January 2, 2017 - With the annual list of MLS Combine invitees recently announced, it’s time to start analyzing which players can improve their draft stock. In general, the combine is a bit of a crapshoot, as there usually isn’t a direct correlation between combine performance and MLS career success. Many of these college players have played 80+ games with their respective college team, but their ability will be critiqued based off of three games playing with relatively unfamiliar players.
With that said, this is the platform that many players need to boost their stock. For players with limited national exposure, this is their opportunity to shine. College Soccer News takes a look at which players need a solid combine to catapult them up MLS teams’ draft boards.
Joseph Holland (Midfielder - Hofstra): Holland (3g, 8a), playing in the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) hasn’t gotten as much recognition as he deserves. The Pride’s #10 has been one of the most consistent playmakers in the country and deserves a look at the next level. Holland, the 2015 CAA Player of the Year has a great change of pace, impeccable vision and the ability to feather balls over the back line. The London native has an impressive production rate as he’s amassed 19 goals and 28 assists since arriving in Hempstead.
While maybe not high on many team’s draft boards, the midfielder has enough talent to be a first round selection.
Chris Nanco (Forward - Syracuse): Nanco (7g, 1a), a first team All-ACC selection is a borderline first round pick, but could use a great combine to shoot him up the boards. The Orange forward scored 20 goals in his 4 years under Coach McIntyre. The Sigma FC product has thoroughly improved his game since his freshmen year. Nanco has the ability to get in behind the defense and has gotten better at timing his off ball movement and finishing.
While already on many teams draft boards, if the Canadian youth international can turn a few heads in Los Angeles, he can sneak into the first round.
Connor Maloney (Forward - Penn State): Maloney (7g, 5a), a three time 1st Team All-Big Ten honoree should be a no brainer first round pick, but his size undeservedly puts him down the charts. The Nittany Lion forward is a pit bull up top with the technique and soccer IQ to match it (think Sergio Aguero). MLS teams will likely look to put Maloney on the wing, a position he’s played in the past. The versatile forward has notched 26 goals and 17 assists in his 4 years at University Park, playing in arguably the second best conference in the country.
Although he’s been competing against top quality in college, MLS teams will love to see how he matches up against the top defenders in the country.
Julian Gressel (Midfielder - Providence): Gressel (15g, 6a), a College Soccer News First Team All American is another borderline first round pick. The German attacker is versatile enough to play anywhere in the midfield or up top, which only benefits him. The MAC Hermann Trophy semi-finalist has great hold up play, links well with his teammates and plays with an aggressive mentality. His physical game translates well to MLS, but he’s still behind all the Generation Adidas guys and some senior attackers in terms of draft stock.
Gressel’s 30 goals and 26 assists are remarkable and there are rumors some teams value him as a top 10 pick, but he’ll need prove his worth at the combine.
Tanner Thompson (Midfielder - Indiana): While nobody would claim the Hoosiers aren’t in the national spotlight, Thompson (8g, 3a), falls into the category of underappreciated playmakers. The technical midfielder finally got the recognition he deserved in college this year, but it’ll take more to convince MLS scouts. It’s unsure whether Thompson will be more of a box-to-box midfielder or a winger, something that may raise question marks. Much like his brother Tommy, Tanner combines a great soccer mind with a deft touch and ability to pick out a pass. Despite his skill, he’ll need to find the correct system to succeed in MLS.
The College Soccer News 1st team All American will need a great showing at the combine to find his way into the first round.
Ben Roth is a Contributing Writer and Analyst for College Soccer News. He will be on location at both the MLS Combine which will take place on January 8 through 12 in Los Angeles and the MLS Superdraft which will be held on January 13 at the LA Convention Center.