I know you’re just waiting to find out who did and didn’t play well at the MLS Combine. Well, I can tell you that there were some standouts in day one, but far more players who just flat failed to impress.
The first game of the day could be best described as terrible. I would go so far as to say it’s the worst soccer game I’ve seen in years, that’s all levels (high school, U-10, MLS reserve league). I had planned on doing some sort of running commentary but this match made me think better of it, at least for today.
To be fair to the players, they are dealing with the bad mix of playing with teammates they’re unfamiliar with, playing in hot weather (which I’m sure some haven’t done in a while) and playing knowing their professional futures could be on the line. There were jitters that will hopefully disappear after today.
These are things that always make day one at the MLS Combine shaky, but the second match of the day kept it from being a complete waste. It should also be noted that some very good players were not here, including Patrick Nyarko and Eric Avila.
On a side note, the three foreign players who are at the MLS Combine who were originally going to be in the draft are no longer going to be in the draft. They will be made available by some other means, so they will have a chance to be in MLS, and are taking part in the combine for teams to see them, but they will not be in the draft. Of the three I would say Uruguayan midfielder Jonathan Sabbatini actually stood out on Saturday.
So who else stood out? Here are some players who helped their cause today, and some who didn’t:
DAY 1 STANDOUTS
RICARDO PIERRE-LOUIS: On a day when most other forwards looked pretty bad, Pierre-Louis looked dangerous. His speed, strength and willingness to go at defenders were impressive, as was the repeated occasions when he went right at and got the better of UCSB central defender Andy Iro, one of the top defenders in this draft.
JOSH LAMBO: All four goalkeepers looked good today but Lambo’s stock clearly rose as teams got a look at a physically gifted goalie with good size who happens to be 17. He showed strength and quickness and while he isn’t overly tall (6-foot), he’s still young and has the look of the next great American goalkeeping prospect. I find it hard to believe that the Chicago Fire would pass on this kid.
BREK SHEA: He’s 6-foot-3, quick, plays left wing, oh and he’s 17 and Generation adidas. That’s enough to get picked pretty highly right there. As one of the few bright spots of the day’s first game, Shea might be creeping up some draft boards. He got down the wing and was able to get some crosses off, even if none of them led to goals. Looks like a longer-term prospect who his hometown Houston Dynamo might want to consider.
DOMINIC CERVI: Didn’t have a ton to do in terms of making saves, but he did well to devour all the crosses that did find their way into his area. At 6-foot-6, he’s already got coaches interested, but his display of strength and aggressiveness has him looking like the most MLS-ready goalkeeper in the group.
GEORGE JOSTEN: When you’re the only player to score a goal in an entire day of action, you get credit. Josten didn’t just score either. He hit a nice blast from the top of the box that the keeper had no chance on. Already considered one of the better forwards in the draft, Josten is off to a good start.
SHEA SALINAS: Skillful winger looked comfortable on the ball and showed good vision. Worked well with the forwards on his team and wasn’t afraid to go at people.
ANDY IRO: Yes, Pierre-Louis made things rough for Iro, but he was the only one. Iro is a beast. He’s 6-foot-5, strong, fast and fearless. Other than his struggles containing Pierre-Louis, Iro didn’t hurt his chances of being a top five pick.
LUKASZ TUMICZ: Showed some flashes, but also missed some good chances. He makes the list for at least putting himself in some good positions.
YOMBY WILLIAM: At an athletic 6-foot-4, William held his own against some highly-regarded forwards. For my money he was more impressive than his center-back partner, the more highly-touted Eric Brunner.
CESAR ZAMBRANO: Showed some good flashes of skill, but did turn the ball over on occasion. I may be overrating him on the day because he was one of the few players to show any shred of creativity in game one.
JONATHAN LEATHERS: Didn’t do anything outstanding but he looked steady to me at right back. A central defender in college, Leathers will probably be a right back in MLS and didn’t do badly there today.
DAY 1 LETDOWNS:
JULIUS JAMES: Widely regarded as the best defender in the draft, James didn’t really stand out and actually looked smaller than his listed 6-foot. He didn’t look overly aggressive and you have to wonder if he’s just pacing himself. He’ll get a real test on Sunday when he faces Ricardo Pierre-Louis’ team.
XAVIER BALC: He went into his game today as the most highly-regarded forward on the field, but left the field as the least impressive. That’s not a good sign considering how unimpressive he was at the College Cup final, though to be fair, he was going up against a very good defense.
ROGER ESPINOZA: I had high hopes for the young Ohio State winger, and he looked like he might have a good game when he came on, but Espinoza’s day was shaky to say the least. He dribbled past a defender on his first possession but didn’t do much else. There were no real dangerous crosses and nothing in the way of goal-scoring opportunities. There were turnovers and shaky play. I wonder what was weirder for him, playing against college teammate Eric Brunner or playing on the same team as Julian Valentin, the player who he kicked in the face and left bloody in the College Cup Final.
ALEX NIMO: Yes, he’s only 17, but there was no real WOW factor with Nimo. He tried to go at defenders, and showed some good skill on the ball, but he is small (listed at 5-6 but may be smaller) and he didn’t show much in the way of game-changing speed. He did more than the other players on this list but I think he’s a victim of expectations and on Saturday he didn’t really stand out.
CIARAN O’BRIEN: As a Generation adidas signing, O’Brien comes in with added value but he didn’t really stand out in my mind. I’ll be taking a closer look at him on Sunday because I heard some good things about him and want to see that skill.
That’s all for now. Sunday promises to be the best day at the MLS Combine as the handful of top prospects currently training with the U.S. Under-23 national team will arrive to take part in games. Be sure to check back in tomorrow for more MLS Combine coverage.