By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2011; 12:29 AM
MLS coaches and executives have gathered in Baltimore for Thursday's draft, which, like other U.S. pro sports, serves as the league's showpiece of a fleeting offseason. They'll celebrate the No. 1 overall selection, welcome more than 50 players into the 15-year-old organization and weigh last-minute trade offers.
In the audience, supporters from various clubs will sing and chant, and college coaches will beam with pride as their pupils are claimed.
But for MLS teams, the draft is only a segment of roster-building activities before training camps open next week.
For months, they've been browsing in the international marketplace and signing players cultivated in their youth academies. They've acquired veterans in an inaugural re-entry process - the birth of limited free agency - and executed trades.
But for a few hours Thursday, MLS's 18 clubs will turn to traditional sporting means to bolster their ranks.
D.C. United has the No. 3 pick, its highest spot since 2003 and 2004, when it chose Alecko Eskandarian and Freddy Adu first overall.
United has received trade offers for its prize, General Manager Dave Kasper said, but "I'm pretty confident we'll use it."
Added Coach Ben Olsen: "There are some quality players out there [in the draft]. I'm not excited to give up that pick, but we'll listen."
On the eve of last year's draft, United packaged the No. 7 selection, Brazilian midfielder Fred and financial considerations to the Philadelphia Union for goalkeeper Troy Perkins. (Neither player performed well and has subsequently departed.)
United has had mixed results in recent drafts: Two years ago, Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius started right away, but between 2005 and 2008, most of their picks didn't pan out.
The consensus is that about six players available in the draft are capable of making an immediate impact.
The top prospects, forward Darlington Nagbe and midfielder Perry Kitchen, are early-entry players from NCAA champion Akron, which could be responsible for five first-round picks.
Assuming Nagbe and Kitchen are taken, United has a number of options. Club President Kevin Payne said United has been most intrigued by attacking players, such as Indiana's Will Bruin, Penn State's Corey Hertzog and U.S. under-20 national team striker Omar Salgado. Last year, United set the league record for fewest goals (21 in 30 matches).
However, if United is unconvinced of their capability, it might select a defender to fortify an uncertain back line. Primary options include a pair of Akron backs, Zarek Valentin and Kofi Sarkodie, North Carolina's Jalil Anibaba and UC Santa Barbara's Michael Tetteh.
"We are not necessarily tied down to a forward," Olsen said. "There are some defenders that are interesting."
For the past week, Olsen and his counterparts got a firsthand look at most of the available players at the MLS scouting combine and U.S. under-20 national team's training camp in South Florida. Aside from college players, several young foreign prospects are in the pool, including English superstar Wayne Rooney's younger brother, John.
United note: MLS veteran forward Abe Thompson, a former W.T. Woodson High and University of Maryland star, has been invited to training camp. The team has also offered tryouts to goalkeepers Chase Harrison, who was with United late last year; and Alex Horwath, 23.