MLS Combine: Wild draw, pesky post define Combine finales
LAUDERHILL, Fla. – The rain came early. The goals came throughout.
That was the story for the opener at Day 3 of the MLS Combine, which saw adiZero and Prime play to an up-and-down 2-2 draw. Senior target forward Will Bates keyed Prime in the first half, drawing a PK and setting up goal from Blake Smith (above), while fellow senior Ashton Bennett got the capper in adiZero’s two-goal second-half comeback.
Bates’ big day could mean big things for his draft stock. He had a productive senior year for Virginia despite coming off of ACL surgery, but questions about his fitness have haunted him. He showed good burst in drawing the penalty, sneaking behind the adiZero backline and onto a Ryan Finley through ball in the 26th minute before being dragged down by goalkeeper James Belshaw. Finley converted for the 1-0 lead.
Bates, who’ll be a true center forward in the Bright Dike mold at the next level, then showed exactly that skillset. He peeled off the backline in the 35th minute, showing good strength and agility to hold off a defender, then slotted Smith through to make it 2-0.
It looked like the rout was on, but adiZero came back into the game after halftime by pushing the Prime backline deep and opening the game up. Central midfielder Kyle Bekker was the first to take advantage, curling home a 25-yard free kick in the 43rd minute after Nico Clavijo had been scythed down. It was Bekker’s second goal in three games.
Bennett, a Jamaican with Canadian residency, then got into the act. He continued his habit of finding good chances, and got his best one in the 49th minute after dispossessing central defender Ben Fisk in the area. Bennett fired low and hard from six yards, beating David Meves to make it 2-2. It was also his second goal of the Combine.
Bennett, as well as senior wingers Erik Hurtado and Emery Welshman, all had a number of chances to find the winner, but were repeatedly denied by either Meves or the woodwork.
GAME 1: ADIZERO 2, PRIME 2
PR: Finley (penalty) 27’
PR: B. Smith (Bates) 35’
AZ: Bekker, 43’
AZ: Bennett (Hurtado) 49’
GAME 2: AdiPure 2, AdiPower 1
Only the woodwork prevented the second match from erupting into an all-out goal fest as adiPure downed adiPower 2-1 in the Combine finale.
Two of the best international players of the Combine, left-footed Brazilian midfielder Stefano Pinho and Cameroonian winger Yazid Atouba, wreaked havoc early down both flanks for AdiPower. But it was attacking midfielder Coleton Henning who came closest to a goal in the 35th minute after his shot was deflected off the crossbar.
The crossbar also denied New Mexico’s Devon Sandoval of AdiPure. During another effective Steven Lenhart-like outing, his 24th-minute blast from outside the box grazed the top of the bar. But the best player of the first half was his adiPure teammate Donnie Smith, who was a constant menace down the left side.
The goals came early in the second half with UCLA’s Fernando Monge and DeShorn Brown putting adiPure up 2-0 just 10 minutes after the break with good runs into the box behind the defense. Pure continued to pour it on with Monge coming close again in the 62nd minute and Paul Wyatt seeing his shot come off the post six minutes later.
AdiPower would respond with a goal by Generation adidas product Mikey Lopez, who knocked it home from the top of the box to reduce the deficit with six minutes remaining. But goalkeeper Brad Stuver prevented the equalizer with a fantastic save on a blazing Jason Johnson run into the box with three minutes remaining to preserve the adiPure victory.