Combine 2005: Taking stock
The purpose of the adidas MLS Player Combine was a simple one: provide a platform for players to showcase their wares on a level playing field in advance of this Friday's SuperDraft, to be held in Baltimore. Coming out of the three days of play in dreadful conditions at The Home Depot Center, a number of players certainly saw their stock rise -- while a few might have seen theirs fall.
Scrappy midfielder Luke Kreamalmayer out of Bradley University probably helped himself the most with his play over the three Combine matches, earning the Most Valuable Player award for the event. He also garnered an invitation to attend the SuperDraft -- usually indicative of someone likely to be selected in the first round.
Indiana midfielder Danny O'Rourke, winner of the MAC Hermann Trophy this year as the nation's top collegiate player, showed the award was deserved with his outstanding play over the three days and did little to harm his likely selection very early on Friday afternoon.
Real Salt Lake owns the first overall pick in the SuperDraft, and the early dope is Real head coach John Ellinger will kick off the day by selecting teenage midfielder Nikolas Besagno.
One of two under-17 players in the draft this year, Besagno played for Ellinger when he was in charge of the U.S. U-17 national team, and the Salt Lake coach convinced the youngster to turn pro. As a developmental player, Besagno also won't count against the senior player limit on MLS rosters.
CD Chivas USA has the second pick, but there is less indication who they have in mind.
Besagno didn't necessarily gather as many raves as Kreamalmeyer and O'Rourke, but others did turn heads. Here's a look at who else best impressed during the Combine:
GOALKEEPERS: South Carolina's Brad Guzan and Notre Dame's Chris Sawyer were the most impressive goalkeepers at the Combine. Guzan, who as a developmental player won't count against the salary cap or roster size, turned a lot of heads with his play, not always for the best.
Scouts believe Guzan, 20, will be an outstanding 'keeper with a little seasoning, but he looked bad on a free-kick goal Monday by Southwest Missouri State's Doug Lascody and a long-range goal Tuesday by North Carolina's Marcus Storey.
DEFENDERS: Notre Dame's Jack Stewart and Kevin Goldthwaite are considered two of the best from a superb class of defenders. Stewart, perhaps the best back available, appears certain to be gobbled up in the first-round.
Connecticut's Stephen Arias, California's Troy Roberts, Wake Forest's Michael Parkhurst and James Riley, and Indiana's Drew Moor are the other top available defenders. Moor and Parkhurst did not have outstanding Combines, but their play in college sold coaches on their abilities.
MIDFIELDERS: Other than Kreamalmayer, O'Rourke and Besagno, midfielders who stood out were UCLA's Michael Enfield, Wake Forest's Amir Lowery and St. John's Simone Salinno, who is from Italy.
FORWARDS: Wake Forest forward Scott Sealy, a Trinidad & Tobago national-teamer, might be the best forward available. Also impressive was Hartwick's Edwin Ruiz, who stood out as a wide midfielder. Fresno Pacific's Orlando Ramirez, the lone NAIA player in the Combine, had a strong showing up front Sunday, and he held his own in midfield Monday and Tuesday.
The players who drew the most extreme reactions were North Carolina forward Marcus Storey and UC Santa Barbara defender Tony Lochhead, a New Zealand international. Storey, who scored a Combine-best three goals, impressed with his speed and ability to summon magic at times, but some see him as soft and inconsistent.
Lochhead wasn't happy with his Combine performance, and some scouts don't believe he's fast enough to be an effective backline player in MLS. Others rave about his heady play and ability to attack on the left flank.
Two of the four developmental players who missed the Combine because they're with the U.S. under-20 team are highly rated. UCLA forward Chad Barrett and Saint Louis defender Tim Ward are expected to be taken very quickly on Friday. The U-20 team, training at the Home Depot Center, opens qualifying for the World Youth Championship on Wednesday night.
Scott French, a veteran soccer journalist working for the Los Angeles Daily News, is covering the 2005 adidas MLS Player Combine for MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.