Luke Kreamalmeyer was in shock, and starting to plan a trip to Baltimore, after he was chosen the Most Valuable Player at Major League Soccer's 2005 Player Combine at The Home Depot Center.
Kreamalmeyer, a little-known midfielder from Bradley University, helped himself more than any other player at the Combine, earning raves for tough, incisive play with Combine champion adidas F50+ -- and gaining an invitation to Friday's MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore.
"I was going to see how I did out here, and if I did well, I was thinking about going (to the draft)," said Kreamalmeyer, a two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference selection who scored 25 goals with 20 assists in four seasons at Bradley. "Now I think I will go."
Kreamalmeyer will receive an award at the SuperDraft named after former Columbus Crew coach Tom Fitzgerald, who was killed last month in a road accident, and he's expected to be among the top selections. He garnered heavy buzz among the coaches and observers during the Combine.
"I'm kind of shocked at the moment," Kreamalmeyer said after he was informed he was the MVP. "I think our team played pretty well, and all our players played well as a team, and that really helped me shine. I just want to thank God most of all. I overcame an injury coming here, and I'm just thankful I played well."
Kreamalmeyer, from Edwardsville, Ill., hurt his right knee in a pickup game two weeks before the Combine and was unable to train in advance of the event. He was happy with his play in the first two games, but not so much so on Tuesday.
"Today was windy, with kind of sloppy play," he said. "I think I could have done more today, but, I mean, we came out with a win, so that's good."
SUPERBUZZ: The most talked-about player at the Combine, easily, was Indiana midfielder Danny O'Rourke, who blew observers away with his performance in a driving rainstorm Sunday and looked very good on Tuesday, after the rains had departed.
O'Rourke, the MAC Hermann Trophy winner as college soccer's top player, impressed coaches with his simple, solid play, which contrasted greatly with players who were trying to show off.
"He plays simple, doesn't try to do more than he should," one coach observed. "He'll play the ball back or wide when it's warranted rather than always trying to go forward."
O'Rourke, who cemented his status as a first-round selection while leading adidas F50+ to the Combine championship, said he heard some of buzz about him at the Combine headquarters at the Torrance Marriott, but he didn't pay much attention to it.
"People would tell me (about the talk), but I mostly stayed by myself in my room. I tried to get a lot of sleep, you know? We had three days out here to prove yourself, so I took it real seriously and got my sleep, ate a lot, and whatever buzz happens, it happens."
O'Rourke, a holding midfielder who can play on the backline or as a wide midfielder -- "He can play anywhere," one scout noted -- said before the games began that he was not going to change his game for the Combine.
"I've been doing the same thing all along," he said. "I'm not going to come out here and try to show up. I think more important here, I'm with a team, and everytime I'm with a team, I like to win. If we can get three wins this weekend, I think that would show."
After F50+ did, indeed, get three wins, O'Rourke credited his teammates with helping him look good.
"Our team stepped up big and played as a team," he said. "A lot of guys (at the Combine) played as individuals, but I think our whole team stepped up big-time. I was just playing simple, like I have all year, and not doing anything more than I usually do."
FIRST PICK: Real Salt Lake, one of two MLS expansion teams, possesses the first selection in Friday's MLS SuperDraft. Coach John Ellinger and his staff are giving nothing away, but word is they'll start the proceedings by picking teenage midfielder Nikolas Besagno.
Besagno, who turned 16 in mid-November, played for Ellinger with the U.S. under-17 national team starting last April, and he quickly became a pivotal player for the U.S. as a holding midfielder.
Not everybody at the Combine was enamored of Besagno, who is from Maple Valley, Wash., near Seattle. Nobody knows him as well as Ellinger, who persuaded Besagno to turn pro now.
"(Turning pro is) basically what I always wanted to do," Besagno said. "It's a lot sooner than I expected to, but my coaches with the U-17 national team -- Ellinger, when he was with me, he told me I was ready to go. And he said this would be a good year to go.
"He was one of the first to bring it up, and then I talked to other people, and most everyone's behind me."
Besagno said he'd love to play in Utah and reunite with Ellinger.
"That would be nice to play with him again, and I'd be closer to home," he said. "I'll be closer to home if I get a West Coast team, and if not, I'm used to living on the East Coast."
Besagno said play at the Combine was faster and more physical than he's used to, and that it "was difficult at first" to adapt. "But I'm learning," he said. "You got to be quicker, play faster, stuff like that."
Besagno is one of two current U-17 players available in the draft. The other Bradenton, Fla.-based player, tall forward Quavas Kirk, turns 17 in April. He, like Besagno, is a developmental player who won't count against the salary cap or roster size.
"It's been fun (at the Combine) -- playing against people who are older is always fun," Kirk said. "Everyone's a lot better out here, more phyusical, so it gives me a chance to bring whatever I have."
Kirk, who received mixed reviews at the Combine, said turning pro "has been a dream, and it was open, right there for me. They asked, and I had to take it."
Kirk also would like to play for RSL, "but it's all up to whoever's picking. Wherever I go, it doesn't matter to me."
IN ACTION: North Carolina's Marcus Storey scored again, his third goal in as many games, and adidas F50+ won the Combine competition, beating adidas Premio 2-0 for its third victory.
Swedish forward Antou Jallow, from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, also scored for F50+, which won the battle of unbeatens at the Home Depot Center on a sunny, windy morning that followed days of heavy rains.
Storey, who also scored in victories against adidas Predator Plus 2 and adidas Aveiro, tallied Tuesday on a long-range shot from a tough angle that confounded South Carolina's Brad Guzan, considered the top goalkeeper at the Combine.
Aveiro captured its first victory in the second game of the doubleheader, beating Predator Plus 2 by a 2-1 scoreline as California's Troy Roberts and Wisconsin's Nick Van Sicklen scored goals. Coastal Carolina's Boyzzz Khumalo, from South Africa, got the goal for Predator Plus 2.
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.