U.S. Men's National Team

Bocanegra helping next generation of pros with MLS Combine prep camp

Photos by ISIPhotos.com


Thirteen years ago, Carlos Bocanegra was a 20-year-old college kid who had chosen to leave school early to pursue his dream of being a professional soccer player. He signed a contract with MLS and headed to Florida to play in the MLS Combine. What Bocanegra didn’t really factor in was just what the Combine might mean to his draft prospects, and he readily admits his own preparations for the Combine were modest at best.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Bocanegra said. “It was basically ‘you’re going to go down in Florida and play a few games’. I kind of did whatever when my college season in November and just tried getting ready on my own.”

Bocanegra’s lack of preparation didn’t hurt him too much. He wound up being the fourth player selected in the 2000 MLS Draft, and eventually went on to win MLS Rookie of the Year and help the Chicago Fire reach the MLS Cup Final.

A dozen years later, Bocanegra realized that there still wasn’t much available to MLS draft prospects in terms of Combine preparation, which led him to come up with the idea of a training camp of sorts for draft prospects. He joined forces with members of his CB3 Sports Performance training center to create a Pro Combine Prep Clinic, a program that would prepare draft prospects not only for the MLS Combine, but for life as a pro.

“It’s pretty cool because it offers these guys something that’s not available to everybody,” Bocanegra said. “It’s a chance to train in a professional environment, almost like a mini-national team camp, and a chance to really work with the ball and experience what it’s like to train and prepare at the highest level.

“We leave them with things they can use once the season starts and they begin their first year,” Bocanegra said. “There’s such a big jump from college to pro, you’re talking going from three months to basically a year, so we try giving them things they can carry over.”

Bocanegra’s first Combine Prep camp was modest in size, but it is tough to call it anything but a major success considering how the participants went on to do. Austin Berry (Chicago Fire), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Hunter Jumper (Chicago Fire) and Kenny Walker (LA Galaxy) were all drafted and signed and Berry went on to be MLS Rookie of the Year while Hedges was also one of the top rookies in the league.

It’s real hard for guys finishing college to get a good training environment and prepare for the Combine, especially in the time at the end of the college season and before the Combine,” Berry said. “The thing about that camp is it wasn’t just fitness and running, but most of the stuff we did was with the ball, so it helped you be sharp technically heading into the Combine.

“For somebody like me, who needed a good Combine, it was a good training.”

Before the 2012 MLS Draft, Berry was among a deep crop of centerbacks and was projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick, but an impressive showing at the MLS Combine helped boost his stock enough to be the No. 9 overall pick, selected by the Chicago Fire.

“You go into the combine without a contract and it’s a nerve-wracking experience, and I knew it was going to be a big moment for me,” Berry recalled of the time around the Combine and Draft. “I had to do everything I possibly could to set myself up and the camp really did everything I could ask.

“You can run all you want, but being in soccer shape and being able to do all the movements right,” Berry said. “It’s very hard to recreate that by yourself or with one other person.

“We did several sessions on proper lifting techniques, proper moving techniques, soccer-specific and movement-specific training,” Berry said. “We did some talks about nutrition and about the training environment. The biggest thing about being a pro is doing off the field, being able to eat right and sleep right.”

Bocanegra is hoping the Pro Combine Prep Clinic continues to grow well beyond the initial four-player group, and is accepting applications for the next clinic, set for first week of January.

“We want this to be the place where everybody comes and we hope this grows into something really special for these guys,” Bocanegra said. “I wish had something like this going pro when I was ready to go to the next level so to be able to help the next generation of future pros, and see kids like Austin Berry and Matt Hedges doing well, let’s me know we’re on the right track.”

  • patrick

    i mean this with sincerity: I hope this goes better than Friedel’s camp/academy, and it seems like Bocanegra is taking the right steps to do just that. Start small, and work your way up


    • Shane

      I dont see anything saying Boca is offering this for free. Friedel’s academy was meant to be free for anyone accepted. Friedel was just plain stupid thinking he could pull that off, imo. His academy had no revenue stream and relied soley, I believe, on corporate backing . As soon as the economy went south his backers, backed out. Pun intended


      • Lion4U

        do go on. i read he put up 10million for the academy. has he recoyped his losses?


      • Bobb

        If that’s what happened, why wouldn’t Friedel just turn it into a paid academy as soon as his financiers backed out? There are plenty of those, and they are making good money. And the other ones don’t have Brad freaking Friedel, still easily a top 10 keeper in the Premier League even now.
        Why did he end up bankrupt?


      • SilverRey

        I feel bad for Friedel. He had great intentions, but did not get in with the right people to pull it off correctly. He was given a lot of bad advice – including personally backing the project instead of setting up an entity. In the end he was stuck with an $8mil bill and had to declare bankruptcy.


    • Ives Galarcep

      Bocanegra won’t be there because his team is in season, but saying he’s “only letting the camp use his name” is a major reach. He came up with the idea and is working closely with the people running it to establish the curriculum. The whole thing is very much his project.


    • JM

      It’s just good to see he’s thinking of life after soccer in positive terms. If this grows, he could have a nice little gig to build from when he’s done in Europe.


  • MT

    I wouldn’t say Friedel’s was a complete disaster. Does the name Darlington Nagbe mean anything to you?


    • Evan

      Darlington Nagbe was a product on the Cleveland Internationals Soccer Club not Friedel’s academy


      • Dave

        Do the Intl’s exists anymore? They used be the dregs of the PDL. Then got good for a couple of years when they had some Akron players. Then they didn’t and then they dropped out of the PDL.


  • Jake

    Without more specifics, its hard to know if it was a success or not.
    “Bocanegra’s first Combine Prep camp was modest in size, but it is tough to call it anything but a major success considering how the participants went on to do. Austin Berry (Chicago Fire), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Hunter Jumper (Chicago Fire) and Kenny Walker (LA Galaxy) were all drafted and signed and Berry went on to be MLS Rookie of the Year while Hedges was also one of the top rookies in the league.”
    Just because participants went on to do well, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have done well without it. Maybe the players more likely to succeed in MLS self-selected to go to his combine. Much too small of a sample size to draw any conclusions. Hopefully Boca and his team do a great job and it sounds like it could be a success, but calling it a success isn’t really fair after just one season. Maybe Berry would have been the Rookie of the Year anyway.


    • Ives Galarcep

      So two of the four players involved went on to be two of the best rookies in the league and we can’t call the camp a success? I’d agree that we need to see the camp over a few years to really know the overall impact, but to say we can’t call the first year a success is a stretch IMO, especially when Austin Berry himself absolutely raves about the experience and how much it helped him.


      • Shane

        but the camp is to prepare them for the combine not a season of MLS. Surely those players years of training with their college teams and club teams was a 1000x more significant than a camp in terms of a successful rookie season.


      • whoop-whoop

        Obviously I can’t speak to the specifics, but Boca states otherwise.

        “We leave them with things they can use once the season starts and they begin their first year,” Bocanegra said. “There’s such a big jump from college to pro, you’re talking going from three months to basically a year, so we try giving them things they can carry over.”

        No camp is going to convert a dud of a player into a gem. The best that can be hoped for is to give players some tools and confidence that help them meet their potential. From a small samplingr, seems to have done that.


      • Jake

        Depends totally on where they were projected before Boca’s camp. If they were not projected as first rounders and the camp helped them get into that first round and then prosper. Perhaps you have looked back at what others thought of those four around this time last year. I hadn’t and as I said, “without more specifics”. I did a quick look and found that Berry (at least by one account a year ago http://wvhooligan.com/2011/12/06/12647/wvh-2012-superdraft-board/) was a late first round/early second round projection, so that’s a strong positive for Boca’s camp. Hedges, was projected as a top 10 pick and started a lot of games and played well. That doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to me at all. So did lots of other top 10 picks. Jumper picked at 28 and got a few minutes in games also doesn’t seem to say much one way or the other for the camp. Kenney Walker – To be honest, I had to look him up to even find out who he was. Definitely not particularly a positive for the camp on that one nor is it really fair to hold that against the camp. But if he’s going to take credit for . So, to sum it up, I’m a data guy, and I’d need more data to call it a success. Anecdotal evidence from one player that it helped him is good, but not enough. A top 10 player winning the rookie of the year isn’t a big surprise to me.


    • MLSsnob

      He is really really ridiculously good looking. Let’s just pray he doesn’t die in a freak gasoline fight accident.


      • Don Dallas

        Christian Bale is set to play him in the bio-pic.

        Brad Pitt is playing Benny Fielhaber Bradley Cooper is playing Mike Magee.

        Back on the CB3, Carlos is wisely looking beyond his playing career and has identified an area that really interests him. From what I understand, this isn’t even soccer-specific but can be applied to athletes in all sports, focused on those in highschool and college.

        Seems like CD9 would have been a good candidate coming out of BC. His apetite for Pizza Hut and other fast foods was legendary. Part of the “big jump” is realizing that, on the professional level, you can’t rely purely on athletic ability.


  • Danglin Breast

    My mind gets absolutely killblown trying to watch college soccer, I hope the academies continue to improve.


    • Matt

      They will and the academies will continue to develop, but we will continue to see college players making an impact, especially in defense if the current Nats pool is any indication. Players under 27 who have college experience:

      Maurice Edu- Maryland
      Sean Johnson- UCF
      Steven Beitashour- San Diego State
      Matt Besler- Notre Dame
      Zach Lloyd- UNC
      AJ DelaGarza- Maryland
      Omar Gonzalez- Maryland
      George John – Washington
      Graham Zusi – Maryland
      Joe Carona – San Diego State
      Teal Bunbury- Akron
      CJ Sapong- James Madison

      27 and over of course the ratio is even heavier: Dempsey, Gooch, Cherundolo, Boca, Cameron, Goodson, Kljesten, Parkhurst, Guzan, Pearce, Feilhaber, Wondolowski, Buddle, etc. Interestingly, a handful of US-residents developed in Bradenton, etc. Most of the otehrs who went pro directly were living overseas or in Mexico.


    • Dave

      Its fun to see the kids that improve. Many don’t of course. But when you watch a kid from year to year get better there is a satisfaction over and above rooting for a winner or some friends.


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