Photo courtesy of MLS/Andy Mead
By FRANCO PANIZO
LAUDERHILL, Fla. — Cohesion and comfortability are words not usually associated with the first day of an MLS combine, but you would have had a hard time coming to that conclusion after seeing how some of the midfielders stole the show on Day 1 of the 2013 MLS Player Combine.
From Maryland’s John Stertzer’s solid all around play to UConn’s Carlos Alvarez’s game-changing contributions, several midfielders found ways to impress the throngs of fans and coaches in attendance at Central Broward Regional Park & Stadium on Friday afternoon. The abilities of many of the midfielders made for some delightful moments on a day that is typically used to shake off the offseason cobwebs, and they helped make for an eight-goal Day 1.
AdiPower (red) tied Prime (green), 2-2, in the first game but the first half was total domination in favor of adiPower. Thanks to the midfield trio of Stertzer, North Carolina’s Mikey Lopez and Winthrop’s Alex Isern, adiPower bossed possession for long stretches. Their sharp, quick passes caused problems for Prime, who faced waves of attacks before succumbing to a well-taken goal from Stertzer in the 25th minute.
Stertzer, who was arguably the day’s best player, was also involved in one of the best passing sequences in recent memory of MLS Combines. He interchanged passes with Lopez in a crowded area before the ball was played through to forward Chris Thomas, whose ensuing goal was not counted as it came from an offside position. Still, the play demonstrated just how talented some of adiPower’s midfielders are.
“We were talking about it in pre-game, what we were trying to do on the field in the game and it worked out perfectly,” the 19-year-old Lopez, who is a member of the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team and this year’s Generation adidas class, told SBI. “It felt like we’d been playing together with each other for a long, long time and it was a surprising thing because it was the first time playing with each other.”
The impressive and dominant trio was broken up at halftime, however, to make way for other players looking to showcase their talents and that allowed for Alvarez and Prime to get back in the game. Prime was able to hold onto the ball better, which allowed Alvarez to bounce back from an invisible first half and make an impact.
The attacking midfielder trimmed a two-goal deficit in half when he scored clinically in the 54th minute and he also set up the equalizing goal from Kekuta Manneh 10 minutes later. Alvarez found the back of the net after impeccably controlling a pass with his left foot to set up a shot with his right, and delivered his assist with a simple but smart pass to a streaking Manneh.
“At UConn I have the ability to go back down and grab the ball, but here (the coach) wanted me to stay high,” said Alvarez. “It’s something new for me, but at the end of the day, whatever the coach wants, that’s whatever I’m going to do. I have a winning mentality and I just want to win.”
The strong midfield play carried over into the second game, as adiZero (blue) overwhelmed adiPure (light blue), 4-0. Dillon Powers was at the front and center of the action, scoring the winner off a beautiful blast from distance while also assisting on the final tally of the day with a sublime delivery from a free kick from the right flank.
Powers also was impressive in terms of moving the ball quickly and defending, and the Notre Dame midfielder felt he did well in more than just the game.
“I tried to build speed (to prepare for the combine) and I know one of the knocks on me is athleticism and I think I tested well today in the tests (before the game), which was good,” Powers told SBI. “I think I maybe put too much emphasis on that rather than cardio, so I was tired out there today but hopefully throughout the week I can kind of build some fitness up.”
FIVE OTHER PLAYERS WHO IMPRESSED ON MLS COMBINE DAY ONE
GREG COCHRANE, defender, Prime
Showed good hustle and energy getting up and down the flank, and was one of the lone bright spots for Prime in the first half. Also demonstrated versatility, playing on the left flank in the first half before switching to the right in the second.
KOFI OPARE, defender, adiPower
Helped shutdown Eriq Zavaleta with his strength and physicality, and his aerial ability was also impressive. Didn’t make any major mistakes, though his positioning did look suspect at times.
CHRIS THOMAS, forward, adiPower
Thomas was on the end of some good service from the team’s dominant midfield trio, but he also created some things on his own. On one play, with his back to goal, Thomas shielded his defender as he trapped the ball, then turned well before firing a shot just high of the crossbar. Also scored a goal that was called back for offside.
EMERY WELSHMAN, forward, adiZero
The Canadian forward showed well after coming off the bench in the second half. He was strong and quick, showed some good dribbling moves along the right flank and was full of energy.
ANDREW FARRELL, defender, adiZero
His athleticism was on display for all to see, especially when he cleared a ball late in the game with an overhead kick and still almost landed on his feet.