By IVES GALARCEP
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.– The opening day of the 2014 MLS Combine didn’t have many fireworks, but did offer up a chance for several players to jump ahead of the field and boost their stock in the first of three sets of matches over the next five days.
This year’s draft is loaded with centerbacks, but it was a couple of attacking players who probably stood out the most on the first day of action. Maryland striker Schillo Tshuma overcame a slow start to turn in one of the day’s better performances while UConn forward Mamadou Diouf showed flashes of the player who was once a Generation adidas target before returning to school for what wound up an injury-hit senior season.
There were good showings, but then there were disappointing ones as well. Cal defender Christian Dean struggled on day one, but in part because he was deployed at left back, a position he hadn’t played in more than a year. Ben Sweat, the only true left back at the Combine, didn’t take advantage of that designation and struggled on the day as well.
Here is a look at the players who impressed, and those who struggled, on the MLS Combine’s first day:
PLAYERS WHO IMPRESSED ON DAY ONE
Mamadou Diouf– Looked very effective on the counter, showed good burst, and pounced on one loose ball for a goal. Only one day, but answered some questions raised by his injury-hit senior season and just might have played himself into the first round for now.
Pedro Ribeiro– Very good on the ball and probably the best midfielder of the day. Did a good job of providing a constant outlet for teammates and circulating the ball well. Very polished.
Schillo Tshuma– Struggled early on but eventually settled down and looked every bit like the dangerous striker he was a a freshman star at Maryland.
George Fochive– Asked to play at left back, where he had never played before, and all the UConn defensive midfielder did was turn in a solid showing there before holding steady at centerback. Should get a chance to play his natural position on Sunday but he surely caught the eye of scouts.
Fabio Pereira– The Brazilian playmaker opened eyes with a beautiful free kick goal, but it was his aggressiveness on the ball, and willingness to go at people, that impressed.
Andre Blake– The best goalkeeper in the draft only played a half, but in that half he managed the save of the day, going full stretch to deny a free kick goal and remind observers why he is so highly touted.
Kyle Venter– The big centerback drew praise from his teammates for keeping his team organized by being vocal in the back. Partnered well with Kevin Cope, who also looked good.
J.J. Koval– On a day when the field’s other defensive midfielders didn’t really stand out, Koval was the most impressive.
PLAYERS WHO SHOWED GLIMPSES
Kadeem Dacres– Showed some wheels and a decent left foot, and teams that use the 4-3-3 formation will surely take a longer look as he has the makings of a left forward in that system. The UMBC winger hasn’t been seen as much by MLS scouts as other prospects.
Pierre Omanga– Scored one of the prettier goals of the day on a curling right-footed shot. He combined well on the counter and showed good pace. As a Division 3 player, he is largely unknown to MLS coaches, but his showing on Friday has earned him a place on draft boards and a closer look.
Andre Lewis– Quick and shifty player who threatened on a couple of occasions. The Jamaican youth international definitely caught the attention of some teams, but will need to keep doing it to merit using a good draft pick on him.
Victor Munoz– The UCLA midfielder laid off a beautiful assist for the first goal of day one, and he was very good at finding the ball and being involved in the attack.
Ronny Mendoza– The 6-foot-4 Ecuadorian centerback stepped in for the injured Steve Birnbaum and looked like the real deal. He showed good feet and good ability in the air, though there are questions about his athleticism and quickness on the turn. One to watch going forward.
Quinton Christina– Another invitee from the Caribbean Combine, the Curacao forward/defender showed very impressive burst and close control. Only 18, he has some raw qualities that should lead teams to consider using a draft pick on him. If he shows more of those bright spots over the next few days, Christina could play his way into being a surprise first-rounder.
Marco Franco– Defensively he had to content with the ever-dangerous Schuma, but where Franco impressed was getting forward. A centerback at UC-Irvine, he showed on Friday that he can absolutely be an MLS right back option and at this point he is the No. 2 right back in the draft pool.
Tesho Akindele– Toasted Dean on his goal with an impressive first step that left the Cal defender in the dust. Earned himself a closer look on Sunday.
PLAYERS WHO NEED TO SHOW MORE
Aodhan Quinn– In fairness, he was forced to play at left back, but there are real questions about whether he’s realistically someone who could be a wing player or attacking midfielder on the next level. The soccer smarts are there, but he didn’t show enough on day one.
Pete Caringi– He moved well, but didn’t do enough to get into dangerous positions. While other teammates like Tshuma and Pereira stood out, Caringi didn’t stand out.
Joey Dillon– His team really didn’t show much, and posed little threat in the attack, so perhaps it’s unfair to single out a defensive midfielder on an ineffective team but Dillon needs to impose himself on the match more if he’s going to solidify his place as a projected first-round pick.
Robbie Derschang– Much like Quinn, Derschang was started at left back and really didn’t get going.
Steve Neumann– Largely invisible and never really got involved on the match. On a day where he could have taken advantage of Patrick Mullins’ absence and gained ground as the best senior attacking player in the draft, Neumann was unimpressive.
Marlon Hairston– The youngest American at the Combine, Hairston struggled at times with the physicality of the game, but he wasn’t afraid to mix it up even with his slight frame. Athletic enough to potentially play fullback, Hairston could see a position change on Sunday. Didn’t look like a first-round pick on day one.
PLAYERS WHO STRUGGLED
Christian Dean– For those wondering if Dean might project as a left back on the next level, Friday didn’t offer much hope of that being a realistic option. He struggled with his defensive responsibilities, and save for one foray forward when he sent a ball in that resulted in a goal, Dean didn’t shine getting forward either.
Ben Sweat– Never really showed much getting forward, and had some trouble on the defensive side.
A.J. Cochran– On a day when some other centerbacks did do well, Cochran fell short in his quest to impress
Luca Gimenez– The Wake Forest attacker showed none of the attacking quality that made him an All-ACC selection.
Kyle Renfro– On a day when the other goalkeepers were steady to impressive, Renfroe had the weakest performance.