Atlanta will be represented in Thursday's MLS Draft

Thursday's MLS SuperDraft will have an Atlanta flavor.

Three natives of the metro area -- Jack McInerney of Alpharetta, Sean Johnson of Lilburn, and Steve Kinney of Norcross -- hope to hear their names called as one of the 64 selections in Major League Soccer's four-round draft being held in Philadelphia.

McInerney, a forward, and Johnson, a goalkeeper, already have signed with MLS and are almost guaranteed to be selected by one of the league's 16 teams. Unlike other professional sports leagues, in which the team owns a player's rights, the MLS owns a player's rights, but the teams select from the pool of players. All three players participated in the league's combine in Florida last weekend in front of coaches and general managers in hopes of improving their stock.

"It's exciting," said McInerney, who at 17 is among the younger players in the draft. "I don't know what team I'm going to, but I'll be at a MLS team soon."

McInerney played for Cobb SC before scoring two goals in four games for the United States in the Under-17 World Cup last year. Before that, he scored five goals in the CONCACAF tourney.

He's one of the bright stars in the U.S. youth system, though he says he's not fast, not big (5-foot-8, 155 pounds) and not skillful. But, like his favorite player -- Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, he's aggressive and doesn't mind having the ball at his feet even when defenders who are several inches taller and many pounds heavier are coming at him.

Before he signed with the MLS, he was approached by several first-division teams in Germany and Holland.

"Eventually, I plan on going over there [to Europe] and play," McInerney said. "I don't know if it's going to happen. If it doesn't, I'm fine with MLS my whole career."

The other two Atlanta natives expressed similar sentiments.

Johnson played club soccer for the Atlanta Fire and collegiately for Central Florida. He also honed his skills with the FC Atlanta Hawks PDL team.

Like McInerney, Johnson played for the U.S. National team, but with the Under-20s, starting two games with two shutouts. He started 36 games at Central Florida with a 1.73 goals-against average.

He has the height (6-3) to eat up a lot of space in goal. He said he hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of Tim Howard, who parlayed a solid career in the MLS to an even better career in England's Premier League for Manchester United and now Everton.

"[He's] one of my top keepers to watch," Johnson said. "[Try to] model your lifestyle after what those before you have done."

Kinney, who played club soccer in Atlanta for the Concord Fire, was invited to last weekend's combine as a free agent after an impressive collegiate career as a central defender at Elon, where he became a starter as a freshman.

Obviously hoping to impress, he scored a goal against Johnson's team in one of the games in last weekend's combine.

An accounting major who graduated in 3-1/2 years, Kinney hopes to hear his name called today because not only would playing pro soccer fulfill his dream, but "trying to find a job in this economy wouldn't be the best right now."

Though he's not the tallest defender (6-0), Kinney said he makes up for his lack of height with his voice, constantly marshaling the defense and paying attention to his positioning, similar to U.S. standout Carlos Bocanegra.

"Bringing the team together is the hardest part of the game," Kinney said.

If selected today, they would join other Atlantans Clint Mathis (defending champ Real Salt Lake) and Josh Wolff (Kansas City) as pros.

Growing up in Atlanta and in one of the first generations to be immersed with the MLS, each player said he thinks that the city could one day have a successful soccer franchise. Falcons owner Arthur Blank tabled a bid for one of the league's expansion teams when the economy soured. But the league will look to expand again soon.

"There are clubs all over the city, and there's a ton of soccer fans," McInerney said. "An MLS club will do well in Atlanta."

Perhaps one day one of them will get to come home so that another generation can grow up with a goal of becoming a professional soccer player.

"I love the city," McInerney said. "I would definitely love to play there."


MLS SuperDraft

When: 2 p.m. Thursday

Where: Philadelphia


Atlanta hopefuls

Jack McInerney

Age: 17

Ht/Wt: 5-8/155

Pos.: Forward

Hometown: Alpharetta

Notable: Member of the U-17 U.S. World Cup team, where he scored 11 goals in 15 games. Rated sixth-best forward by ESPN.

Sean Johnson

Age: 20

Ht./Wt.: 6-3/215

Pos.: Goalie

Hometown: Lilburn

Notable: Was a member of the U-20 U.S. National team; .812 save percentage at Central Florida last season. Rated second-best goalkeeper by ESPN.

Steve Kinney

Age: 22

Ht/Wt: 6-0/175

Pos.: Central Defender

Hometown: Norcross

Notable: A three-time All-Southern Conference selection. He scored three goals last season for the Phoenix. Unrated by ESPN.

Top talent

Some of the players who should be selected in the first round:

Andre Akpan, F, Harvard 47 goals and 33 assists in his Crimson career

Corben Boone, M, Wake Forest 15 and 38 assists in Deacons' career

Teal Bunbury, F, Akron Led nation with 17 goals last season

Austin da Luz, M, Wake Forest 6 goals, 15 assists last season

Danny Mwanga, F, Oregon State 14 goals for the Beavers last season

Ike Opara, D, Wake Forest Two-time ACC Defender of the Year

Brian Perk, GK, UCLA Finished career with 1.05 goals-against average

Tony Tchanie, M/F, Virginia Helped lead Cavs to sixth NCAA title