On Thursday evening, the night before the start of the 2013 MLS Combine, pretty much every participant was relaxing in their room after a day of travel and an evening of physicals and paperwork.
That is, everyone but Ryan Clark. You could have looked high and low for the Monmouth University graduate, but you wouldn't have found him.
Turns out, Clark wasn't even at the hotel at all. He was out running. Where to? Not even he knew. The kid just runs.
"I just left the hotel, turned right and ran straight," Clark told us on Saturday, carrying a gallon of water around the hotel and fitted out in tights to help the recovery process from a tough first match in Fort Lauderdale.
You see, Clark is somewhat of an anomaly down here. Usually the college kids need to be taught about the importance of fitness, while Clark has already earned the "young professional" moniker from those who have had the chance to work with him. No detail is too small.
"After the game yesterday I had a recovery shake and everyone was asking me where I got it," Clark said on Saturday. "I was like 'I brought it.' That's just who I am."
There's little doubting Clark's off-field habits helped to get him here, but the interesting thing about his case as a potential draftee in Ft. Lauderdale, is that he shouldn't even be here at all.
On merit, you would expect that a player with Clark's resume would stand a decent shot at an invite to come mix it up with some of the nation's top players. The kid was a freshman All-American before suffering a self-diagnosed double sports hernia at the end of his first term at Monmouth. By the time he'd recovered completely, he was back to his best, dishing out six assists while playing all over the field in his senior year.
So when the college season ended and it become time to take the next step, Clark was hopeful that a Combine invite was on the way.
It didn't come.
"I was very upset when I found out, because I felt like I deserved to be here." Clark said, remembering the call he got from his coach Rob McCourt informing him that he was named as an alternate, just barely missing out on the original list of 54.
Still set on seeking out playing opportunities, Clark took to Seattle to participate in a Sounders FC group tryout before returning to home to New Jersey.
Then one day, just before Christmas, Clark's cell phone lit up.
"There was no one home, and the call was from some random number. I had no clue who it was."
Still, he answered.
"Ryan? This is Jan Osborne from MLS."
Clark didn't need to hear anymore. Through some kind of circumstance, whatever it was, he was in. Alternate no more.
"I hung up the phone and just started sprinting around the house." said Clark, beginning to crack a smile. "I was home alone, I wanted to tell someone but I couldn't so I just...ran around. I actually put on that Pitbull song Don't Stop the Party, I put that on, blasted it. I was pumped."
Fast forward a few weeks, and Clark found himself on Prime, led by Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley and some of the draft's top prospects. Trying to fit in (and hopefully shine) on a team with the likes of Eriq Zavaleta, Carlos Alvarez, Blake Smith and Kekuta Manneh can be a daunting task for many less-heralded talents, but Clark took it all in stride.
"I knew a lot of the names, I love playing with good players, I thought we were stacked."
Still, despite the firepower, Prime found themselves trailing adiPower 1-0 at halftime on Friday. Needing some more energy to help gain control of the match, Clark was asked to come on and help put the clamps on an adiPower all-everything midfield combo of John Stertzer and Mikey Lopez. Sure, why not?
"They were having their way with us," Clark recalled. "They told me just to press out, get in their face and run as much as possible to help free up [Alvarez]."
Clark did a little more than that. Midway through the half, the Freehold, N.J. native found himself on the ball and in space on the right. Perfect. Clark curled a left-footed shot toward the backpost that for a moment looked goal-bound before crashing off the bar and over the target (Watch it here). Still, if the goal was to put his mark on the game, that effort certainly got everyone's attention.
— Ryan Clark (@RyanClark610) January 12, 2013
It remains to be seen how Clark will fare over the next two matches, and ultimately whether or not he's selected next Thursday. Still, his Friday performance prompted Real Salt Lake to schedule an interview, with more clubs perhaps set to follow in the coming days.
As for what he's expecting from here on out? More of the same, which should be good enough.
"I know I'm not high on everyone's draft board because a lot of these teams dont really know me as well," Clark said. "I'm not on Fox Soccer Channel, I don't play in all these big games, but I know I have as much talent as anyone here."
The worst-kept secret in the days leading up to the MLS SuperDraft next Thursday is what Chivas USA want to do with that second overall pick.
And if there was any ambiguity as to what new head coach "El Chelis" Sola will do with his first-ever shot at the draft, he pretty much put that to rest on his Twitter account on Friday from the first day of the MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
It looks like he's doing a couple of things with this one. He's clearly tipping his hand about his intentions to snag North Carolina midfielder Mikey Lopez or Connecticut's Carlos Alvarez, two talented prospects and the best Mexican-American players in the draft. Alvarez, in fact, fits the bill nicely with an East LA background and a father who once played for Chivas Guadalajara.
But is he also hinting that one day these guys might play for the Goats' Mexican brother down in Guadalajara? It certainly sounds like it (we'll assume Maeve is a misspell or translation snafu for "maybe'), which means Chelis might have visions of turning his players into Mexican leaue prospects for the future. It's about to get real, real interesting at Chivas USA.
@cdchivasusa all the young is very good, but chivas need Mexico-American young players, because in a future Maeve play in Mexico.
— José Luis Sanchez (@Elchelis) January 12, 2013
The first set of matches at MLS Combine always gets a bad rap. The players are nervous, they don't know each other yet, it's sloppy soccer. Blah. Blah. Blah.
We don't know what changed this year, but eight goals in two games was enough to please us. Here's what went down at Central Broward on Friday:
New coaches get acquainted
Fresh off his appointment as man in change of Montreal Impact, we got our first look at Marco Schällibaum and his new staff, along with a couple others.
Schällibaum, Joey Saputo and the rest of their staff posted up in a "viewing room" with the guys from Sporting KC. If you know anything about Peter Vermes, you know there was zero chance of him just sitting there without poking the bear a little bit. We'll leave it at that.
Caleb Porter did his best Jason Kreis impression by sitting next to Jason Kreis (photo above) and not moving for the entire session. There was a whole lot of serious going on at that bench.
Chelís is here! As you might expect, he wasn't super social, preferring to stand off to the side of the bleachers or watch from the box up above. We saw Frank Klopas meander over to the Chivas USA boss at one point, but then again, Klopas was meandering over to everyone. He's up to something down here.
The MLS Combine: Where you're always reminded you aren't a pro...yet
Following adiPrime v. adiPure, we had the chance to speak to Luis Soffner, goalkeeper for the recently-crowned College Cup champion Indiana Hoosiers. Great kid who put in a good shift for Prime, but really got shafted in the apparel department. Make no mistake, the yellow goalkeeper shirt from adidas looked good. The only problem was that where you might find a team crest, there were just three simple words:
TEAM CREST HERE (see photo on the right)
Looks like Mr. Soffner has a template on his hands this week. Extra motivation, maybe, but it still made for a good laugh.
Dillon Powers is a bad man
Remember those interviews we told you about last night? Powers was included, but we didn't really have anything to say about it because the kid gave the most measured, business-like statements we've heard since Bob Bradley. His approach on the field today was no different.
Minutes into the second match on Friday, the gallery of coaches, trainers, agents and media let out their first collective "Oooooooohhhhhh!" of the weekend. Goal of the day, no doubt:
Tomorrow is an off day for the players before round two on Sunday. Now it's off to the coaches hotel for a while, we'll let you know what we hear.
Ce jeudi 17 janvier aura lieu le SuperDraft de la MLS, grande séance de recrutement annuelle permettant aux clubs d’embaucher des talents en herbe, pour la plupart issus des universités américaines. Vous avez envie de suivre l’événement en direct ? Ça tombe bien, il sera retransmis dans le monde entier !
Alors que le premier choix sera diffusé en direct à l’émission ESPN SportsCenter, la séance sera retransmise dans son intégralité sur ESPN3, ESPNFC, MLSsoccer.com, les sites des clubs de MLS et YouTube, le tout en haute définition et commenté par Alexi Lalas et Taylor Twellman.
« Nous prenons une voie plus progressiste et centrée sur les supporters pour notre façon de diffuser et de produire le SuperDraft 2013 de la MLS, a déclaré Howard Handler, directeur commercial de la MLS. Nous avons une base de supporters jeune, diversifiée et friande de nouvelles technologies, qui regardera l’évènement de la maison, du bureau, du café ou de n’importe où ailleurs. Le soccer est un sport planétaire et cette nouvelle initiative nous permet également de continuer à nous adresser aux passionnés de la MLS à travers le monde. »
Votre club favori va peut-être profiter de l’occasion pour recruter le prochain Nick DeLeon, Austin Berry, CJ Sapong ou Darlington Nagbe. Les recrues potentielles sont actuellement réunies en Floride pour l’Évaluation annuelle des espoirs de la MLS et se produisent devant les prospecteurs et entraîneurs des 19 clubs. Ces derniers connaissent les joueurs à surveiller, car ils les suivent depuis plusieurs mois. Si vous souhaitez les découvrir, lisez ce qu’en disent les experts de MLSsoccer.com qui ont fait leurs prévisions de recrutement.
Exciting times for Mikey Lopez.
The kid's a GA, projected to be a top 10 pick and getting ready to head off with the US Under-20s in the next week.
Lopez showed exactly why he's so highly touted in the first match of the MLS Combine on Friday, holding down the midfield for adiPower in the first half of their 2-2 draw vs. adiPrime.
MLSsoccer.com's own Armchair Analyst, Matthew Doyle, caught up with Lopez after the match, where the 19-year-old gave some interesting tidbits on his team's performance, as well as the reason why he had to come off. Video below.
The clubs have had an incredibly busy week - a week that started off with Soccer Night in Newtown, an event that saw all MLS clubs coming together to support the community in Newtown. Read first-hand accounts from MLS players who attended the event and other impactful community stories in the highlights below.
For more community news from around the League, visit the MLS W.O.R.K.S. news section.
Rumors have been flying about the future of the US international and Chivas USA striker Juan Agudelo ever since he trained at Celtic in November. Now, it seems the 20-year-old's future could be close to decided.
Although vague and unsourced, Sky Sports reported Friday that Celtic are close to signing one of MLS' most-promising forward prospects. While nothing has been confirmed by Agudelo or Celtic, Agudelo's retweet of the Sky Sports article seems to add some veritas to the rumor.
Chivas USA, meanwhile, told Big Apple Soccer back in November that they weren't interested in transferring the young talent. Agudelo, who is currently training with West Ham before arriving in US camp, would likely welcome the move, if his comments while with the Glasgow club are any indication.
Agudelo told STV at that time that he would love to play for Celtic: "This kind of move has been on my mind for as long as I can remember playing soccer. Going and playing in Europe is what I would like to do. This is, right now, where the best football is being played. I would love to play here."
What do you think? Is it just a matter of time before Agudelo makes the move? Is it the right move for the young striker?
Welcome to Florida.
The weather is warm and the sun is shining, which can only mean one thing: The MLS Combine has arrived, and so have we.
Unfortunately, Day One at the Combine is relatively slow in terms of action. The games kick off Friday, so Thursday was a time for all the players to check-in, introduce themselves to one another and get settled in for what are now the most important three matches of their career so far.
Here's what we saw, what we heard, and what we're looking forward to on Day Two:
Hotel Lobby = Combine Headquarters
It's true. If you entered the player's hotel anytime between 2 and 6pm ET on Thursday, you were greeted by a throng of this country's top college soccer talent, congregated in the lobby waiting for their entrance physicals.
All the while, agents came and went (Damani Ralph was everywhere today), a few coaches stopped by (Thomas Rongen is here representing TFC) and we asked pretty much every player: If you could have dinner with four people, alive or dead, who would it be?
The responses, as you might imagine, ran the gamut. There were a few Bob Marleys, some Biggies, Messi and then a lot of Taylor Swift, Kate Beckinsale, Mila Kunis, Kate Upton and Megan Fox.
Big Man on Campus
While the vast majority of the Combine prospects gave off a nervous energy on Thursday, there was one who already looks the part of a pro: Eriq Zavaleta.
Son of a former El Salvador national teamer, nephew of Greg Vanney, national champion and newly-minted Generation adidas signee, Zavaleta cruised around like a guy who knows his spot in professional soccer is already booked. We'll see if the swagger translates on the pitch, and how much he can help his stock.
Meanwhile, across the street....
Literally, across the street, coaches and GMs for every club were arriving, and getting straight down to business. While the players met each other with jokes and bro-hugs, there was no nonsense at the "adults" hotel.
We saw Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson looking awfully stern watching opposition technical staff file in, while Frank Klopas and his staff had already commandeered a massive conference room next to the lobby for two reasons: One, so the Fire braintrust could discuss their next moves as a group. Two, so everyone else could see them discussing their next moves as a group. This is fun.
Meet the Press
After the players were treated to a welcome dinner and an introductory speech from Alfonso Mondelo, eight of the top prospects sat down with MLSSoccer.com to talk a little soccer, a little family and whatever else came up.
The most charming? Carlos Alvarez of UCONN, whose big smile is sure to be a hit wherever he ends up. The most interesting, though? Kekuta Manneh. A native of Gambia, Manneh just turned 18, and you could tell. Manneh spoke softly, almost trembling at times, but everyone here says his game does the talking for him, so I guess that's sufficient.
— MLS Insider (@MLS_Insider) January 11, 2013
Scottish striker Kenny Miller might be on his way out of MLS if he doesn’t prove he’s worth the Designated Player spot in the coming months.
The Vancouver Whitecaps' prized striker joined the team last July and didn’t quite live up to the goalscoring star club president Bob Lenarduzzi was hoping for. Miller scored just two goals in 13 games and had what Lenaruzzi described a “disappointing” season.
According to Lenarduzzi, Miller's future, "really depends on how well he does."
If Miller’s contract is terminated early, a certain Ibrox side is rumored to have their eye on their former forward. Could this mean another return to the Rangers for Miller? Is three times a charm?
Thierry Henry simply can't be stopped.
Even though the quality isn’t great, this video of Henry in Brazil shows why he is truly one of the best in Major League Soccer.
We're sure Red Bull fans hope Henry brings some of those quick tricks back to New York for the 2013 season.