I haven't really been following the college game this year, but I'm taking a look at the closing stages of the Final Four to have a look at the potential level of the draft pool going into the 2008 MLS Superdraft. With that said . . .
Wake Forest 2 : 0 Virginia Tech
Wake was on the ball early and often, playing a possession game in direct opposition to Tech's "boot it up to Nyarko and wait for the magic to happen" approach. No doubt about it--Nyarko has been bandied about as a top MLS prospect, and he does look to have a fancy toolbox full of tricks--but the one who caught my eye the most was Wake striker Marcus Tracy. If you're looking for hot-to-trot MLS forwards, this dude has got to be up there. Tall, massive vertical leap, quick with and without the ball, nice touch, classy footwork, and solid finishing--though he probably could have added a couple to the two that he did stick in the net.
The other two standouts, for my money, were Wake's Cody Arnoux and Tech's Ben Nason. Arnoux's work rate and dribbling were impressive. He looked pretty damn confident for a sophomore, though his Pippo-esque floppery in the box wasn't particularly endearing. Nason, in contrast, wasn't about the flair at all. The engine of the Tech midfield, Nason demonstrated his battling qualities throughout the game but also got into the box on occasion and was quick to spring the break with astute passes--often from a deep-lying central midfield position. He won't be a first-rounder, but I'd definitely be pinging him with my radar if I'm an MLS GM looking for solid midfield depth.
Ohio State 1:0 UMass
Wow, talk about out-classed! OSU dominated possession and clearly overmatched UMass in size, speed, strength, and technical ability. It's a tribute to UMass' collective defensive effort and solid goalkeeping that they kept this thing close. UMass keeper Zack Simmons made some outstanding stops to keep things respectable and looks to have the tools to be a decent backup somewhere.
OSU's strength seemed to come more from their team play than from any individual brilliance, though Roger Espinoza and Xavier Balc both looked to have that little bit of extra class that might make them decent pro prospects. The back line had some size and strength as well, and didn't look to be quite as vulnerable to the break or the defensive brain-fart as Wake was in the first game. No individual really stood out, but it's often the solid defenders who get in the right spots and don't make stupid decisions that make the best pros, so I wouldn't be surprised if somebody makes the jump.
Biggest Moment of Stupidity
Now, I'm sure that longtime readers know all about the undying respect and admiration I have for the excrement that manages to slip past Eric Wynalda's lips, but he got in a real beauty in the Wake-Tech match. In the latter stages of the match, Tech's English giant, Robert Edmans, was dragged down in the box, and Eric immediately (and correctly--imagine my surprise!) calls for the penalty, expressing shock and disbelief when said penalty isn't given. Then, two minutes later, after the ref calls a foul just outside the Wake box, Wynalda comes along and claims that this is the best officiated game he's seen in a while.
Now, if this is a tongue-in-cheek indictment of the state of refereeing in the US, then I'll have to say "fair play to you, Eric." But come on--this is Eric Wynalda we're talking about! His memory seems to consist of what happened twenty seconds ago and banal personal anecdotes or moments of dubious hilarity involving his former running-mates with the US National Team and the various MLS sides that have cast him forth like priests exorcising a demon. Speaking of which--am I the only one who looks at that sneer and those dead, flat fish eyes and sees the heart of darkness staring back at me? The horror, the horror . . .