By FRANCO PANIZO
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — This year’s fullback draft class may be shallow, but there is at least one player at that position who has really upped his stock thus far at the 2014 MLS Combine.
That player is Marco Franco.
Franco will enter the final day of the combine on Tuesday as one of the more consistent performers from the first two rounds of matches in South Florida. The 22-year-old defender has spent all of his time thus far playing right back, and has looked at ease at the position despite spending most of his senior year at UC Irvine at centerback.
Franco has not only looked comfortable in defense, but has shown glimpses going forward as well. The 5-foot-11 defender has demonstrated a good motor getting up and down the right flank, provided an outlet for teammates and looked good with the ball at his feet.
It all has come natural to Franco, because, well, it is.
“I grew up playing both (positions), but first three years of college I played a lot of right back,” Franco told SBI. “I slotted into centerback out of injuries to our team, our starting centerback went out with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, so I just did whatever was best for the team and it ended up working out well.”
It did more than that. Franco ended his final collegiate season as the Big West Defender of the Year and was named to the First Team All-West Region (as well as First Team All-Big West. He started all 23 matches for the Anteaters and helped lead a back line that posted 10 shutouts while allowing a Big West low of 77 shots on goal. The Chino Hills, Calif. native also had two assists playing primarily in the center of defense.
At the professional level, Franco is not projected as a centerback due to his size. But the same was said a few years ago of A.J. DeLaGarza, who Franco has resembled a bit at the combine and who he says he draws comparisons to on occasion (coincidentally, they both played on the blue team at their respective combine).
Like DeLaGarza, Franco could become that type of player that is capable of playing both right and center back in MLS. Even if he doesn’t, he will be more than content.
“A lot of coaches say I’m not the typical size of a centerback for the next level and I’m okay with that because I’m more comfortable at right back,” said Franco. “You get to attack a lot more and get into the mix a little bit.”
Franco will be aiming to do more of the same on Tuesday in order to further improve his stock. He is currently projected to go in the middle of the first round, but that could further improve to the point where he is taken ahead of the other highly rated fullback in this class, Eric Miller, if Franco enjoys another solid outing.
If Franco’s progression from Day 1 to Day 2 is any indication, he will accomplish just that.
“I thought I did a lot better,” said Franco after Sunday’s games. “I felt I had my legs under me a bit more and the intensity was higher and maybe the jet lag and humidity was a factor in the first game, but I hydrated a lot, took care of my body, and I felt great today.”