January 16, 2013 – 2013 MLS Combine Review leading into the MLS SuperDraft which will take place on Thursday, January 17 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
A lot of questions were being asked leading up to the 2013 MLS Combine. Would Eriq Zavaleta be playing forward, where he scored 18 goals for the national champion Hoosiers, or center back, where he starred at the youth level for the Youth National teams? How would Notre Dame’s Ryan Finley fare against the nation’s best defenders? Would Andrew Farrell show enough to claim the number one pick to Toronto? Can players like New Mexico’s Devon Sandoval silence critics and enter the first round?
The Combine’s purpose is to have these questions, and many others, answered before the 2013 MLS Draft on Thursday.
The Players Arrive:
Seventy-two players arrived in Ft. Lauderdale this past Thursday all hoping to impress the MLS scouts to improve their draft stock. The atmosphere around the hotel was a very excited one. One player quickly explained it by saying, “We just want to play.” Already knowing which of the four teams they were dealt for the weekend, (adiPower, Prime, adizero, or adiPure) the players took the time to get acquainted with their teammates. The players probably had a tough time sleeping that night, but the morning was quickly upon them.
The only mention of Furman’s Walker Zimmerman will come right now; the potential overall first pick will not take part in the combine, hopefully not hurting his chances.
I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for the Combine’s first day of matches. The mood of match day 1 turned quickly to anxiety as the players realized their draft fate relied heavily on their performance at the Combine. All the more the reason for a strong opening day performance to catch the eye of the MLS coaches and scouts.
The first of two matches on the day was between adiPower and Prime, featuring players Carlos Alvarez (UCONN), and Eriq Zavaleta (Indiana) for Prime, and Mikey Lopez (North Carolina), and Jason Johnson (VCU) for adiPower. This match ended an a 2-2 draw, and the stars stood out, with a few surprise performances. Carlos Alvarez scored a goal and had an assist for Prime. Meanwhile, Mikey Lopez also had a strong day 1 for adiPower, controlling the midfield with pinpoint passing, and great control impressing the scouts right away. Kofi Opare (Michigan) was a dominate force for adiPower doing a lot of the dirty work for, and making some very strong tackles.
With both Alvarez, and Lopez impressing on day 1, it left Chivas USA, who holds the second overall pick, with an even tougher decision. If Chivas decides to keep the second overall pick, head coach José Luis Sánchez Solá expressed the desire for Chivas to draft a Mexican-American, and that is why it is clear that they will choose either Lopez or Alvarez. Both players have shown interest in joining Chivas.
Maryland midfielder John Stertzer opened the scoring after 25 minutes with a low half volley inside the far post for adiPower. Stefano Pinho (Brazil) doubled the lead nine minutes after play resumed by turning home Don Anding's (Northeastern) square pass. Carlos Alvarez (UConn) corralled a through ball to slot home to reduce the deficit and played Kekuta Manneh (Austin Aztex) through to equalize after 63 minutes.
Eriq Zavaleta played up front on match day 1 to the demise of the MLS scouts, and had a decent day. He was able to demonstrate his strength as a target forward. The coaches and scouts were eager to see him at center back, though.
The international player who impressed the most on match day 1 was Pinho who scored a goal after creating numerous chances for himself with his movement off the ball and skill on the ball.
Stertzer proved his dominance as a box-to-box midfielder and helped his stock the most, while Jason Johnson (VCU) who was asked to play out wide left in a 3 forward system did not have a great day.
The second match of the day was between adiZero and adiPure featuring players Andrew Farrell (Louisville), Dillon Powers (Notre Dame), and Ashton Bennett (Coastal Carolina) for adiZero, and Deshorn Brown (UCF) for adiPure. Andrew Farrell is projected to be the first overall pick in this years draft putting a lot of pressure on the star out of Louisville. It wasn’t him who stole the show in the first half, though. Dillon Powers scored on a 25 yard blast that would have impressed at any level, soaring into the top corner of the goal out of a short corner kick. Farrell did follow the act of Powers, creating a goal with an extremely accurate pass into space for forward Ashton Bennett who slotted it away to double the tally.
AdiZero, who had most of the stars on the day, did not disappoint, ultimately winning 4-0. Farrell had a great day at center back controlling the defense for adiZero. Kyle Bekker (Boston College) also had a good day, as the Canadian is pushing for a top spot in the draft hoping to earn a spot on the draft board to one of Canadian clubs who have an abundance of first round picks. For adiPure, Brown out of UCF did have a decent day, even though his team did not. He proved he has more technical ability than most thought, and was not just pure speed. He should be the first forward selected.
Saturday is day for the coaches to see the pure athleticism of the players through an agility test, vertical jump, and 30-meter spring. Here are the results via MLSsoccer.com
SPEED: 30-meter sprint
1. Don Anding (Northeastern) 4.04 seconds
2. Erik Hurtado (Santa Clara) 4.09 seconds
3. Blake Smith (New Mexico) 4.11 seconds
4. Kekuta Manneh (Austin Aztex) 4.17 seconds
5. Nico Clavijo (unattached) 4.18 seconds
1. Deshorn Brown (Central Florida) 3.96 secs
2. Don Anding (Northeastern) 4.08 seconds
3. Blake Smith (New Mexico) 4.10 seconds
4. Tommy Muller (Georgetown) 4.11 seconds
5. Ian Christianson (Georgetown) 4.14 seconds
POWER: Vertical Jump
1. Scott Goodwin (North Carolina) 32.5 inches
2. T.J. Nelson (Southern Methodist) 31.5 inches
3. Erik Hurtado (Santa Clara) 31 inches
3. Dylan Remick (Santa Clara) 31 inches
3. Blake Smith (New Mexico) 31 inches
Blake Smith (New Mexico) scored in the top 5 on all three tests helping his potential move up the draft boards. While, Don Anding (Northeastern), and Erik Hurtado (Santa Clara) scored in the top 5 in two out of the three tests.
The MLS hopefuls hit the field again on Sunday for the second round of matches. Ryan Finley (Notre Dame), and Jose Gomez (Creighton) highlighted match day 2 just by showing up. The two players were at the award ceremony for the Hermann Trophy (awarded to the top mens and women’s collegiate soccer players) in St Louis. Patrick Mullins (Maryland) won the award, and is not in Ft Lauderdale, because he has elected to go back to Maryland for his senior season. It does not make much sense that the ceremony is held on the same weekend as the combine, but that is for another story.
Game one saw adiZero, who was coming off of the 4-0 performance over adiPure, play Mikey Lopez and adiPower. The story of the first match was how Kyle Bekker continued to improve his draft stock, as the Canadian scored, and dominated the play in his 45 minutes. Fellow Canadian Emery Welshman (Oregon State) also notched a goal to put his team up 2-0 at half time. The second half saw international Pinho strike again, like he did on match day 1 to cut the lead in half. Charlie Rugg (Boston College), who was not on the list of initial of combine invitees, is playing with a huge chip on his shoulder. He scored in his second consecutive game at the combine to give adiZero another 2 goal cushion. He coolly took a pass from Erik Hurtado (Santa Clara) in behind the defense, and dribbled around the goalie and slotted it away into a wide open net, like any good striker. Pinho scored again, 3 minutes later to bring the score to 3-2 to make the last 25 minutes exciting, but adiZero held on.
Jason Johnson, one of the top forward prospects entering the combine, struggled yet again. He was unable to find any space in front of the adiZero back line, but he did, however, create Pinho’s second goal by absolutely taking complete advantage of Drew Beckie (Denver) with a few slick step over’s, and slotting in front of the goal to a wide open Pinho. Hopefully, these few glimpses of his college form can save him a spot as a top forward.
The second match on Sunday was the more anticipated one. It was the introduction for Finley, and Gomez. Finley and Gomez were hoping to help Prime to their first win against adiPower after the opening draw. Gomez had trouble finding the game in the center of midfield, while Finley and Kekuta Manneh, who had another strong day, made a nice pairing up top, creating numerous chances, but never finding the net.
The game ended in a scoreless draw to the excitement of some of the coaches in attendance. This was in large part, because of Eriq Zavaleta’s presence at center back after moving there from forward after a pretty solid showing on match day 1. Zavaleta had not played center back for about a year, but it all seemed to come back to him quite quickly, as he had to shut down top forward prospect Deshorn Brown. This speaks to his knowledge of the game, and how he has the potential to be the ultimate professional. He has a pretty good chance of ending up on a team that wants him to play forward, but it seems he will just have to wait and see. With a lack of great center backs at the combine, and even in the MLS now, I expect a team to take a chance on him at defense.
Table after the first 2 rounds of matches saw adiZero clinch the group:
1. adiZero, 2-0-0, 6 pts.
2. Prime, 0-0-2, 2 pts.
3. adiPower, 0-1-1, 1 pt.
4. adiPure, 0-1-1, 1 pt.
The first match on the final day saw adiZero put their unbeaten record record to the test against Prime. Luis Soffner (Indiana), is the first goal keeper mentioned, and he had a very strong final day, making a few big saves early on for Prime. I must mention it is not a strong year for goalies, and no goalkeepers are expected to make the first round of the draft. Finley had a very solid day, controlling the first half. His strong run in the 26th minute put the adiZero defense under a lot of pressure, and drew them out, allowing Will Bates (Virginia) to get in behind the defense and forced the goalie into taking him down in the box, resulting in a penalty kick. The PK was converted by Finley. It was a great sign to see Bates explode onto the through ball from Finley, proving his speed is still there, after an ACL injury in late 2011. Bates, then, threaded a through ball right in the path of Blake Smith (New Mexico) who doubled the lead.
In the second half, Canadian midfielder Kyle Bekker proved his worth yet again, curling a Beckham like free kick up, and over the Prime wall and beating David Meves (Akron) to cut the Prime lead in half. Just a few moments later, Ashton Bennett created his own chance down the right flank, and fired a low shot, which beat Meves at the near post. The match would end in a 2-2 draw.
The final match of the combine was between adiPure and adiPower. International Stephen Pinho had another stellar day for adiPower. The first half ended scoreless, with limited opportunities. Deshorn Brown, and Fernando Monge scored early in the second half to put adiPure up 2-0.
The second half was much more exciting, producing three goals. Both goals came off of good runs in behind the defense. AdiPower would respond with a goal by Generation adidas product Mikey Lopez, who scored from the top of the box to reduce the deficit with six minutes remaining.
Ultimately, the stars stood out and there weren’t any drastic climbs or falls down the draft board. A few players certainly helped their cause, and a few things were cleared up at the top of the draft board.
Eriq Zavaleta helped his case proving he can be effective either upfront or at center back and should be the first ‘forward selected.
Deshorn Brown had a stellar combine and did move up a few spots, he might even crack the top 10.
Kekutah Manneh is the next best option up top. He certainly helped his cause at the combine, creating numerous chances with his speed and ball skills.
Emery Welshman the Canadian born striker, will probably go higher than Manneh to one of the Canadian clubs, who hold numerous top 10 picks.
Jason Johnson is the next best forward available. He has a Generation Adidas contract, but didn’t help his stock at the combine. Expect a team at the top of the board to take a chance on him for the cap relief.
Erik Hurtado did not qualify for homegrown status for Portland, and is now on the eyes of numerous teams at the middle of the first round after a good combine.
Ashton Bennett had a decent combine, scoring a few goals, and proving his athleticism up top. He should go late in the first round.
Ryan Finley only had two games to impress at the combine, and he did just that. He isn’t the fastest forward, like some of the others ahead of him, but still has the best eye for goal in this draft. Expect him to go late in the first round.
Chris Thomas is another forward with a ton of athleticism, and has proven he can score at the collegiate level. He should go late in the first round.
Will Bates probably made a leap out of the supplemental draft onto the top of the second round draft board, thanks to a stellar final day at the combine.
Carlos Alvarez should be the first midfielder selected over Mikey Lopez. Chivas has already stated they want Alvarez.
Mikey Lopez might not be going to LA, but he is still the next best midfielder available, and proved so at the combine.
Dillon Powers proved he can certainly play in the MLS as a top midfielder with a great resume. He starred with the US youth national teams, Notre Dame, and at the combine. Expect his experience to help him go in the top 10.
John Stertzer proved at the combine that he is the best box-to-box midfielder available, and that is very important at the MLS level. Expect him to go in the top 10.
Kyle Bekker, Canadian midfielder, helped himself out the most at the combine with a few great goals, and pin point passes. The numerous Canadian picks at the top of the board should see him go in the top 10.
Stefano Pinho was not on the radar of most coaches, but he gave himself a chance with one of the best performances at the combine.
Kofi Opare might be a second round pick, but I was very impressed with his strength and durability at the combine. Again, being from Canada will help!
*Andrew Farrell* will be the top pick to Toronto, and proved this at the combine.
Walker Zimmerman was unable to participate at the combine, due to injury, but is still the second best defender available.
Tommy Muller had a great season with the Hoyas, and a solid performance at the combine. He could be the next defender selected.
Luis Soffner did not have much to do on day 1, but he impressed me the most live. He was in full command of his defenders in front of him, and I think he helped his draft stock the most.
** I don’t expect any goalies to be taken in the first 2 rounds.
Anthony Baumann is a member of the Providence Soccer Team and a contributing writer to College Soccer News. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.