Home is where the Combine is

Consider Jack Stewart and Matt Kovar the true hosts of Major League Soccer's adidas 2005 Player Combine. They live just down the way. Literally.

"People here ask where I'm from," said Stewart, a defender from Notre Dame who grew up near the MLS Combine headquarters at the Torrance Marriott. "I live down the street. Literally, down the street. I walked here."

Kovar, a defender from nearby Loyola Marymount, needed his car. He lives up the hill, in posh Palos Verdes Estates, a 15-minute drive in traffic.

"It's great (being at home)," Kovar said. "My family is going to come out and watch. I just wish the weather was better."

Stewart took the blame for the weather, saying he brought it with him from central France, where he was on trial with top-flight Auxerre. He has a rooting section for the Combine games, too.

"My grandparents came in, so they're going to come watch," he said. "I have friends who haven't seen me play, and (former) coaches, as well."

Stewart and Kovar, perhaps with help from UCLA's Michael Enfield and Aaron Lopez, could direct Combine participants to the best spots in southern California, but the rain -- and Combine schedule -- has dampened those options.

Said Stewart: "All the guys from Notre Dame, the guys I grew up with in the (U.S. youth) national teams, it's like, 'Hey, want to come to my house?' "

Stewart and Kovar are among the country's top college defenders, and both have sparked interest among MLS coaches and scouts. Stewart is graded by some the best defender available in Friday's MLS SuperDraft, and Kovar caught the attention of Los Angeles Galaxy coach Steve Sampson during a Galaxy tryout last month.

"I talked to Sampson a little bit," said Kovar, a Galaxy fan who would love to stay in L.A. "He came up to me and said he was impressed with my play in the (Galaxy) combine. He wanted me to play (in a scrimmage) against the (U.S.) U-20s, but I tweaked my hamstring and had to watch."

Stewart became a Chicago Fire fan while at Notre Dame, and said he'd love to play in the Windy City, or in Dallas -- where he has "people" -- or at home.

"I'm still a Galaxy fan, but since that whole Sigi firing thing, I've been kind of turned off," said Stewart, whose family is friends with former Galaxy coach (and current U.S. under-20 national team boss) Sigi Schmid, let go by the club late last season. Stewart played with Kurt Schmid, Sigi's youngest son, at South Torrance High School.

"Our families are close," Stewart said. "My mom talks to Sigi all the time, especially about finding an agent. My parents are freaking about that."

Schmid, who is preparing the U.S. U-20s for the CONCACAF qualifying tournament that begins Wednesday at Home Depot Center, says his son, Kurt, "has the assist record at South Torrance. And at least half of the assists were to Jack's head." Stewart scored 44 goals with 40 assists at South Torrance, No. 5 on the school's all-time scoring list.

Stewart is projected as a first-round draft choice, but he's not certain what will occur Friday in Baltimore.

"This is a great year from defenders," he said. "It depends on how you do this weekend. This is the showcase to see where you place in the draft."

Despite his time at Auxerre, and interest from other European clubs, Stewart wants to play in MLS.

"It went really well in France, and I think that will always be an option for me in the future," he said. "I want to stay here in MLS, see what comes of that, and if things get going pretty well, I might go back and try my luck in Europe.

"But I'll stay here for a few years. I mean, if you can't make it in MLS, you won't be able to make it over there."

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.

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