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MLS Combine & Superdraft: The annual showcase for emerging talent to prove their worth

For many professional football clubs, January is a key time to recruit.

It is the time of year when a major European club can reshape its first-team squad, or if you are a team who plays its domestic football in the summer, the time when you can start finalising your squad ahead of the brand new campaign.

Most clubs will recruit through the usual channels, both domestically and internationally, but in the United States, MLS franchises have another channel available to them, because in line with other US sports they have the opportunity to pick-up the best emerging talent coming out of domestic College soccer through the annual MLS Superdraft.

Last year, the Superdraft was expanded from two rounds to four, and unless a franchise has traded any of their picks, each will have one pick for every round when it takes place later on this month on 15th January.

As is protocol, the first pick is always given to either a new franchise or the team that finished bottom of the overall table in the previous year, so in 2015 the first two picks will go to newcomers Orlando City and New York City, with Montreal Impact having the third pick. Reigning MLS Cup holders LA Galaxy have the final pick.

The Superdraft is a unique opportunity for those teams who finish in the lower half of the league to monitor College soccer and identify the best graduate player prospects, with a view to recruiting them as first year professionals.

But in reality how easy is it to effectively monitor literally thousands of players, spread across 24 different divisions, to identify those with the potential to address your key recruitment requirements?

Within Scout7’s international database, we capture and publish match teamsheets from every game played in each NCAA Division 1 Conference, as well as all the details for each annual MLS Combine, which in 2015 is taking place this weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Combine features 64 leading College and Generation Adidas prospects who have been invited to showcase their talents in a tournament played front of technical staff from all 21 MLS teams. It is seen by many as the one opportunity the franchises get each year to assess each player ‘live’ during one weekend, allowing them to conduct one final evaluation on each prospect before deciding on their preferred picks ahead of the draft.

So in order to try and establish how rewarding the Superdraft can be for a franchise, we have done some research looking at what has happened to all the players who have been invited to the Combine during the past three years, with a view of trying to establish how many of them have gone on to become key players for the teams who have chosen them.

MLS Combine 2012-2014 – The Players who made the Grade

In the last three years, a total of 209 players have been invited to take part in the Combine, of which 123 have gone on to be drafted in the Superdraft. Of these, 94 went on to earn contracts with the franchises they were chosen by.

As of 1st January 2015, 48 of these players were no longer affiliated to the franchise who had initially drafted them, which is over 50%. Of the remaining 46, only 14 players featured in over 50% of the total on-field minutes available during the regular 2014 MLS season.

Player Name Combine Year Draft Round Draft Pick Franchise 2014 On-Field %
Nick Deleon 2012 1 7 DC United 88
Dom Dwyer 2012 1 16 Sporting Kansas City 89
Matt Hedges 2012 1 11 FC Dallas 91
Darren Mattocks 2012 1 2 Vancouver Whitecaps 58
Kelyn Rowe 2012 1 3 New England Revolution 64
Ethan Finlay 2012 1 10 Columbus Crew 62
Deshorn Brown 2013 1 6 Colorado Rapids 74
Andrew Farrell 2013 1 1 New England Revolution 93
Erik Hurtado 2013 1 5 Vancouver Whitecaps 58
Tesho Akindele 2014 1 6 FC Dallas 57
Steve Birnbaum 2014 1 2 DC United 61
Chris Duvall 2014 2 22 New York Red Bulls 52
Nick Hagglund 2014 1 10 Toronto FC 68
Eric Miller 2014 1 5 Montreal Impact 53

The list of Combine attendees who played in over 50% of MLS regular season minutes during 2014

Among the players listed, one stand-out player is the English forward Dom Dwyer, who was only the 16th pick in the 2012 Superdraft but has since gone on to become a key player for Sporting Kansas City, scoring 22 goals during the regular season last year.

Another stand-out player, for different reasons, is Wake Forest graduate Chris Duvall. Last year he wasn’t picked up by any franchise during the first round, before being selected in the second round by New York Red Bulls. He went on to play 19 regular season games.

Of the 94 players awarded contracts, 64 are still attached to an MLS franchise, but of the players who are no longer with the clubs who originally drafted them, only the 2012 first pick Andrew Wenger has played in more than 50% of the total regular season minutes.

In addition, there are five players who have featured at the Combine who are now playing elite-level soccer outside of North America: Kees Heemskerk (Netherlands), Aubrey Perry (Sweden), Stefano Rijssel (Suriname), Fabian Otte (Germany) and Ronny Mendoza (Ecuador). A further 26 players were also playing professionally in the US, below MLS level, during 2014.

Dom Dwyer in action for UCLA prior to being drafted by NE Revolution

The 2014 Intake

Last year, a total of 55 invited Combine players ended up being drafted, with 37 players earning contracts.

The top pick, Jamaican goalkeeper Andre Blake, only ended up featuring in one game, being unable to displace Zac MacMath in the Philadelphia goal. Three of the other top 10 picks also failed to play in more than 10% of the total regular season minutes available. Two failed to play in a single game altogether.

In fact, it turned out that 43% of the players who earned contracts following the Superdraft failed to appear in a single MLS game during 2014.

Player Name College or University Draft Round Draft Pick Franchise 2014 On-Field %
Andre Lewis
N/A 1 7 Vancouver Whitecaps 0
Damion Lowe Hartford 1 8 Seattle Sounders 0
Marco Franco UC Irvine 1 13 Chicago Fire 0
Ben Sweat USF 1 14 Columbus Crew 0
Schillo Tshuma Maryland 1 17 Portland Timbers 0
Ryan Neil California 1 18 Real Salt Lake 0
Jimmy Ockford Louisville 2 21 Seattle Sounders 0
Kyle Venter New Mexico 2 23 LA Galaxy 0
Taylor Peay Washington 2 26 Portland Timbers 0
Victor Munoz UCLA 2 29 D.C. United 0
Mamadou Diouf Connecticut 2 30 Vancouver Whitecaps 0
Alec Sundly California 2 31 New England Revolution 0
George Fochive Connecticut 3 39 Portland Timbers 0

Richard Marquez

Redlands 3 44 Philadelphia Union 0
Joey Dillon Georgetown 3 53 Real Salt Lake 0
Fabio Pereira Michigan 4 77 Seattle Sounders 0

2014 contracted draft players who failed to appear in the MLS regular season

It must be stressed that it isn’t uncommon for first year pros to be used sparingly during their first season, and in many cases a number of players are loaned out to teams in other professional leagues in order to gain experience.

This is exactly what happened to Dom Dwyer at New England Revolution. Before his breakthrough in 2014, he only appeared in 1 regular season match in his rookie year (playing a total of 4 minutes) and spent half a season on loan at Orlando City in the ULS in 2013.

Five rookie players did feature in over 50% of the regular season minutes available during 2014. These included second pick Steve Birnbaum and sixth pick Tesho Akindele, who play for Conference Play-Off Semi-Finalists DC United and FC Dallas respectively.

However, as 2014 came to an end, 16 of the 37 players initially contracted at the start of the year are no longer with their franchise.

What to Expect from the 2015 Invitees

The fluctuating on-field minutes of each drafted player only goes to show how difficult it can be to identify players prior to the Superdraft.

For example who would have thought that Jared Watts, the player picked 33rd in the second round last year, would have gone on to play more minutes than all but seven other rookies?

So to support our MLS clients in monitoring College soccer, we have incorporated into our applications match line-ups from all the NCAA Division 1 Conferences and the NCAA Champions Cup, managed as part of a global operation where over 95,000 fixtures and match teamsheets are published by a dedicated team of researchers, working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

From studying the information we have collected on 2014 NCAA soccer, we can tell you that of the 64 players invited to the 2015 Combine, 11 have come from the Pacific 12 Conference, 9 have come from the Atlantic Coast Conference, 6 have come from the Big East and 6 have come from the Big Ten. This means that almost half of the players on show have come from just 4 of the 24 NCAA Division 1 Conferences.

As well as playing in the regular season, 44 of the 64 also featured in the end-of-season NCAA Champions Cup. Virginia won that competition and they are represented at the Combine by state native Eric Bird.

Incidentally, the final of the Champions Cup is also available to watch, in full, right now via Scout7.tv, along with roughly a quarter of the other games played in the competition.

Four players from the Champions Cup runners-up UCLA are also taking part, the largest number of players invited from a single College, with three players each coming from California and North Carolina.

Eleven of the players taking part come from Colleges who won their respective NCAA Division 1 Conferences in 2014, and 37 players played in 20 or more College games during the season.

The only non-NCAA player taking part is Bosnian forward Dzenan Catic, who spent 2014 playing for Davenport in the NAIA, scoring 39 goals in all competitions. He has previously played professionally in Germany, featuring in 6 games for 1. FC Kaiserslautern II in Germany in 2011/12.

Catic is one of 12 European players (including dual nationals), who are due to feature at Fort Lauderdale, along with four players from the Caribbean, two from Africa, one from South America and a single player from New Zealand, Andrew Bevin, who represented his country at the 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup.

Player Name Nationality College or University NCAA Division 2014 Appearances 2014 Goals
Andy Craven
USA North Carolina Atlantic Coast 22 15
Robert Kristo USA/Croatia St.Louis Atlantic 10 20 14
Stefano Bonomo USA California Pacific 12 17 12
Maganto Ignacio Spain Iona Metro Atlantic Athletic 18 11
Sagi Lev-Ari Israel CSUN Big West 19 11
Andrew Bevin New Zealand West Virginia Mid American 15 10
Leo Stoltz Germany UCLA Pacific 12 26 10
Khiry Shelton USA Oregon St. Pacific 12 21 10

NCAA top scorers during 2014 (all competitions) who are playing at the 2015 Combine

All the information from this week’s Combine, including match teamsheets from every game will be available across all Scout7 platforms, together with detailed player records for each participating player.

If you would like to know any other information or facts relating to our research into the 2012-2104 Superdrafts, please feel free to contact me at andy@scout7.com.

In a year’s time, it will be interesting to see which of the players taking part this weekend will emerge as rising stars of US Soccer…

by Andy Cooper PR & Project Manager

Published 09 January 2015

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