MLS Draft 2011

MLS Combine 2011's Top Performers

Jalil Anibaba (MLS)


The 2011 MLS Combine is in the books, but before all of the focus turns towards where these guys will be playing this season, we're looking back at the event's top performers.

Several of the top prospects did not participate in the Combine, but there were still many players who showed considerably well over the three days worth of matches in sunny Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Now this list isn't about who will be grabbed up first in the upcoming SuperDraft, nor is it a list of the most talented players at the combine. Rather, this list is of the guys who played best over the course of the three days.

are my top performers of the 2011 MLS Combine:

5. Hector Jimenez, Midfielder, California

AdiPure was probably the best team at the combine this year, and Hector Jimenez was a big part of the team's success. Jimenez looked solid on Day 1 and Day 2, and although he could have finished better on Day 3, he was still very active in his team's attack. Jimenez showed he could whip in a few good crosses and he also demonstrated his powerful shot.

4. CJ Sapong, Forward, James Madison

One of the best one-on-one moves at this year's combines came from CJ Sapong on Day 1, but that was just the beginning of a solid three days of work for him. Sapong showed quickness, a willingness to go at defenders and he always put in a strong effort on both sides of the ball. Day 2 was his worst, but he bounced back on the final day by scoring a goal in a much better showing.

3. John Rooney, Midfielder, England

Yes, his surname drew more attention to him than was warranted, but John Rooney still had himself a good combine. On Day 1 he came off the bench and showed flashes as an attacking midfielder in his 30 minutes of action for AdiPure. Day 2 was his best day, as he showed his willingness to unleash shots from range, and get them on frame, too. On Day 3 he was a bit more quiet in a central midfield role, but he made some good tackles and hit a beautiful long ball at one point.

2. Joao Plata, Midfielder, Ecuador

He may be as small as they come, but Joao Plata made a big impression at the combine. The 5-foot-3 attacking midfielder was the combine's top scorer with three goals, and he also showed good technique, and explosiveness with the ball at his feet. Plata was willing to take on defenders and shots without hesitation, and he was trusted with the freedom to roam across the field, behind the forwards for AdiZero. Plata's defensive abilities certainly weren't a strength, but he always hustled, and he also had a nifty swerving run-up on a penalty kick he scored on Day 2.

1. Jalil Anibaba, Defender, UNC

Joao Plata's only quiet performance came on Day 3, and part of that was due to the stout defending of Jalil Anibaba, who was the combine's top defender. Anibaba was a rock in the back for AdiPure, constantly breaking up attacks with his physicality and solid positioning. He also dealt well with aerial balls and looked a step ahead of most of the attackers he faced. Anibaba distributed the ball as well as any center back at the combine, especially with his knack of unleashing pinpoint long balls to the right flank.


What do you think of the list? Who impressed you at the Combine? Who didn't impress you?

Share your thoughts below.

  • DC Josh

    Anibaba and Rooney stood out the most to me. Anibaba is a physically imposing player, a stereotypical center half. Tall and strong. He played very deep though, is he fast?

    Rooney did very well in his advanced midfield role. He is very confident with the ball, has solid technique, and has a good soccer brain. I think criticism has been a little too harsh on him due to his name. If he was a no-name kid, he wouldn’t have the attention and would have still stood out as one of the top performers.


  • afc

    Rooney did better than I thought. His stats in League Two weren’t very impressive but he did well in the combine. I’m interested to see where he ends up.


  • JohnC

    I think the five was a good number, I think much more and the combine would become further diluted with unknowns. I just wish the top players were there this year, I think that made a giant difference, by day 3 we only had 3 GAs playing.


  • Hood Rich

    I agree Anibaba was the best central defender out there. Next best is probably Boxall who seems to be underrated among people here.

    Are you kidding re: Rooney and his surname? Even if he wasn’t Rooney, the guy excelled beyond any other attacking central midfielder out there. Where was Ampaipitakong(sp)? You don’t see a difference between the pros and college players? The pros played with determination; as if their next meal was on the line.


  • Lorenzo

    From everthing I’ve heard from the combine I got that sense that he was really a shining talent.

    Reminds me of Tony Tachini rise last lead up to the draft. Looking forward to seeing if he can help shore up the USA defense!


  • Lorenzo

    Or like they didn’t have a college career or U-20 performances to lean on.

    I’m not saying you are totally wrong. But I also get the sense that the internationals had a lot more to prove partly because they haven’t been seen as much as the college players (who have been seen for the last 1-4 years)


  • JoeW

    I’m cautionary about evaluating the foreign players. It’s not that there isn’t value there. It’s that those coming from foreign leagues (like Rooney) are more likely to be competitively fit, sharper (not just b/c of recent meaningful games but also even a League-2 or lower level foreign league is professional…maybe less athletic and technical talent but a lot of sharper stuff that the college game suffers at) and this will tend to be more impressive.

    I think the real value of the combine is not to determine who the best players are. It’s to see one player against another (when so many of the top players may not see each other in U-17/20 camps or in collegiate competition) so you’ve got a baseline, to test objectively on specific issues (do taller players exploit AJ DeLaGarza? Is Nanchoff as fast as he seems?) and to see players in person (that you might have only seen on film). But I don’t think any MLS team should significantly change their evaluation of who’s better or worse based on the combine. The draft is full of stories of guys who burned up the combine (Justin Moose anyone?) and then were duds as players.


  • Hood Rich

    It wasn’t just that they played with conviction. They had better touch and
    speed of thought (made 1 touch passes with different parts of their feet without looking around and taking 2-3 touches on the ball like the college players).

    If you play soccer you know what I’m talking about. The college players had to look up, adjust their bodies, face toward the person they were passing to and passed it; this took an extra 1 or 2 touches on the ball.


  • El Fur

    One of the guys I was most disappointed in was Michael Farfan. He was shockingly bad. Ryan Kinne showed why he didn’t deserve a call into the combine. Ampai didn’t help himself at all.


  • Dennis

    I am not surprised Ampaipitakwong did not show much in a combine like this. It this kind of trial, the guys who get all the attention will be the ones who play with great physicality or who show off dribbling skills. It is very difficult to be the glue that holds a team together and makes it work when everyone is trying to impress as an individual. The way he plays demands that other players know what to expect of him, I surmise that too few had a good idea of what to do when he had the ball and they were reluctant to give him the ball when they should have.

    It will take some time for him to be incorporated into the rough, more direct style of play in MLS. It would be better if he found a team that was a good fit with his style of play, I am not sure if he has the strength to thrive in a league as physical as MLS or the EPL.


  • vik

    yea, this is a good point. But does that mean you hold a separate combine for foreign players?


  • Aguinaga

    Interested to see where Joao ends up & if he earns time. So much emphasis placed on the physicality of MLS, that I hope Plata is succesful here just to open more eyes towards skill/smarts as much or more than size/strength. The kid impressed Edgardo Bauza (good, tough Argie coach) enough to debut young and do well for LDU Quito. Curious and intruiging to me the choice was made to loan him here rather than to another Latin American team, what leagues down there would normally do…


  • Ricky B. Free

    Get over it people Ampai can pass the 2 feet ball but the man cant hold it for 2 secs or go at people. At least he didt show those skills at the combine.

    If you say that he isnt made for combines, well there was other players like Hector Jimenes that looked and moved for the ball. Ampai didnt move for the ball he stayed in the same area.

    By day 3 player on Jimenez team were looking for him by day 2 Ampai´s team was not looking for him.

    Ampai was good for Akron´s system, but a good player can always stand out, because he chases the game and tries to make an impact.


  • Gerboth

    Yesss, so nice to hear that Sapong performed well; I got to see him a few times the last 3 years at JMU. Always nice for an alum to see your school represent.


  • Royals in 208

    The combine means so little. It’s basically determining the end of the draft and moving some late picks to the middle.

    (SBI-Not really, not sure where you get that impression. The Combine plays a bigger role than it should, but definitely a bigger role than you seem to think.)


  • b

    Excellent list, I can’t disagree with any of the five picked. Rooney and Plata should probably be taken in the late first round, and Jalil Anibaba should be gone by the tenth pick at the latest.


  • b

    That means plenty for the guys who will fall out of the first round (and some will based on their performance at the combine), and for the guys who will as you say move from late picks to the middle.
    Isn’t that enough? What more would anyone want out of the combine?


  • b

    Uhh, I think we WANT the top underclassmen to leave college and enter the MLS draft. And I don’t see why they wouldn’t just because there are a handful of foreign players available. As long as the Generation Adidas program is around, kids will “quit college”… you say that like it’s a bad thing when the goal of college is to prepare people for a professional career and there is no change any of the GAs don’t get drafted. Plus they will improve their game a lot more in a professional setting than they would in college, which is pretty much a joke aside from a handful of programs like Akron.


  • ThaDeuce

    I will start this comment with I know nothing about this, which is why I am asking. Does anybody think a team will take Joao Plata? I’d love to see a small guy like that get starts and school folks, but would a team take such a small player? Seems pretty unconventional. Coaches often talk about size etc, and one that short is definitely rare. But he seemed to be very impressive so he deserves a shot!


  • GY

    I feel that if Tetteh played the way he did day 3 on days 1&2 he would be up there. Think he was a bit nervous the first 2 days.


  • yabollox@gmail.com

    In my opinion the USA has some of the best High School players around but are ruined by College. I’d love to see Joao Plata come to Portland.


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