Real Salt Lake has a growing need for creative box-to-box midfielders following the absences of key figure Ned Grabavoy this season, and with that in mind, Eric Bird was our man.
Graduating from the University of Virginia, Bird was captain of this year's NCAA College Cup winners and 2013 semifinalists. He played 73 matches across the five years, and in 2013, he led the team in goals (7) and tied RSL midfielder Jordan Allen in assists (5).
He's a crafty kid, but he's also not the sort to provoke a highlight reel of stepovers and Cruyff turns — or at least that's the impression one gets from watching Virginia match highlights. (Scouting these players is difficult. It's more that he legitimately fits the Grabavoy mold: He's a little on the shorter side, but his control is excellent and he seems to have a good awareness of what's happening around him. He sits a little deeper in the midfield, dictating play more than anything, but he also shows well with late runs.
Bird, however, might not be quite ready for the big time. It's difficult to tell how skills like this translate, but it's no less difficult than figuring out how a purely creative player works out. It's unclear whether he'd be the best pick for Real Salt Lake, but with defenders starting to line up, Bird's midfield play wouldn't go amiss for a team needing midfield reinforcements.
Our selection wasn't because he has experience with Allen, although that doesn't really hurt anything. And it's not because we're hoping he'll bring Riggs Lennon along with him, a Real Salt Lake academy graduate and a player we've had our eye on — but so have Aston Villa. (That's tangential at best to this, of course.) But hey, those things are nice to think about, and Bird ticks a lot of boxes for us.
Below: Complete SB Nation mock draft selections.
|1||Orlando City SC||Cyle Larin|
|2||New York City FC||Cristian Roldan|
|3||Montreal Impact||Khiry Shelton|
|4||San Jose Earthquakes||Ramon Martin del Campo|
|5||Portland Timbers||Conor Donovan|
|6||Toronto FC||Leo Stolz|
|7||Chicago Fire SC||Fatai Alashe|
|8||Houston Dynamo||Oumar Ballo|
|9||Toronto FC||Alex Bono|
|10||Sporting Kansas City||Nick Besler|
|11||Toronto FC||Romario Williams|
|12||Sporting Kansas City||Otis Earle|
|13||Vancouver Whitecaps||Skylar Thomas|
|14||Columbus Crew SC||Aaron Simmons|
|15||FC Dallas||Dan Metzger|
|16||Real Salt Lake||Eric Bird|
|17||D.C. United||Andy Thoma|
|18||NY Red Bulls||Tim Parker|
|19||Colorado Rapids||Boyd Okwuonu|
|20||Sporting Kansas City||Andy Craven|
|21||LA Galaxy||Tyler Miller|
|22||Orlando City SC||Andrew Wolverton|
|23||New York City FC||Ricky Garbanzo|
|24||Portland Timbers||Seth Casiple|
|25||Orlando City SC||Jose Ribas|
|26||Colorado Rapids||Jordan Murrell|
|27||Seattle Sounders||Dzenan Catic|
|28||Chicago Fire SC||Saad Abdul-Salaam|
|29||Toronto FC||Adam Montague|
|30||Sporting Kansas City||Luke Mishu|
|31||Philadelphia Union||Manolo Sanchez|
|32||Portland Timbers||Andy Bevin|
|33||New England Revolution||Sergio Campbell|
|34||Portland Timbers||Anthony Manning|
|35||Columbus Crew SC||Axel Sjoberg|
|36||Houston Dynamo||Kyler Sullivan|
|37||Toronto FC||Dennis Castillo|
|38||Vancouver Whitecaps||Tyler Arnone|
|39||NY Red Bulls||Connor Hallisey|
|40||Seattle Sounders||Spencer Richey|
|41||Philadelphia Union||Alex Shinsky|
|42||D.C. United||Akeil Barrett|