The annual MLS combine in Florida, which always directly precedes the draft, can be a good friend or a bitter enemy.
It’s going one way or the other for three teams this year, clubs that allocated extra weight to performances in Florida over the past few days. Put another way, Thursday’s MLS draft may turn into something of a referendum on the dependability of the combine as an accurate evaluation tool.
Three players chosen Thursday’s significantly elevated their standing at the annual pre-draft combine. None moreso that Tesho Akindele, who was perhaps a low second round pick coming into the combine. This story called Akindele “penny stock” of the combine, a scarcely known type who quickly evolved into the revelation of the games in Florida.
So when the forward out of Colorado School of Mines (not making that up … heck, he’s not even the first player from the engineering school; Craig Thompson in 2008 was the school’s first draftee) went at No. 6 overall to Dallas, that was a head-turner.
Blessed with speed and athleticism, there was a rush by MLS clubs to interview Akindele over the last few days, based on those eye-catching performances. Of course, the man who took Akindele was in position to know about him all along; FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja (pictured above) just left his position at DSG Park, just across Denver from School of the Mines.
Andre Lewis, taking one spot later at No. 7 by Vancouver, was another so-called “no-namer” coming into the combine. But the Jamaican under-20 was impressive right away for his skill and ability to hold the ball under duress.
Later, Toronto selected Nick Hagglund at No. 10 overall. He was one of the more impressive center backs at the Florida combine.
The annual combine is certainly a valuable tool in the belt, but it has flaws. After all, what can the prepared coach, GM or technical director learn in two or three says that they don’t already know about these guys?
Still, scouts and managers can be swayed or dissuade by performance at the combine, as we see. And perhaps this year’s thin draft is the one where clubs can take a chance, grabbing someone on a bit of a flier, safe in the knowledge that there aren’t a bunch of game-breakers out there anyway.