in the NAIA and NCAA Division II while Islas was tearing up the grass fields in Central California. The level of competition is going to come into question, but he still deserves a look at the combine to show what he is capable of against the best in NCAA. Islas is a quick, skillful forward who is capable of playing at the professional level.

Stephen Okai, Mobile
Numbers:
78 games, 20 goals, 26 assists
Combine invite:
No

Rundown: A standout on Reading United over the summer in the USL’s Premier Development Leauge, Okai was lost during the fall in the lower ranks of college soccer. The Ghanian’s efforts were not completely ignored, as he did claim the NAIA Player of the Year award in 2012. His play with Reading will keep him in the conversation during the draft despite the lack of a combine invite.

Andy Riemer, Georgetown
Numbers:
6-0/160, 82 games, 21 goals, 8 assists
Combine invite:
No

Rundown: Scrappy, hard-working with an endless motor, Riemer is a player who won’t dazzle or standout with his technical ability. But if an MLS team is looking for a low salary player who will work his tail off at both ends of the field (and pop up to score from time-to-time) they could do much worse than the Hoya.

Charlie Rugg, Boston College
Numbers:
6-0/175, 76 games, 28 goals, 18 assists
Combine invite:
No

Rundown: Injuries plagued Rugg during his senior season, hence why he wasn’t a combine invite. However, over the course of his four year career, Rugg has shown glimpses of enough talent to make it as a pro, and should definitely get a chance either via the Supplemental Draft or perhaps even as a camp invite. Like for many players in his shoes, it may come down to showing consistency and simply getting a shot.

Yannick Smith, Old Dominion
Numbers:
5-9/165, 72 games, 23 goals, 14 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: A concussion in his junior season slowed down what was once a very promising collegiate career for Smith. He has speed and skill, but the injury history will keep a red mark on his bio come draft day.

Luke Spencer, Xavier
Numbers:
6-2/198, 71 games, 29 goals, 21 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: Another forward who enjoyed a strong 2012 campaign, Spencer doubled his career goal total with 14 strikes during his final year. However, he’s not nearly dynamic enough up front to do everything needed out of an MLS forward. He’ll get his chance to show what he can do at the combine.

Devon Sandoval, New Mexico
Numbers:
6-1/185, 79 games, 30 goals, 17 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: The powerful target forward was the leader of a very successful Lobos program for the last few years. Sandoval is strong on the ball and able to work with his back to the goal. There are very few teams that are willing to turn that spot over to a player out of college though.

Chris Thomas, Elon
Numbers:
6-0/191, 81 games, 53 goals, 10 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: Another physically impressive striker, Thomas reached double digits every year of his collegiate playing career, before enjoying his best season to date in the fall of 2012, leading the nation in scoring with 23 goals. Elon might not carry the same prestige as other college programs, but Thomas’ numbers are accompanied by a player who knows how to play the game, and most importantly, score goals in bunches in a number of different ways.

Emery Welshman, Oregon State
Numbers:
5-11/180, 70 games, 32 goals, 17 assists
Combine invite:
Yes

Rundown: The speedy Canadian has the athleticism to play in MLS, but his numbers will not jump off the page at a general manager or a head coach on draft day. He has shown the tools in the Pac-12 to get behind a defense. If he can duplicate that along with the goals to go with it at the MLS Combine, he could see a late jump in his draft stock.

 
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