A host of SuperDraft hopefuls took the field to kick off the MLS Player Combine on Friday and did their best to adjust to the unique circumstances of their situations.LAUDERHILL, Fla. – The first day of the MLS Player Combine always seems to underscore one vital truth about the process: it takes a little bit of time for the players to settle into these peculiar surroundings.
Friday adhered to the usual pattern. There were fleeting moments of skill to pick out, but the collection of college stars really spent this day trying to find their bearings after arriving on Thursday and playing with many of their teammates for the first time.
“It was hard,” UCLA midfielder Kelyn Rowe said. “It's the first day. Everyone's pretty tired coming off the plane yesterday. It's tough to come out and play.”
The situation didn't stop some players from trying to display their talents. Both games suffered from extended bouts of direct play until the nerves dissipated and the players started to understand what their teammates were trying to do. The results were mixed on the whole – the first game offered some tidy moments, while the second game never really exited second gear – as the four teams tried to establish a foundation for the following two sets of matches on Sunday and Tuesday.
“Most of us know each other from past competition,” Louisville defender Austin Berry said. “The first 10-15 minutes were obviously hectic, but that's expected when you're throwing 17 guys together who haven't really played with each other. I thought by the second half, we were playing pretty solid. I look forward to building on that in the next couple of games.”
If the pattern of past Player Combines holds, then this first day and all of its associated growing pains should pave the way for stronger collective and individual performances on Sunday. For these hopefuls, this first foray into the arduous and peculiar world of the Player Combine served as a platform to build upon as they attempt to bolster their draft standing over the next few days.
“It's just like anything else: (it gives us) experience,” Connecticut midfielder Tony Cascio said. “It's just about playing with each other and getting a feel for it going forward. I think we'll be alright during the next couple of games.”Recapping the day
Game one: adiPower (Red) 3, Prime (Green) 2: Chandler Hoffman (Generation adidas/UCLA) scored moments before full time to cap off a late two-goal fightback by his side. Brendan King (Notre Dame) opened the scoring for Prime by slotting home a feed from Darren Mattocks (Generation adidas/Akron) after just six minutes. Casey Townsend (Maryland) equalized six minutes later to send the teams into halftime on level terms. Aldo Paniagua (General Caballero/Paraguay) restored Prime's lead four minutes after the interval with a neat finish after some tidy work by Babayele Sodade (UAB), but Yuri Gorentzvaig (Flamengo/Brazil) restored level terms and set the stage for Hoffman's late winner.
Game two: adiZero (Blue) 0, adiPure (White) 0: Both sides struggled to find their rhythm in a contest that offered little in the way of intrigue or quality. Enzo Martinez (Generation adidas/North Carolina) stood out as the man of the match for his tireless work in midfield, but he missed a spot kick right before the final whistle after Diogo de Almeida (SMU) rashly scythed down Warren Creavalle (Central Florida) on the right side of the penalty area.
News and notes
- Potential number one pick Andrew Wenger (Generation adidas/Duke) won the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation's top collegiate player in a ceremony held in St. Louis on Friday night. Creighton forward Ethan Findlay finished as the first runner up, while North Carolina forward (and recent Hammarby signing) Billy Schuler landed in the second runner up spot. Wenger will skip the Player Combine and report directly to the U.S. U-23 camp in Carson, Calif.
- Rowe said he is scheduled to play in the second set of games on Sunday before flying out to join Wenger and his U-23 teammates on Monday.
- U.S. U-23 coach Caleb Porter and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati surveyed the scene alongside the droves of MLS technical staffers in attendance.
- Seven international players featured in the group of hopefuls trying to work their way onto draft boards. There wasn't a Joao Plata-type instant impression from any of them, but there were bits and pieces to spark intrigue in some players. All seven players are available on minimum salary deals and would take up an international spot if selected.
The full list of international hopefuls: English midfielder Jason Banton (Leicester City/England), Argentine midfielder Emiliano Bonfigli (Manta FC/Ecuador), Mexican defender Gienir Garcia (Cruz Azul Hidalgo/Mexico), Brazilian midfielder Yuri Gorentzvaig (Flamengo/Brazil), Paraguayan midfielder Aldo Paniagua (General Caballero/Paraguay), Peruvian midfielder Benjamin Ubierna (Universidad San Martin/Peru) and Japanese midfielder Kohei Yamada (Thespa Kusatsu/Japan)
- Banton limped off during the first half of the first match after taking a shot to the ribs, according to the training staff. He did not return to the game.
- The most impressive players on day one – for the most part – were the familiar faces: Hoffman and Townsend as the strike tandem for adiPower, Mattocks for the flashes of combination play and pace he showed for Prime, Martinez as the driving force in midfield for adiZero and Austin Berry (Louisville) as a rock in central defense for adiPure.
- Dartmouth forward Lucky Mkosana turned some heads with an active and productive performance off the bench for adiPower. The prolific Zimbabwean striker understands that he operates a bit further off the beaten path in the Ivy League, but he said he doesn't feel any additional pressure to impress coaches who may not have had the chance to see him play in person.
“My coach always tells us that if we work hard, we can beat any team in the U.S,” Mkosana said after he supplied the feed for Hoffman's winner. “For me, it's all about working hard until the last minute. That's how we do it in the Ivy League. I know it's not known, but we play good soccer. It's a little bit different, but we work hard.”
- As a timely reminder ahead of the final two days of the Player Combine and the inevitable SuperDraft prognostications to follow, here is a list of the thirteen college players already signed to MLS deals:
Generation adidas (nine): Dom Dwyer (South Florida forward), Sam Garza (UC Santa Barbara forward), Chandler Hoffman (UCLA forward), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (UConn defender), Darren Mattocks (Akron forward), Enzo Martinez (North Carolina midfielder), Tyler Polak (Creighton defender), Kelyn Rowe (UCLA midfielder) and Andrew Wenger (Duke forward)
Senior signings (four): Tony Cascio (UConn midfielder), Nick DeLeon (Louisville winger), Luis Silva (UC Santa Barbara midfielder) and Casey Townsend (Maryland forward)
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.