LAUDERHILL, Fla. – The first official day of the 2012 MLS Combine began and ended like almost every day of every combine I’ve attended: in a parade of sweaty, tired men in athletic gear.
Stepping into the lobby around 9 am, the first person I saw was Montreal coach Jesse Marsch, who’d just come in from a morning run on the beach. When asked about the weather outside, he replied, “Not bad. Certainly beats Montreal right now.”
Yeah, I’ll bet it does.
He was the first of a near endless stream of players-turned-coaches seemingly bent on being in better shape than the players they manage.
The morning was largely spent watching the medical and PR staffs put the would-be MLS players through their paces, with each prospect undergoing physicals and interviews for their bios with an assembly line-like efficiency.
Simon Borg and I eavesdropped on the interviews for a couple of hours and discovered all manner of random, interesting and just plain odd facts about this year’s crop of contenders. For instance, Louisville defensive mid Kenney Walker is a gearhead who builds go-carts and muscle cars in his spare time – he’s currently pushing a beefed-up ’94 Mustang.
There were also a few old school MLS fans among the prospects, like Creighton midfielder and Fire fan Greg Jordan.
“I remember watching them play at Soldier Field as a kid, you know with Hristo Stoichkov, Ante Razov and some of those guys,” said the Naperville, Ill. native. “They’re definitely my hometown team.”
And then there’s the gregarious UConn attacker Tony Cascio, who can seemingly talk to anyone. He was a barrel racer – yes, a barrel racer — before he found soccer.
I guess that’s what you do, though, if you grow up some place that lacks both pro and NCAA Division 1 soccer like Arizona.
After a quick lunch with the brothers Lalas, it was off to Central Broward Regional Park to take in the day’s two matches. But before the teams could kick off there was the small matter of physical testing.
Each player ran the 40, tested his vertical leap and engaged in a few other drills. The testing’s “Oh, wow” moment came courtesy of 6-foot-3 University of Alabama-Birmingham forward Babayele Sodade. He touched the top of the stick used to measure the vertical leap with a semi-casual ease that made you wonder why he wasn’t down the road in Miami playing with LeBron.
As for the two matches, the first was more entertaining than the last, with plenty of goals coming from both sides in the Team adiPower’s 3-2 win over Team PRIME.
UCLA’s Chandler Hoffman was the hero with his game-winning goal, but it was the match’s opening strike from Notre Dame’s Brendan King that left a mark with me; I’ve always been a fan of a nice, cheeky chip.
As things wound down just after sunset, the players slowly boarded the bus back to the hotel to march through the lobby as spent and sweaty as their potential coaches did in the morning. I guess the circle remains unbroken.