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MLS Combine: Bekker, Welshman have Canada connection

LAUDERHILL, Fla. – The Canadian-ness of the three MLS teams north of the 48th has been a near-constant source of discussion since Toronto FC came into the league in 2007. When the Reds were joined first by Vancouver in 2011, then by Montreal in 2012, the hope among die-hard Voyageurs was that the league would begin to take on more of a Canuck flavor.

It hasn’t happened as quickly as some would like. But on Day 2 of the 2013 MLS Combine, a pair of Canadian talents provided some hope that there’ll be a few more regulars in the lineups this coming season.

Central midfielder Kyle Bekker and forward Emery Welshman, who both hail from Toronto and both played club ball with Sigma FC Academy, were the two stars of the day. Each had a goal, each played hard on both sides of the ball, and each improved their stock.

“It was nice to get out there and play with one of my former teammates, Emery,” Bekker said afterward. “I thought he was the best player on the field today.”

Welshman might have been. On the day’s first goal he peeled off the backline, then sent Bekker through for a nice, slotted finish. Seven minutes later he made it 2-0, finding space in the box to thump home a one-time finish with his right foot.

“It’s a huge help,” Welshman said of having a familiar face with him in the attack. “I’ve known Kyle for a while – I’ve played with him for the last, let’s say eight years. Six [or] eight years. He’s one of the most creative attacking players Canada has at the moment, and I’m so glad he’s here with me. He has good things ahead of him.”

Including, quite possibly, a spot in the top five of the draft. Bekker’s been climbing mock draft boards, and he fits a need for Vancouver – a deep-lying playmaker who can sit next to Gershon Koffie in the 4-3-3. It’s conceivable he could even go as high as Toronto at No. 3, while the Impact will be hard-pressed to go in any other direction if Bekker’s still on the board at No. 8. He’d be a natural understudy for Patrice Bernier the Montreal midfield.

As for Welshman, the quality he showed on the day could see him move into the first round. He doesn’t see himself as a top three pick – “I’m just fortunate just to have someone even ask me that question. It’s never once crossed my mind, going No. 1” – but the three Canadian teams each have two first rounders.

So if the goal is to bring some Canadian talent home, Thursday’s draft is a chance to do so in a big hurry. And to do it without sacrificing talent.

“Kyle’s honestly one of the best attacking players I’ve ever played with,” Welshman offered. “And I hope we get a chance to play together again someday.”

For country, and for club.