FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Is there a star in the making here at the 2014 MLS Player Combine in central midfield? According to most scouts, managers and execs, the answer is "probably not."
But according to those same MLS intelligentsia, there are plenty of central midfielders who can play – guys who do the simple things well, like winning and circulating the ball, shielding the backline, and breaking up play. It's not glamorous, but it wins games.
Here's our list of the best central midfielders (d-mids and box-to-box) in the 2014 SuperDraft:
1. J.J. Koval (Stanford) – Stands out for how simple he keeps the game even when everything around him is a mess. Always connects the easy pass, and while he hasn't shown the ability to hit a game-breaker at the Combine, it was part of his repertoire in college. Best fit is as a deep-lying distributor. Range: Mid-to-late first round
2. Romena Bowie (VCU) – Big, strong and fast, he eats up ground and loves to connect a pass then get forward into whatever space is available. But he doesn't over-complicate the game in the process. Loves to make the game north-south. Best fit is as a box-to-box midfidler who starts deep. Range: Mid-first round to early second
3. Marlon Hairston (Louisville - Generation adidas) – Incredibly quick over short and long distances, with good feet and a knack for popping up around the ball. Not wildly technical, and struggles to play longer passes, but he's reliable when he keeps it simple. Needs to become a box-to-box terrier, a Diego Chara-type. Should spend two years in USL PRO to get reps. Range: Mid-to-late first round
4. Jared Watts (Wake Forest) – Big, strong, reliable and experienced. He doesn't seem to have the tempo-setting abilities of a Koval, or nearly the range of a Bowie, but he doesn't let the game get away from him defensively and has fairly quick feet. Was part of the same US U-17s that included Luis Gil, Perry Kitchen and Jack McInerney. Best fit is as a pure backline shield. Range: Mid-first round to early second
5. George Fochive (Connecticut) – Came into college as a typical bulldog, but over the course of four years developed some subtlety to his game. First things first, though: He's a ball-winner, and incredibly powerful in the challenge, then usually makes the simple play. Best fit is as exactly that. Range: Late first to early second round
Others to keep an eye on: Joey Dillon (Georgetown), Fifi Baiden (UC Santa Barbara), Alec Sundly (California), Michael Kafari (New Mexico), Tyler Gibson (UNC-Charlotte), Brian Ciesiulka (Marquette), Aslinn Rodas (Cleveland State)