Pre-Combine Audition Weekend

Don't you just love this time of the year?

No, I don't mean Christmas. I do my level best to ignore that until around 6:30 on Christmas eve, at which time I suddenly recall that Princess EarthShakra will expect to find something with her name on it under the tree.

I really think this approach has worked out splendidly, although I admit she wasn't nearly as excited about that set of snow tires last year as I thought she'd be. Maybe she was just overcome with emotion. Hard to say, really, since I was on my fifth scotch by then.

What I'm referring to is the College Cup Final Four, the only time you can get most MLS fans to sully their beloved barn door sized LCD TV screens with NCAA soccer.

I'm not going to get into why this is, or scold anyone about it. Anything I could say along those lines would end up sounding like Julie Foudy demanding that you patronize WUSA because, dammit, it's your obligation as a human being.

All I'm going to say is that bad little boys who don't watch college soccer have their names sent to Jolly Old Saint Sandon Mibut, who will reward you on Christmas morning with a piece of coal and Julie Foudy.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

As a public service for those of you who want to at least pretend that you have the first clue what you're talking about between now and MLS Superdraft Day on January 14 (not that it ever stops anyone), herewith is a viewing guide to the players you can see tonight at 5:00PM and 7:00 PM on ESPN2 and/or ESPNU and at 1:00 PM on Sunday (all times, as they say, EST).

5:00 PM Tonight: Wake Forest v. Virginia

Wake is making their fourth straight College Cup appearance. Aren't you supposed to have to go through a rebuilding year and growing pains and all that jazz when you lose most of your starters? A lot of MLS teams looking for coaches could do worse than The Deacons' Jay Vidovich.

But if you cared about any of that you would have been paying attention all season, and we both know you haven't been. What you really want to know is which players might end up in your favorite teams' uniform next Spring.

So here are the MLS candidates:

This game features two of the most highly lusted-after players in college soccer, both from Wake: defender Ike Opara and midfielder Corben Bone. Both are juniors, both have previously turned down GenA offers and both are first rate talents. If Opara comes out, it would not be a shock to see him go first in the draft either to Philadelphia or whoever Nowak extorts for the pick. Bone might not be far behind.

Fortunately, the absolutely indispensible Buzz Carrick at 3rd Degree, whose site will get more hits in the next 30 days than LindsayLohanNipSlip.com and LatexBondageNuns.com combined, HAS PROCURED THE GENERATION adidas LIST and both of the above are on it once again.

Virginia brings three GenA candidates of their own in sophomore Chris Agorsor, a forward, Brian Ownby, a sophomore midfielder and Tony Tchani, also a sophomore, also a midfielder and a Herrmann trophy semifinalist.

(Just as a review, or for those who came in late: being on the GenA list means that at least one MLS coach has asked the league to make that player an offer, for good money (these guys aren't coming out for Developmental salaries). If they accept the offer then, come draft day, any team can draft the kid but the requesting team must take him if no one else does. Not that it's ever been much of an issue since these are a) the cream of the crop and b) players whose salaries don't count against the cap.)

After that list, we then get to the combine invitees, which the league HELPFULLY RELEASED this week. What swell guys.

Virginia: F/M Ross LaBauex.
Wake: M Zack Schilawski, M Austin da Luz

All the other seniors are most likely playing for Mom and memories, I'm afraid, but God bless them all.

7:00 PM tonight: Akron v. North Carolina

In case you're keeping score, yes, that's three ACC teams in the final four, a fact ACC fans are not likely to let us forget any time soon.

Aside from that, if you're wondering how in the world decidedly unglamorous Akron has the #1 seed, the #1 ranked team in all four polls, is undefeated at 23-0 and is brimming with talent from top to bottom and coming to kick your ass, two words:

Caleb Porter.

Somehow Porter, WHO STEVEN GOFF TELLS US is a prime candidate for the DC United job, convinces half of Bradenton and pretty much anybody else he wants to earnestly desire to spend their college career in a rustbelt basket case where it's cold, snowy, gray and depressing. And that's just in July.*

Akron feels - for good reason - that they don't get any respect, coming from a decidedly unfancied (I love that word) conference, but the fact that they have yet to be scored on while stomping through their tournament bracket ought to give some people pause.

North Carolina, last years' tournament runners up (or is it runnerups? I never know) has never lost to Akron, which may be a portent and may just mean that Akron is due. Either way, they're experienced, deep, and have been here before.

They also will surely benefit from the fact that they might as well be playing in Chapel Hill for all the difference it makes to drive to Cary. Those of you with a special talent for geography may have noticed that Akron, Ohio is a bit farther away.

This season, the Zips (no, really, they're the Zips) feature sophomore Teal Bunbury who, despite being named after a color, is the forward most likely to be giving your local MLS coach wet dreams.

Alongside him will be two other GenA candidates who could go in the first round if they come out, sophomore forward Darlington Nagbe and freshman - yes, freshman - defender Zarek Valentin, who has appeared for every age group US National team up to and including the U20's.

(Something to consider: if Porter ends up at United, does that make his three GenA kids more likely to leave?)

A surprising - to me, anyway - omission from the list and a kid I'm dying to see in MLS because I want to hear Christian Miles make up a faux-pronounciation of his name is junior midfielder (and Herrmann trophy semi-finalist) Anthony Ampaipitakwong, another Bradenton grad. You apparently won't see him in MLS until 2011. I seem to recall him being on the GenA list last year but he's nowhere to be found at the moment.

North Carolina is bringing a pair of GenA offerees (I made that word up) in junior midfielder Michael Farfan and junior forward Cameron Brown.

Aside from the GenA candidates, there are some seniors who merit special notice: in order to cover their butts and not waste a draft pick on a kid who intends to spend 2010 wandering around Europe looking for a contract rather than work for food in MLS, the league likes to sign seniors who are certain to be drafted, thus eliminating the utterly frightening (to them) possibility of trying to sign a kid who has some options.

Again, BUZZ HAS THE SCOOP - what would we do without the guy? - and we see that two Tarheels, defender Zach Lloyd (a terrific talent, IMO) and midfielder Stephen McCarthy, are considered among the elite.

Other combine invitee:

North Carolina: GK Brooks Haggerty

Feel free to print and save this column for handy reference.

There's a first time for everything.

*Please note: this is what's known as a joke. Lighten up. I've lived here for ten years and if it was that bad I'd have moved away by now. So save your flames for Dan. He loves them.