MLS Combine Diary: Day 1

Welcome to Florida.

The weather is warm and the sun is shining, which can only mean one thing: The MLS Combine has arrived, and so have we. 

Unfortunately, Day One at the Combine is relatively slow in terms of action. The games kick off Friday, so Thursday was a time for all the players to check-in, introduce themselves to one another and get settled in for what are now the most important three matches of their career so far. 

Here's what we saw, what we heard, and what we're looking forward to on Day Two:

Hotel Lobby = Combine Headquarters
It's true. If you entered the player's hotel anytime between 2 and 6pm ET on Thursday, you were greeted by a throng of this country's top college soccer talent, congregated in the lobby waiting for their entrance physicals.

All the while, agents came and went (Damani Ralph was everywhere today), a few coaches stopped by (Thomas Rongen is here representing TFC) and we asked pretty much every player: If you could have dinner with four people, alive or dead, who would it be?

The responses, as you might imagine, ran the gamut. There were a few Bob Marleys, some Biggies, Messi and then a lot of Taylor Swift, Kate Beckinsale, Mila Kunis, Kate Upton and Megan Fox. 

Big Man on Campus
While the vast majority of the Combine prospects gave off a nervous energy on Thursday, there was one who already looks the part of a pro: Eriq Zavaleta.

Son of a former El Salvador national teamer, nephew of Greg Vanney, national champion and newly-minted Generation adidas signee, Zavaleta cruised around like a guy who knows his spot in professional soccer is already booked. We'll see if the swagger translates on the pitch, and how much he can help his stock. 

Meanwhile, across the street....
Literally, across the street, coaches and GMs for every club were arriving, and getting straight down to business. While the players met each other with jokes and bro-hugs, there was no nonsense at the "adults" hotel.

We saw Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson looking awfully stern watching opposition technical staff file in, while Frank Klopas and his staff had already commandeered a massive conference room next to the lobby for two reasons: One, so the Fire braintrust could discuss their next moves as a group. Two, so everyone else could see them discussing their next moves as a group. This is fun. 

Meet the Press
After the players were treated to a welcome dinner and an introductory speech from Alfonso Mondelo, eight of the top prospects sat down with to talk a little soccer, a little family and whatever else came up.

The most charming? Carlos Alvarez of UCONN, whose big smile is sure to be a hit wherever he ends up. The most interesting, though? Kekuta Manneh. A native of Gambia, Manneh just turned 18, and you could tell. Manneh spoke softly, almost trembling at times, but everyone here says his game does the talking for him, so I guess that's sufficient.