Photos by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
Thirteen years ago, Carlos Bocanegra was a 20-year-old college kid who had chosen to leave school early to pursue his dream of being a professional soccer player. He signed a contract with MLS and headed to Florida to play in the MLS Combine. What Bocanegra didn’t really factor in was just what the Combine might mean to his draft prospects, and he readily admits his own preparations for the Combine were modest at best.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Bocanegra said. “It was basically ‘you’re going to go down in Florida and play a few games’. I kind of did whatever when my college season in November and just tried getting ready on my own.”
Bocanegra’s lack of preparation didn’t hurt him too much. He wound up being the fourth player selected in the 2000 MLS Draft, and eventually went on to win MLS Rookie of the Year and help the Chicago Fire reach the MLS Cup Final.
A dozen years later, Bocanegra realized that there still wasn’t much available to MLS draft prospects in terms of Combine preparation, which led him to come up with the idea of a training camp of sorts for draft prospects. He joined forces with members of his CB3 Sports Performance training center to create a Pro Combine Prep Clinic, a program that would prepare draft prospects not only for the MLS Combine, but for life as a pro.
“It’s pretty cool because it offers these guys something that’s not available to everybody,” Bocanegra said. “It’s a chance to train in a professional environment, almost like a mini-national team camp, and a chance to really work with the ball and experience what it’s like to train and prepare at the highest level.
“We leave them with things they can use once the season starts and they begin their first year,” Bocanegra said. “There’s such a big jump from college to pro, you’re talking going from three months to basically a year, so we try giving them things they can carry over.”
Bocanegra’s first Combine Prep camp was modest in size, but it is tough to call it anything but a major success considering how the participants went on to do. Austin Berry (Chicago Fire), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Hunter Jumper (Chicago Fire) and Kenny Walker (LA Galaxy) were all drafted and signed and Berry went on to be MLS Rookie of the Year while Hedges was also one of the top rookies in the league.
“It’s real hard for guys finishing college to get a good training environment and prepare for the Combine, especially in the time at the end of the college season and before the Combine,” Berry said. “The thing about that camp is it wasn’t just fitness and running, but most of the stuff we did was with the ball, so it helped you be sharp technically heading into the Combine.
“For somebody like me, who needed a good Combine, it was a good training.”
Before the 2012 MLS Draft, Berry was among a deep crop of centerbacks and was projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick, but an impressive showing at the MLS Combine helped boost his stock enough to be the No. 9 overall pick, selected by the Chicago Fire.
“You go into the combine without a contract and it’s a nerve-wracking experience, and I knew it was going to be a big moment for me,” Berry recalled of the time around the Combine and Draft. “I had to do everything I possibly could to set myself up and the camp really did everything I could ask.
“You can run all you want, but being in soccer shape and being able to do all the movements right,” Berry said. “It’s very hard to recreate that by yourself or with one other person.
“We did several sessions on proper lifting techniques, proper moving techniques, soccer-specific and movement-specific training,” Berry said. “We did some talks about nutrition and about the training environment. The biggest thing about being a pro is doing off the field, being able to eat right and sleep right.”
Bocanegra is hoping the Pro Combine Prep Clinic continues to grow well beyond the initial four-player group, and is accepting applications for the next clinic, set for first week of January.
“We want this to be the place where everybody comes and we hope this grows into something really special for these guys,” Bocanegra said. “I wish had something like this going pro when I was ready to go to the next level so to be able to help the next generation of future pros, and see kids like Austin Berry and Matt Hedges doing well, let’s me know we’re on the right track.”