A dozen quality, late finds from recent MLS drafts

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Anyone can pick a Darlington Nagbe, an Andrew Wenger or a Perry Kitchen, some of the no-brainers of recent Major League Soccer drafts. But who can kick over the rocks and reach into the dark, lint-covered nooks and crannies to find that lanky midfielder from Rhode Island – who just might one day suit up at center back for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team?

From the last five MLS drafts, here are the best finds found after 30 picks.

(Ranked in order, based on my own highly subjective, completely non-scientific assessments):

1. Geoff Cameron, No. 42 in 2008 to Houston: A little-known midfielder out of Rhode Island became a serviceable midfielder for Houston – then got to be an elite-level center back almost by accident. Now Cameron is walking the fringes of Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team pool, not so far from busting his way into solid top-18 status.

2. Joao Plata, No. 49 in 2011 to Toronto: Not much has gone right around BMO Field over the years, but Aron Winter and staff nailed this one, picking the diminutive Ecuadorian near the end of the third round. He had 3 goals and 5 assists as a rookie last year.

3. Sean Johnson, No. 51 in 2010 to Chicago: Came out of nowhere in 2010 but quickly opened eyes with quality starts at Toyota Park. Johnson soon became a member of the national team brat pack as Bob Bradley, and then Klinsmann, began long-range planning for Tim Howard’s eventual retirement.

4. Joe Willis, No. 50 in 2011 to D.C. United: It took an injury to Bill Hamid to put a spotlight on the St. Louis native, but he’s sure exploiting the opportunity with a series of skillful, composed starts in goal at RFK.

5. Danny Cruz, No. 41 in 2009 to Houston: Never quite made himself a fixture for Dominic Kinnear at Houston, but he’s making people take notice this year with lots of hustle and bustle up and down the right side for D.C. United.

6. Eric Alexander, No. 44 in 2010, Dallas: Was a valuable part of Dallas’ 2010 MLS runner-up squad and still apparently a wanted-man around the league, as Portland has recently fended off trade inquiries.

7. Ben Zemanski, No. 47 in 2010 to Chivas USA: A part-time starter as a rookie, the University of Akron product (one of many lately) has been a part-time starter, at least, since then his late 2010 selection.

8. Ryan Meara, No. 31 in 2012 to New York: It may be a little early yet to proclaim this a big draft-day steal, but the early returns in Meara’s rookie season at Red Bull Arena look promising enough.

9. Darrius Barnes, No. 40 in 2009 to New England: Started 72 games over his first three MLS seasons – not bad at all, even if the team around him wasn’t very good.

10. Chris Schuler, No. 39 in 2010 to RSL: It’s hard to get games when Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are in the way, but Schuler never looks out of his element when asked to fill in. He’s already made 21 starts for Jason Kreis.

11. Shaun Francis, No. 63 in 2010 to Columbus: A part-time starter for two years at Crew Stadium who has become the first choice at left back in 2012.

12. Kyle Nagazawa, No. 33 in 2010 to Philadelphia: Played valuable minutes last year for Peter Nowak’s side but then went to Los Angeles in a winter trade. Probably would have logged more minutes there already but for Juninho’s surprise return to the HDC just before 2012 season kickoff.

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”