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.
tomislav zadro is one of the best players in the draft if not the best player in the draft. who ever takes him will get a quality player who has amazing soccer IQ . he has played soccer in croatian soccer league. he as also played for chicago divison 3 and his first season he finished with 20 goals and 22 assists – 44 points in 28 games named divison 3 all american his first year playing in the states. followed up his second season with a good year then transfered to wisconsin where he set school records and helped them to their first big ten tournament. he was named big ten offensive player of the year two out of the three years he has been at wisconsin. he was injured one year or he probly would of won big ten offensive player of the year all three years. he was also named to big ten offensive player of the week multiple times. these combines dont really mean anything . his career speaks for it self.
The combine is important for “tangibles”.
As for intangibles one’s college career is
the true “tangible” key.
Of all the sports games, soccer, in my
humble opinion, is the consummate team
game. This is the 2nd biggest reason
soccer has a solid chance to replace
Football as America’s game in the not so
distant future. We all know what the #1
reason is presently.
Team players will rule going forward for
soccer. And “team players” are, for the
most part, loaded with “intangibles”.
What says you Ives? Please weigh in.
Hey Ives, I was just listening to another podcast which shall remain unnamed and they introduced a segment with Travis Clark naming him, “the Mel Kiper of the MLS Draft!” What!!??? Don’t you have that trademarked?? I eagerly anticipate announcements of lawsuits, deathmatches, slap fights, severed horse heads, octagons, hells in cells, rocks, papers, scissors, heck, at least a good, old fashioned twitter war. Keep us posted.
Mel wishes he was the Ives G.
Good stuff Ives.
Can you tell me anything about Josh Wood? He is one of two players from D-III and played HS where i live currently. I know he was the National D-III player of the year, but who knows how good that is because of his competition.
Andre Lewis and Michael Seaton two young talented players in the Jamaica pipeline. MLS is making CONCACAF better
How have the trio of IU guys looked? Think they’ll all go in the first two rounds?
Ives – Any thoughts on how you think Zach Bolden from the University of Denver looks?
I was there for the first game and he looked good. Scored a goal. I definitely see him getting drafted and earning a contract somewhere. Can’t say how he did on the second day though.
“Reviews are mixed on the young Designated Player centerback” I dont get the DP part?
It was a mistake, come on Rex. Was working on an interview with Michael Bradley and wires crossed. It happens.
What happens if a Geneation Adidas player performs so poorly in the combine and doesn’t get drafted? What does MLS do IF such a situation were to arise.
Given that we’re talking Gen Adidas here I would think the savings in $$$ against the cap would mean no Gen Adidas player would ever go undrafted.
Generation Addidas players are signed with the league. If by some miracle one went undrafted i would assume they would find some office work at MLS Headquarters. I’m sure MLS wouldn’t want the player to stay home and do nothing.
I’d think the whole idea behind GA is scouting them thoroughly to the point where a bad combine isn’t going to hurt them too bad. Don’t place too much stock on the combine. A few days should never trump years of performance. Teams that draft based on the combine are going to fail in the draft. The combine might reveal a prospect that hadn’t been heavily scouted before, but it shouldn’t kill a heavily scouted top guy.
Tom, you’re being pretty presumptuous. The league doesn’t scout GAs at all. They reach out to teams to get a sense of players they should be going after. Sometimes all it takes is one team saying “We’d take him for sure with one of our picks” to get a player signed. That’s the case with Damion Lowe. And no, teams don’t weigh the Combine MORE than year-round scouting, BUT when it comes to certain players who simply wouldn’t have been scouted (small school players and such) teams have little choice but to look at those players based on how they do at the Combine. So yes, the Combine does still matter. Now, can a Combine kill a heavily-scouted player? Not usually, but ANY player in the draft pool can hurt their stock if they come here and look awful. That’s just reality.
Thanks for setting me straight re the scouting of GA prospects, Ives. That’s interesting and probably explains Tony Tchani. A well scouted top guy like Dean isnt going to drop out of the first round on bad combine though is he?
Dean won’t even drop out of the top five. As for Tchani, not sure he’s an example to use. Tchani was a beast in college and then dominated the Combine. Every team in the league would have taken Tchani with a high pick.
Yeah, that was a bad joke as a NYRB fan.
I’m not saying the combines are meaningless by any means and its certainly a major tool in evaluating guys who havent had much tv time or scouting, but in my thinking, it’s crazy to place too high a value on a small sample size over a large one. Anything can happen in a few days in the middle of winter, months after the end of the college season. Guys are out of form, some guys might not be as fit, guys might be playing out of position, they’re playing in an artificial environment where everyone’s trying to get noticed rather than trying to win a game, there’s no chemistry developed between these players. There are so many reasons why a guy might not be able to show his best. I would love to read an article on guys who starred and or flopped in the combines, guys who were uncovered, etc. that would be a great read.
Tom, everybody knows this already. Teams know, I know, we all know you can’t put too much value into the combine, but the combine is also much more useful than you seem to give it credit for being. The Combine could be much better run, that’s for sure, and it’s far from a perfect way to evaluate players, but the people who know what they’re doing tend to do pretty well at finding talent in the draft, and a lot of times it’s players who had good combines.
As for Combine flops and stars, we have seen PLENTY of players who were Combine stars that didn’t quite pan out. There are a bunch of those. As for players who were absolutely terrible at the Combine, I can’t think of many of those who went on to become stars. Omar Gonzalez had a shaky first day. There have been playmakers who struggled but still could show some skill. But flat-out Combine flops generally tend to wind up being pro flops. Like the idea though, might have to look into that one.
Cool, thanks for the response, Ives! I’m a bit surprised there aren’t more top guys that flop given the time of year and artificial setting.
Would love to see a story correlating combine to pro performance.
And draft correlation, too. Best picks ever? Worst picks ever? Best and worst drafting franchises?
Quick question in reading your comment, Ives. You said the league doesn’t scout them at all, but I’m assuming that the teams have heavily scouted them or they wouldn’t guarantee to pick them, right?
One team could have seen a player enough to believe he’s worth having in the draft, but teams have been very wrong before on that. Your concept of the amount of scouting that goes on is wishful thinking and not nearly as involved as you might think. Certainly not with all players. Teams aren’t at the point yet where they’re devoting the kind of resources to college scouting that you would see in the NFL or even NBA.
Gotcha. Interesting stuff. I know the scouting network historically has been pretty thinly stretched. Growing up, I had a buddy from Colombia that was an amazing technical player, but he never got a decent shot. He seemed to me to have much more technically than most MLS guys at the time. I thought by now there would be a lot more intense coverage, at least with the potential GA guys. As always, great to have your insider’s info and insight.
what about the notion that GA players shouldnt struggle? you’re pulling them out early for what? they should be guys that are ready to play right away, otherwise they’re better suited staying and saving the league money, no?
It wont happen. A great athlete like Hairston who is still young and free for teams there is no reason not to take a chance on him. MLS coaches know the draft, just like in all sports, can be a crap shoot, so why not take a wager on someone with house money?
Every GA player in this draft will be drafted and I doubt any aren’t drafted in the first two rounds. Closest we’ve seen to having GAs not drafted were Danny Cruz and Sean Johnson, but both were taken late and have put together some good careers.
Probably loaned to a NASL or USL team.