Photo by Mike Gramajo/Soccer By Ives
By IVES GALARCEP
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.– The second day of the MLS Combine saw some better soccer, at least in the beginning, but by day’s end there was definitely a lingering sense that teams are pretty unimpressed with the overall quality on display.
The 2014 MLS Draft is looking more and more like The Year of the Centerback, with a dozen intriguing options at the position, but the pool of attacking players failed to really show much on Sunday.
Patrick Mullins made his Combine debut on Sunday and showed some good qualities to re-assert his place as one of the leading attacking options in this draft.
Day Two of the Combine also provided a good showcase for some small school prospects who have caught the eye of scouts and are quietly climbing up draft boards, such as centerback Richie Marquez and forward Tesho Akindele.
Here is a rundown of the players who impressed, and struggled, on Day Two of the 2014 MLS Combine.
PLAYERS WHO IMPRESSED
Andre Lewis– Arguably the most impressive field player at the Combine so far. The 19-year-old has an impressive touch, quickness and work rate and is shooting up draft boards.
Marco Franco– Looking like the best fullback at the Combine. Franco is smooth on the ball, good getting forward, and solid defensively. Has gone from not even invited to the Combine to likely mid-first round pick.
Andre Blake– Solidified his place as the consensus best talent in the draft. Another sharp game, showing off the range and reflexes and fearlessness that had one coach call him the best goalkeeping prospect since Adin Brown in 2000.
Tesho Akindele– The small school wonder enjoyed another good day to confirm questions about his quality. His speed makes him an intriguing option who will almost certainly be drafted at this point.
Ryan Neil– Looked sharp getting forward in his more natural right wing position, but it should also be noted he wasn’t going up against true fullbacks. The speed and quality on the ball as a winger make him stand out in a Combine where wing play has been largely disappointing.
Nick Hagglund– His name isn’t bandied about as much as some other centerbacks but he turned in a strong day two to keep himself in the mix as a potential late first-rounder. Not as big as some other prospects, but he’s strong, reads the game well and defends well in space.
Richie Marquez– Another small school wonder, Marquez has scouts very interested after apparently testing through the roof in fitness testing. He then went out on day two and played a very impressive game. Good size (6-foot-2) combined with quickness and confidence on the ball make him someone teams are definitely interested in now.
Romena Bowie– With some other defensive midfielders failing to impress, Bowie has been steady and strong and looks like a player who can give you minutes in MLS this year. The overwhelming number of centerbacks could make it tough for Bowie to crack the first round, but teams needing some toughness in the midfield will take a look.
PLAYERS WHO SHOWED GLIMPSES
Patrick Slogic– You rarely see 6-foot-6 players play fullback (or anywhere for that matter) but Slogic actually showed some impressive agility for his size when pressed into fill-in duty at right back. The centerback is still probably a second-tier option but he did impress on Sunday.
Christian Dean– The nitpicking on Dean reached new highs after he started day two at left back again, but once he moved to centerback in the second half on Sunday he looked much more comfortable. Questions about temperament and toughness continue to permeate, but plenty of teams still seem him as having serious upside and most teams still have him rated in the top five.
A.J. Cochran– Showed off his dominant aerial ability on day two, but looked a touch slow in possession and needs to distribute more quickly and smoothly. Remains a sure-fire first rounder, but will need a strong day three to settle some questions in a packed field of centerbacks.
Steve Birnbaum– Steady and impressive on day two, Birnbaum also flashed his impressive vertical leap and ability to be a threat on set pieces. Remains the top centerback in the pool.
Pete Caringi– The UMBC forward continues to show good movement off the ball, and a penchant for timing runs well. Whether he has the speed to create his own chances on the next level remains to be seen, but he’s a smart player who could be a surprise as a pro.
Eric Miller– Gave scouts a look at left back and he was decent enough. Looks very comfortable and hasn’t really been troubled on either flank. Could show more getting forward.
Ben Sweat– A bit better second day than first day, Sweat got forward more and looks to be as good an athlete as advertised. Whether he’s strong enough technically to be an elite fullback remains to be seen, but he’s the only true left back at the Combine so he’s really only competing against himself.
Thomas McNamara– ‘The Mullet with the Masters’ was very aggressive on day two, playing as an attacking midfielder. Unlikely many of the other attacking midfielders at the Combine, McNamara really posed a threat and wasn’t afraid to go at people and try things in the final third.
PLAYERS WHO NEED TO SHOW MORE
A.J. Corrado. You can see the soccer skill, and vision, but he just isn’t imposing himself on the game or being a consistent threat. Will his game translate on the next level? At this point there are more questions than answers about that.
Mamadou Diouf– Another victim of Combine coaches putting together bad lineups, Diouf was deployed as an attacking midfielder behind three other forwards in a system that left the UConn forward dropping deep into midfield because of the congestion up top. Not nearly as impressive as he was on day two, but the hope is he will get to actually play up top on day three to show why he’s a first-round talent.
Mackenzie Pridham– As one of the few big forwards at the Combine, Pridham hasn’t really shown much in the way of quality up top. Luckily for him, target forwards haven’t really impressed at all at the Combine, so he could still boost his stock with a strong day three.
Steve Neumann– Had a better day two than day three, and showed a willingness to press and defend and push the pace, but in terms of showing the qualities of being an attacking player worth a Top 10 pick, scouts are still waiting to see that.
Luca Gimenez– Was more involved on day two than day one, but the Wake Forest standout still isn’t playing at the level expected of him when he arrived.
George Fochive– Took a step back on day two when he was unable to take advantage of actually playing his natural position of defensive midfielder. Needs a good day three to remind scouts why he’s regarded as one of the better d-mids in the pool.
Damion Lowe– Reviews are mixed on the young Generation adidas centerback. The consensus is that he’s going to need a few years to develop, but from there you have teams that either question his upside, or think he could develop into the best centerback in this class. Could potentially sneak into the first round.
Jimmy Ockford– Getting lost in the centerback overload, Ockford hasn’t really distinguished himself from the group and looks doomed to be a second-rounder at best if he doesn’t turn in a strong final day.
PLAYERS WHO STRUGGLED
Marlon Hairston– The least impressive of the Generation adidas players, Hairston looks overmatched. You see glimpses of ability here and there, but he’s looking more and more like a long-term project not many teams will have the patience to wait on.
Joey Dillon– Came into the Combine as one of the most highly-rated defensive midfielders, but has been largely invisible over two days. Looking less like a first-round option at this point.
Tomislav Zadro– Being the oldest player at the Combine is already a strike against Zadro, but failing to really make his mark is only making him an even less appealing prospect. He may go undrafted at this rate.
Fifi Baiden– Another player deployed out of position, Baiden was pretty useless as a winger and missed out on a chance to impress in a rather lackluster field of defensive midfielders.
Robbie Derschang– In a draft where teams are begging to find some good wing options to draft, Derschang hasn’t really stood out. It hasn’t helped that he’s had to spent time playing left back, but other players in the same position have fared better.
Enrique Cardenas– Never got going on Sunday and at times he looked to be struggling with fitness. The Combine is always tough on attacking midfielders, but he just hasn’t done much even by those standards.
Michael Calderon– Another attacking midfielder who hasn’t been sharp enough or creative enough to impress.
Martin Ontiveros– Hasn’t done anything over two match days to suggest he’s going to be a factor on draft day.