FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.– Today was an off day at the MLS Combine, but only in the sense that there are no games being played. There is still plenty of activity going on, with players being interviewed by interested teams and team officials engaging in trade talk.
The first day of the Combine gave everyone here plenty to think about, from the players who stepped up to those who struggled. Rustiness, nerves and lack of familiarity with teammates made for some bad soccer at times, but there were also some very good moments. Some quality build-ups and sharp finishes.
As we head toward the all-important second set of MLS Combine matches on Sunday, here is a look at some more observations from the Combine:
MLS COMBINE OFF DAY OBSERVATIONS
1- Day One was a good day for Canadian players. Kyle Bekker, Emery Welshman and Kofi Opare all played well and boosted their stock. The three Canadian teams surely took notice, not that they weren’t already aware of the trio.
The league’s non-Canadian teams surely took notice as well and that is only going to increase their stock. That said, their status as international players for non-Canadian teams means all three will remain more highly rated by Montreal, Toronto FC and Vancouver. If Bekker, Welshman and Opare keep playing well then it will force Canadian teams to pull the trigger on grabbing them sooner in the draft.
2. 7- that’s how many career goals in MLS play have been scored by the eight players to lead the MLS Combine in scoring. In other words, don’t go too crazy if someone scores a ton of goals this week.
3. Tommy Muller isn’t the biggest centerback you will see, and with the Combine boasting several big centerbacks in the 6-foot-3 and above range, his relative lack of height stood out even more.
Could that cause him to drop out of the first round? Probably not as much as concerns about his durability could. That said, Muller was steady on day one an remains likely to be one of the first centerbacks off the board.
4. Speaking of height, Duke goalkeeper James Belshaw stands at a solid 6-foot-2, far from being a small goalkeeper. For some reason there is a perception that he isn’t the biggest keeper. That could be down to just how quick he is and how well he moves for his size.
All that said, Belshaw continues to be hurt by his international status (he is British). If not for that you could argue he would be the first goalkeeper taken. As it stands, Belshaw seems likely to go after the likes of Larry Jackson and Brad Stuver. If someone overlooks his international status and takes Belshaw anyway he could be a steal.
5. One of the surprises of day one was Winthrop midfielder Alex Isern. His movement, vision and touch were impressive and definitely caught the attention of scouts. Not bad for a late addition the Combine.
A strong Combine might not be enough for him to get drafted. Why? He has two strikes against him. First, he’s from Spain and is an international player. Secondly, he turns 25 later this month, which means he would take up a senior international spot. If he keeps playing well his best bet would be to be taken in the Supplemental Draft.
6. How much can a bad Combine hurt your stock? One official from a team with a high first-round pick admitted that he was considering J.J. Johnson with his first round pick but was now seriously re-considering.
Johnson isn’t doomed. As we noted last night, a bad first day can easily be overcome, but the pressure is on for Johnson to perform on Sunday. Even if he keeps struggling, he isn’t likely to drop past the top 10. Plenty of teams scouted him during the college season and won’t completely drop him in their rankings even with a bad combine.
7. Remember the days when finding American left backs was near impossible and you were more likely to play someone out of position than find a good left back option.
Times have changed, not just with the U.S. National team, but at the Combine as well. By my count there are as many five left backs who look like locks to be on MLS rosters when the 2013 season begins. Expect a run on left backs in the late-first, early-second round range.
8. Right back is a completely different story. If you’re team needs a right back then chances are your team is shopping in the international market for one. Not only aren there any truly solid right backs here, there aren’t many at all.
The best natural right back in the draft is Joe Franco, but he suffered a torn ACL at the end of the college season. That shouldn’t stop him from being selected though.
9. You know who the best right back in the draft actually is? Andrew Farrell. He spent time there at Louisville and I could definitely see a team like Toronto FC starting him at right back (if they wind up keeping the no. 1 overall pick).
Farrell is a freak athlete. He’s fast, extremely strong and can dominate on the air despite being just 5-foot-11. What really impresses scouts is that he is good on the ball. What impressed me the most on day one was just how humble and grounded he is. It says plenty that a player who is the consensus No. 1 pick is willing to take part in the Combine (though a good showing should only serve to help generate better trade offers to Toronto for the No. 1 pick.
10. Day Two of the Combine is usually the best day of soccer at any combine. Players have shaken off some rust, gotten familiar with teammates and adjusted to the Florida heat. It is the day where the true talents really step up.