This morning, the league revealed the list of 55 college seniors invited to showcase themselves at the upcoming MLS Player Combine. These players are all playing for NCAA Division I schools; they're also permitted to turn down the invite, which some players undoubtedly will. The combine takes place in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from January 8th through January 13th. The seniors invited today will be joined by other seniors, including those from Divisions II and III, underclassmen who sign Generation adidas contracts, and other international invitees, all of whom will be announced at a later date.
Two days later, the league will hold its annual Super Draft in Philadelphia. Before we go further, let's define a couple of things for those of you new to the league.
First, what's a combine? The combine is a four-day annual showcase, taking place every January. It's where potential MLS players perform physical and mental tests in front of coaches, general managers, and scouts. This allows personnel directors to evaluate upcoming prospects in a standardized setting.
The Super Draft is straight forward draft of college players. International players can be drafted as well, provided that they're college players. It's like every other draft of college players you've ever seen.
Unlike Europe (or the rest of the world, for that matter), NCAA soccer offers a valid path to professional soccer for many players; maybe not as many as in years past, but it’s still there. Many of the league’s star players have played in college — Clint Dempsey, for instance, starred for Furman University. It's still common to see team rosters shot through with college players.
American Soccer Now, a website dedicated to interactive coverage of, well, American soccer, put together a nice list of 25 college soccer players people should be watching for. They explain what each player brings to the table. They also emphasize the fact that college players can be hit-or-miss affairs at the MLS level, something to keep in mind when you go over the list.
New York City's roster averages 28 years of age; seven of the 17 players on the roster are 30 or older. Tt stands to reason that the team might be looking to add some young players through the SuperDraft, particularly in midfield and defense. We have the #2 pick in the SuperDraft, after Orlando City. Here’s some of the players that stood out for me:
Nick Besler, M, Notre Dame—Matt’s brother is somehow not a product of Sporting Kansas City’s academy and thus is draft-eligible. Unlike his brother, who starred for the U.S. backline this summer in Brazil, Nick is more of a holding midfielder. Like his brother, he plays a smart, clean game that shows a solid tactical awareness. "I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes first (in the draft), at least among seniors. He’s a safe pick because of the name and the Notre Dame pedigree and winning a national title. You know what you’re getting. He might not end up as good as his brother but he’ll be very good."
Mahamodou Kaba, D, South Carolina—A native of Guinea who grew up in Michigan, Kaba was highly regarded coming out of high school amid rumors of an offer from D.C. United. But he barely played his first two seasons before becoming a solid starter for the Gamecocks last year. "You know how they say ‘he’s built like a brick (you-know-what) house?’ Well, that’s him. He’s so strong and athletic. If he has a season like last year, teams will notice. You could see him being a combine darling, too, if he shows well down there, because he looks the part."
Cyle Larin, Soph. F, Connecticut—The Ontario native debuted for Canada’s national team—the senior team—this summer after a strong first campaign in Storrs that saw him tempted by an MLS offer. "I think in terms of him being a pro, the biggest question is if he goes to Europe or signs with (MLS). He’s just a good goal-scorer and there isn’t a team anywhere that doesn’t need those."
Axel Sjoberg, redshirt Jr. D, Marquette—As the old NBA cliché goes, you can’t teach height and at six-foot-seven this Sweden native has plenty of it. The biggest question mark with Sjoberg for MLS watchers is whether he’ll be in the draft at all, though at 23 the hope is he turns pro soon. "You never know with the league and redshirts. Sometimes they let them into the draft (after their fourth year). Sometimes they sign them to G.A. deals. Sometimes they have to come back for a fifth year. But whenever he comes out, this kid will have a lot of teams’ attention because of his aerial ability."
Check out the rest of the list. The player you’ve probably heard of the most is Cyle (pronounced ‘Kyle’) Larin. He nearly went to MLS last year, but chose to stay at UConn. If he’s going to go to a MLS team, the most likely candidate is NYC; otherwise, he’s probably bound for Europe. Another standout player is UCLA's Leo Stoltz, who's got experience playing in Germany for 1860 Munich.
Do any players stand out for you? Leave a comment below.