By FRANCO PANIZO
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The 2014 MLS SuperDraft is less than 24 hours away, and several of the players entering it will do so after having raised their stocks over the last few days.
The recently-concluded MLS Combine may not have showcased as much talent as in years past, but it still gave coaches and scouts a clearer picture of what they can expect from players looking to make the jump to MLS this year. In fact, there were some standout performances from a select few that really made coaching staffs take notice.
Those outings may not mean much in the grand scheme of things during Thursday’s draft in Philadelphia, as players who have had good combines in previous years have gone undrafted and others who have struggled have still been chosen high. They did, however, help players make cases for themselves ahead of Thursday’s draft.
Here are the five players who SBI considered the top performers at the 2014 MLS Combine (not in any order):
Arguably the best and most consistent performer in South Florida, Blake showed why many believe he will be taken early on Thursday. The goalkeeper showed cat-like reflexes throughout the combine, especially during the first two days, and made a range of saves. He even impressively stopped a dangerous free kick, pushing the ball off the crossbar with a full-stretch dive before it was cleared away.
Akindele may have spent his collegiate playing days in Division II, but that did not stop him from shining at the combine. His speed and athleticism were on display for all to see, and he was one of the few wide attacking players to really impress. Akindele also was not afraid to try and take players on, a trait which had some coaches licking their chops.
There are not many natural fullbacks in this year’s draft class, but Franco is one of them and he looks worth taking. Deployed at right back for all three of his matches, Franco showed good skill on the ball and an ability to jump into the attack. He also defended competently and provided an outlet for centerbacks and midfielders.
Considered by many to be the most MLS-ready player in this year’s class, Birnbaum delivered three sturdy outings in central defense. Birnbaum was not only good with his defending, but he also demonstrated some of his aerial ability by getting on the end of a few set pieces. Birnbaum could have had a goal, but one of his headers was cleared off the goal-line.
The Jamaican youngster was a big bright spot on Day 2, but he showed promise on the other days as well. Lewis, a midfielder, had a lot of the play go through him when he was on the field and his small stature did not prove at all to be a hindrance (though it might at the next level). Lewis played smart and simple, taking lots of quick touches and looking for combinations to help his team move up the field.
Do you think all five of these players will be drafted on Thursday? Who would you like to see your team pick up?
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