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MLS Combine Day One: A Look Back


LAUDERHILL, Fla.– There was some predictable first-day rustiness, and nobody is going to be archiving the video of Friday’s matches for any how-to seminars, but there was still plenty for MLS scouts to chew on as they evaluate the talent pool.

What should be noted about the first day of any combine is that while you don’t want to be starting off with a poor first day, it isn’t the end of the world if you have one. Plenty of top MLS players have endured first-day struggles in the combine. From Nick DeLeon, to Darren Mattocks to Steve Zakuani to Omar Gonzalez. Those are just some of the players who had forgettable first days.

Friday’s opening matches of the 2013 MLS Combine weren’t outstanding, but there were some quality showings at a variety of positions. The Combine’s elite midfielders stole the show on Friday, while there were quite a few encouraging outings for the forward class.

The big winners on Friday? Young forward Kekuta Manneh excited scouts with his quickness and confidence for an 18-year old. Carlos Alvarez and John Stertzer also showed very well, while Andrew Farrell solidified his place as the top-rated prospect in the draft.

Here is a closer look at how the positions looked on Friday:


It’s tough to impress when you are basically playing one half, but some of the keepers in the Combine managed just that. Brad Stuver came on with his team down 3-0 and while he did give up a goal, he made some key stops. In fact, teammate Scott Goodwin did his best Brad Guzan impression in the first half, coming up with good plays even as his defense let in goals in bunches.

Overall though, none of the keepers had bad days, but then again none of them really blew anybody away with their performances.


There is no getting around the fact that right back is without question the weakest position in the draft. Few of the right backs stood out on Friday, and we were treated to several players being moved from their natural positions to fill the right back roles. Michael Bustamante is a midfielder by trade, but didn’t do too badly as a right back.


Andrew Farrell showed glimpses of why MLS scouts love him. He is a freak athlete, boasting speed, strength and outstanding jumping ability. He also isn’t afraid to handle the ball. Didn’t do anything to hurt his stock on Friday. If anything, he helped solidify his standing by displaying a humble yet confident personality.

Eric Schoenle had a bittersweet day. At times he flashed the technical quality that some scouts rave about, but then he was torched by Kekutah Manneh for a goal and struggled in the second half. He remains one of the top centerback options, but a weak showing on Sunday could begin to jeopardize his standing as the best senior centerback.

A pair of international college defenders caught my eye on Friday in big Hofstra centerback Shaun Foster and tall South Florida central defender Brenton Griffiths. The 6-foot-3 centerbacks showed good qualities, combining size with decent technical ability. The question is whether MLS teams will take either of them knowing they count as international players. Foster is also 24, not quite the age teams look for prospects to be.


It is well-documented (at least on SBI) that this year’s draft is heavy on good left back prospects. The group showed some quality on Friday, with John Gallagher and Greg Cochrane standing out.

Not everybody had a standout day. Taylor Kemp didn’t make the impact you would expect from the No. 1-rated left back in the pool, and if he doesn’t step it up on Sunday he just might lose that label.


The overwhelming number of forwards invited to the Combine led to three of the four teams employing 4-3-3 formations. Erik Hurtado looked very comfortable as a wide forward. He dropped into midfield, connected passes, and showed a willingness to go at defenders.

Coleton Henning also played as a right forward, but spent too much time dropping into midfield.

Will Bates wound if deferring to Zavaleta as a target forward, but at some point in the Combine Bates will need to be given the chance to spear-head the attack as a target forward.


One of the real mysteries of this year’s rookie class was 18-year-old forward Kekuta Manneh and the young Generation adidas signing wasted no time showing why MLS felt it necessary to sign him.

Manneh impressed with his speed, mobility and intelligence. He toasted Eric Schoenle for a goal and also made good decisions within the structure of the attack. Teams that weren’t familiar with his qualities before the Combine are fully aware now and if Manneh has two more days like Friday, he could play his way into a Top Five spot in the draft.

If Manneh moves up, it could be at the expense of J.J. Johnson, who endured a terrible first day. Widely-regarded as the top forward in the draft entering the combine, Johnson struggled with his touch, movement and decision making. In short, he looked lost. He will need to step up his game considerably if he is going to avoid falling behind the likes of Manneh and Eriq Zavaleta on the draft board.

Another player who hurt their stock was Blake Smith, who just couldn’t get going playing more as a wide forward than a pure left winger.


Carlos Alvarez overcame a somewhat disappointing first half to step up and take over his team’s game. He registered a goal and assist and showed all the qualities that made him the top playmaker in the nation.


The number of box-to-box midfielders to show well on Friday was surprising. Dillon Powers, John Stertzer, Mikey Lopez and Kyle Bekker all helped their stock on a day where they weren’t met with much resistance.

One of the lesser-known players to impress on Friday was Alex Isern. The Winthrop midfielder fight right into the all-ACC midfield of Stertzer and Lopez and didn’t miss a beat.


Ian Christianson had a forgettable day, serving as part of a midfield that was flat-out overrun. He isn’t expected to be a first-round pick, but if Christianson doesn’t improve his game on Saturday he could wind up playing himself further down in the second round.


Zavaleta struggled to make his mark on Friday, in part because of his team’s midfield being ineffective in the first half and in part because of a formation that left him isolated against a familiar rival in Michigan centerback Kofi Opare.

The player who made the most of playing a target role was Chris Thomas, who showed mobility, touch and vision. He held the ball up well, and also made the right decisions when it came time to pass the ball.

Deshorn Brown had a forgettable day, but you can chalk that up to the fact he was facing Andrew Farrell, and because his midfield was largely ineffective.

Ashton Bennett faired better than his fellow Jamaican counterparts.

Charlie Rugg was a late addition to the Combine and made the most of his chances, drawing a dangerous free kick before finishing off his own chance. The Boston College forward put together a solid Friday that should give him something to build on.

Devon Sandoval came into the Combine being called the next Steven Lenhart, but he struggled to finish chances and didn’t look all that sharp, though he gets points for being involved in the attack. He will need to do better in the remainder of the Combine to ensure himself a place in the first two rounds of the MLS Draft.


–Kekutah-Manneh—-Chris Thomas——–Erik Hurtado—-

—-John Stertzer——Carlos-Alvarez——–Dillon Powers–

—————————–Alex Isem——————————

Greg Cochrane———-Andrew Farrell—–Shaun Foster—-

—————————-Brad Stuver—————————–

HONORABLE MENTION– James Belshaw, Kofi Opare, Brenton Griffiths, Mikey Lopez, Don Anding, Emery Welshman, Charlie Rugg, Luke Spencer.



  1. comment deleted by moderator? can you please email me why? First time that’s happened to me and I’d like to understand what I did.

    Thank you

  2. I am relatively new to soccer. At first I saw a wide gulf of play between the EPL, La Liga, the ItaLian league vs. MLS. Lately, that has changed alot. The style of play in the MLS has gotten extreemly better. I feel the draft has a lot to do with this. It affords parity to teams that are starting or are weak to begin with. The MLS obviously has a system that works although the maxium that each team can pay I feel should be raised. Still, look at what the Dynamo have been able to do with their budget and compare that to N.Y. or L.A. I think the draft works and the MLS and soccer in general is growing in popularity in the U.S.

    • The biggest problem with watching the EPL is the giant vs minnow matches. They aren’t fun. Either the minnows bunker in and it’s 0-0 or 1-0. Or they try to play and are crushed. Those aren’t fun games to watch for the neutral fan. I like the MLS that most games are competitive and that any number of teams can win the league. As opposed to most Euopean leagues.
      MLS is growing and is financial sound, as opposed to most other leagues. It may not be growing as fast as some like but to bad.

  3. Henry-

    Its clear you next to nothing about American Soccer, not once did you mention the ussf developmental academy system which is still very young in the big scheme of things. Also the pure size of the country creates challenges. Its not hard for Japan to get all top players playing against all the other top players because the country is so small. Same with almost all European countries.

    Please never coach a day in your life for the sake of our kids.


    Turd Bradley

    • Would’ve thought Jimmy Nealis would come first, no? Covered him all season for the Georgetown paper, very impressive attacking fullback

    • How do they want to be the NFL? Is it because they have a combine where they bring together the top prospects in the country so that scouts can get a final look at them before the draft? I fail to see how that’s sad.

      • America is different, who cares what other leagues around the world do. You have many soccer clubs in the world inj debt, should we now be in debt to?Liga MX has a draft, may not be amateurs, but it’s still a draft.

      • What makes America different?

        Countries all over the globe have been organizing and structuring soccer leagues longer than all of us have been alive. They’ve kind of perfected it. Soccer is the most popular sport on the planet. The theory they use is called rationalization. It’s the same theory used for the modern day bureaucracy used in business in every country. Henry Ford developed a system to make automobiles and it was copied worldwide and is still used today. Other countries have rationalized the best way to structure soccer leagues and the best way to develop talent. We already know what works. From Brazil to England to Germany to Japan this system is used. Look at Japan…ever since they developed a more European structure their domestic leagues have flourished and their national team has risen.

        I’d really like to know how America is different. It’s not as if the Americanized system is working. MLS isn’t even being watched by the majority of soccer fans in this country.

        The MLS amateur draft actually harms our development. Look at successful soccer nations and one thing they have is common is the short distance for player to club at the beginning of their careers. But here in America we force a kid from Texas(Salgado) to begin his career in Canada and then we wonder why we aren’t developing players. Don’t get me wrong. this isn’t the sole reason, and it’s probably not the main one, but there is a reason no other soccer league on the planet has an amateur draft. It’s not only inefficient it creates barriers to entry for potential players. Just look at Josh Gatt. Since he did not live near a MLS club, his path to a pro career was either to go to college and then through the MLS draft or go directly to one of the weaker leagues in Europe.

      • What makes america different? College soccer. No point in reading the rest of your silly and overly-long opinion

      • Oh here we go the ol well the rest of the world does it bullsh!t. The rest of the world is filled with teams spending out of their means to stay relevant with super clubs sprinkled in. Ill take the NFL model (the draft is in every american sport by the way) that has made it the most attended and profitable league of every sport in the whole world over the rest of the world any day which will end up with a salary cap in the future anyways. College and sports have been engrained in our society for decades. Alabama football alone is bigger than half the teams in europe. Id rather have players in college getting games than not even making the bench in MLS. If youd take the time to research you would realize the college system has gotten more american players to top euro leagues than players that turned pro early. One of the best CB’s in the bundesliga played college. I know blows your uneducated mind doesnt it.

      • you know your argument is weak when you have to insult the person. So right there you’ve already lost.

        It’s already been settled that college soccer is not the most efficient path to a pro career. Do you deny this? I guess you are against the homegrown rule and the academy system?

        There’s a reason no other soccer league on the frickin planet that requires its amateur players to enter a draft to join their top league. It’s detrimental to development, its detrimental to the national team, and its unfair to the players. Its even more unfair for American players who in the case of Salgado which shipped off from Texas to Canada. Yet, you think its a good idea because the NFL does it. The NFL is not a global game. The NFL is one league and no other country plays American football.

        and btw outside of the US no one has heard of Alabama football and outside of Alabama nobody cares. I can name hundreds of soccer clubs that have more of a worldwide brand than Alabama.

      • There is a reason no other league uses the draft its because they dont have universities that offer scholarships for sports like we do here. Its that simple. The fact is no one will ever be able to take the college game out of american soccer. Why would you want to remove an organized system of hundreds of fully funded teams that keep young adults playing the game? It makes no sense. Some of the best players to ever come from this country played college ball (Subotic, Dempsey, Reyna, Ibisevic, Keller, Friedel, Boca, McBride the list goes on and on) and its not like turning pro early has created better
        players. Look at ruben luna, he was the leading scorer in the academy league, skipped college, got no playing time and got cut while players his same age developed a couple years in college and have surpassed him. Pineda is almost 20 and has yet to get any minutes in MLS. Even MLS coaches are realizing a couple years in college is better than getting no playing time and are letting their top prospects (Trapp, Zardes, Ambrose, Garcia, Robinson, Allen, Bourgeois) join college teams.

        Salgado is over 18 years old if he cant handle the move to Canada then how do you expect him to make a move abroad in the future. Plus he had no problem moving to Guadalajara before whats so different about it now? The MLS players union agrees to the draft so I find it hard to believe its unfair to the players.

        I dont like the draft because the NFL does it I like the draft because it allows struggling teams to get promising players that can help turn around their team while also giving these players a place where they can get minutes.

        If no other country plays football then how is a German and a player from Norway going to get drafted by an NFL team.

        Alabama averages 100,000 people a game and is a billion dollar industry with a following all over the country. Much bigger than most euro teams

      • I don’t know if you’re a basketball fan, but if you’re right, every second-tier league should imitate the best league, shouldn’t the Euroleague be moving to an amateur draft? Have a salary cap?

      • You are criticizing the system but not offering an alternative.
        MLS is different then every other league in the world in that the league owns all of the contracts and signs GA players.
        Saying “we should just do like every other league does” doesn’t address that issue.

      • It’s not trying to be the NFL, just trying to have some level of parity so that more than the top 5 teams can sell tickets and sponsorships, thus allowing more than the New York Cosmos to stay afloat.

        Another aspect of the draft- the EPL has 20 teams covering England and Wales. There is also the Championship, League One, League Two, and so on. All in England. Here, we have the MLS covering 50 states. It’s not reasonable to assume all talent in the country will be effectively scouted by MLS teams (especially given budget constraints) or that it would be developed without the foreign academy systems we can’t afford (most European teams can’t either) or the college system many abhor.

        There’s no NFL envy, just a pragmatic business model so the MLS doesn’t become another NASL.

      • so we sacrifice everything for parity i guess. We sacrifice losing players to lesser leagues in Europe. We sacrifice a better national team. We sacrifice allowing our clubs to control their brand and increase their worldwide appeal. Seems like a lot to give up for parity.

        The best young players aren’t coming out of college now anyway. They are coming out of academies. Won’t that mess up your parity? What if LA Galaxy has a better academy and starts signing better players? Should they give them up to the draft for parity?

        I’d really like to know how getting rid of the MLS draft would damage this parity. if the MLS didn’t have a draft they would become the old NASL and fold?

        There are dozens of leagues out there that are equivalent to MLS in quality. Not one of them has an draft or a salary cap. Not one of them is in danger of folding. It helps that they aren’t propped up centrally planned franchise leagues.

      • What? the reason we haven’t develop players,isn’t just down to college.It’s all the way down to the youth levels. College soccer is a great model for developing players? however hasn’t had the time to work a model that fits into MLS needs, like the other sports have. In Europe,basketball players are signed at a young age, however the haven’t develop a M.Jordan, has they.

        “The best young players aren’t coming out of college now anyway. They are coming out of academies”? Yes you are right, except those same academy kids are coming out of college as well. Also many collge kids lay all year round. Many play PDL soccer,you also have the spring season as well. This country is way to huge to get rid of the draft. America is different, and college socceer will get bigger. With college soccer rise, we will see more money in the game, More money means NCAA will change their rules.

      • I read these two sentences:

        “The best young players aren’t coming out of college now anyway. They are coming out of academies.”

        You couldn’t be more wrong. While it’s true that a couple of top talents like Zardes and Trapp were claimed as Homegrowns, they are very much coming out of the collegiate system, Whatever MLS would like to believe about the potential of he Academy system, the players coming out of it are not ready for prime time.

        So, they go to college — and then, it’s their choice. Sign a Homegrown deal (assuming it’s offered), or hope for another team to take them in the draft (or hope a foreign team comes calling).

      • The draft doesn’t come at the expense of any of the European things you want. Development academies exist and homegrown contracts allow those players to go directly to those teams, to those players such as Josh Gatt who you mention who do not live near an MLS team they are allowed to play for an MLS team instead of the Detroit whatevers.

        For players who make the decision to play in college (which, I think according to your theory of rationalization is pretty rational that they would want to have an education to fall back on in case the whole playing thing doesn’t work out) it is an efficient way to allocate them to teams in a way conducive with the league’s goal of making sure there is not a permanent underclass which stifles interest and development, both against the interest of the national team.

        Your Salgado example is a lazy one, he played a lot last year before he got injured but beyond that there are numerous examples of Homegrown players languishing and eventually being cut without ever getting a chance to play, and basically every other American sport shows that playing in a different city has little effect on anything.

        Moreover, I don’t even know what you are advocating-do away with the draft and…’s not like doing away with the draft will change the fact there aren’t MLS teams in scores of cities, seems like having a means to allow cheap players to enter the league to help parity isn’t a bad thing.

      • None of those other leagues you mentioned are in the US. Everything MLS does that is contrary to the rest of the world(salary cap, draft) were set up out of necessity to help it survive in a country where several other sports are more popular and more widely accepted. The simple fact is that if MLS had structured itself from the beginning in the manner of European leagues, it would have folded by now and we wouldnt even have a top flight pro league. Now, as the league grows financialy and in popularity, will it eventually try to adpot the things that make football popular around the world? Sure. But not at the expense of the league not being able to sustain itself and fold. Football is popular enough in most parts of the world that owners are willing to operate in massive debt. Not the case in this country.

      • like it or not, the draft has been necessary for the mls. the “sacrifice” is not as dramatic as you make it out to be. mls is growing rapidly, but to have been expecting them to have been relying only on academies to develop their own players is just unreasonable. it is going in that direction, which i think everyone is happy to see, but even then there will be a place for the draft. your ignorance of the college system is a little baffling. especially since it has produces some pretty good players.

      • it’s really not worth arguing with you guys. You are so ignorant about the global game.

        I have much better things to do with my time.

    • Call it what you may but the NFL makes buckets of money and MLS has been steadily growing, even building stadiums and expanding teams during an awful recession. There’s nothing wrong with following a good model that works so well.

      I’ve always found it ironic that eventhough Americans are the most capitalistic of societies our sports leagues are way more socially fair and democratic than other countries sports leagues and one major reason is a draft. It allows sucky teams to get a star and change their fortunes without having to have a rich foreign owners taking over and throwing gobs of money at a team.

      • …and playoffs, conferences, and All-Star games are other things that we got right.

        Eurosnobs will be Eurosnobs.

      • ok how many more years do we have to give ya? How long do you need for the NFL model for work for MLS and our national side? The rest of the world must be really stupid for not following the NFL model. What are they thinking? They should shut down all those academies right now, force all those little Wayne Rooney wannabes to enter college and then get drafted. Lets hope that little Wayne Rooney wannabe gets drafted by Swansea City so he can start his career in Wales. Then we could say to them “hey, we got you guys beat..listen to this…we made our #1 pick,a 17 year old kid form Texas, start his pro career in Vancouver!” “Yeah she shoved his ass off 2000 miles to a whole different culture! haha!!”

      • oh Henry. Ignorance?

        the NFL does not have academies.

        College soccer in America means a draft is part of the equation here.

        In America, soccer is competing financially with football (college AND pro), basketball (college AND pro), baseball and more for the $$$…financial stability IS the first course of business for MLS OR there is no league here.

        Nothing wrong with how other countries do it for themselves, but we get our sports landscape pretty well here.

        And is it working? Look at all the new soccer specific stadiums, the improved play, the increased attendance, etc.

        ciao Henry 🙂

    • Henry… you’re rapidly establishing yourself as a troll that nobody likes. A word of advice… pick a new screen name and start being less of a douche.

    • You know, with skyrocketing payrolls in New York and LA (not to mention Toronto) MLS teams survive on the “bargains” they get at the draft. Instead of buying expensive players on international markets, they can groom younger talent into quality contributors.

      There’s very little evidence that money buys good teams in MLS-LA has done well under Bruce Arena’s tutelage and NY must wish they had him back – who else fits into that boat though? Now think about KC and San Jose. Which team would you rather be right now?

    • Not every team has scouted every players so some teams are seeing guys for the first time. First impressions can be damning. That said, if you have been a standout for years then no, one bad day doesn’t erase that, but it puts pressure on you to step it up. Will some teams ignore a bad combine? Sure, but players don’t really want to take that chance.


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