FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Combine isn’t just about eyeing up the latest crop of collegiate wunderkinds. It’s also about the Great & Growing Fraternal Order of MLS Technical Staffs getting together to swap a lot of tall tales, a few draft picks and even a player or two.
Spend enough time hanging around Ft. Lauderdale, and you start to get the feeling that the deals could get done anytime, anywhere. Here’s a list of places that I have seen coaches, technical directors and general managers congregating in the last 24 hours:
- The hotel bar/lobby: ground zero for feeling out a potential trade partner but also a great place to give misinformation on which prospects you may be interested in.
- Poolside: nearly every table beside the pool today featured men in tracksuits having lunch and talking shop. “Pass the second-round pick,” could come out just as easy as, “Pass the ketchup, please.”
- Starbucks: Perhaps unsurprisingly, members of the Sounders contingent have been spotted here multiple times. If you’re looking to work a deal with Sigi & Co., head toward the Starbucks sign, as it is their “bat signal.”
- The gym: I went into the packed gym today for a long overdue workout, and I was one of only two people in the place that weren’t decked out in club-issued training apparel.
- Behind the bleachers at the Broward County Regional Park: the no-man’s land between the spectator’s stands and the coaches' seats seems to be one of the choice spots for side conversations and muted talk.
And those are just the places that are “on campus.” I'm sure MLS decision makers are arranging secret rendezvous meetings far afield.
Since I’m mentioning the field, the standouts of Sunday’s matches were Japanese youth international Kohei Yamada, Marquette’s Scottish midfielder Calum Mallace and Creighton striker Ethan Finlay.
Finlay showed up fashionably late to the Combine – he missed Day 1 to be at the Hermann Award presentation in St. Louis – but left one hell of an impression after scoring three goals before the end of the first half. After that performance, one thing he won’t be is a late draft pick. I don’t see him slipping to the second round.
Not that the second round is a bad place to be. The New York Red Bulls' Dane Richards went in the second round in 2007, and he’s done more than alright for himself. The Jamaican winger was in the stands for today’s games and humored me by recalling his combine and draft experience.
“At first I was a bit nervous because I wanted to go pro so bad,” he said. “I was a bit edgy but the more I played and expressed myself I got more comfortable.”
“By draft day, I wasn’t too nervous because [former Red Bulls assistant coach] John Harkes had contacted me and said that they didn’t have a pick in the first round but that they would try to get me in the second, so it was just a waiting game.”
Richards was one part of a posse of Jamaican MLSers that congregated at the base of the stands following the game. Former Rookie of the Year Damani Ralph and the recently retired Andy Williams joined Richards to crack jokes in a patois as thick as uncut grass.
Too bad Robin Fraser was already trekking away from the stadium and missed all the fun. His presence would have completed the straight flush of MLS irie.