Photo by MLS/Andy Mead
By IVES GALARCEP
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.– The MLS Combine took a break today, the day before players have their final chance to impress scouts with Tuesday’s Combine-closing matches.
Players went through their final round of meetings with interested teams as team officials looked to get to know the prospects they have been watching over the past few days (and months).
Wondering which teams are considering moving up? Want to know who has seen their stock rise the most? Here are some MLS Combine Off-Day Observations to shed some light on those subjects:
TEN OFF-DAY OBSERVATIONS
1- Kyle Bekker’s stock is soaring.
The Boston College midfielder enjoyed a second strong day and now the talk has gone from “What Canadian team will grab him in the first round” to “just how high can he go”?
His movement, intelligence and technical quality has scouts raving and now it’s not a stretch to say he should go in the Top 10. A place in the Top Five still seems too early, though Vancouver will have to at least think about taking him at No. 5. That’s not something many would have expected a week ago.
He isn’t the only Canadian who has impressed. Emery Welshman has played himself into the first round, and if he has another good day on Thursday he could wind up coming off the board in the 16-19 range. It’s tough to see anybody reaching for him sooner than that, even though he truly has been impressive.
2- Most teams rate Andrew Farrell No. 1, but not all do.
Walker Zimmerman tops the draft boards for most of the remainder of the teams. He has a groin injury that has kept him out of the Combine but remains the No. 2 rated player in this draft.
A regular on the U.S. Under-20 national team when healthy, Zimmerman is the sort of prototypical centerback prospect (6-foot-3 and athletic) that has some teams desperate to try and trade up into the top three to snag him.
Farrell didn’t play as well on Sunday as he did last Friday, which opened the door for more criticism from skeptics who think he is still a bit too raw to be considered a lock No. 1, but you still find players and coaches raving about him pretty consistently. Right now I’d say there’s about a 95 percent chance that either Farrell or Zimmerman will be the first player take on Thursday.
3- Colorado loves Zimmerman
At the top of the Zimmerman Fan Club list, I’m told, are the Colorado Rapids, who are in dire need of a quality young centerback. They currently hold the sixth pick and could package allocation money and/or a player to move up to No. 1 to select Zimmerman. The Rapids are believed to be shopping Jeff Larentowicz, but he wouldn’t be a part of a deal with TFC considering the Canadian side already have Torsten Frings and are about to sign former Sporting KC midfielder Julio Cesar.
4- Portland could work way back into first round.
The Timbers moved out of the first round by dealing the No. 3 overall pick to Toronto FC in a deal that landed them Ryan Johnson. It appears Caleb Porter and Portland want back into the first round, with rumors swirling that the Timbers are trying to trade their way back in.
What would Portland have to surrender to move into the first round? The $75,000 in allocation money they are set to receive for the rights to Robbie Findley could help facilitate a deal. It should be noted that just as recently as 2010, a first-round pick was traded for $150,000 in allocation money (FC Dallas sold the No. 7 overall pick in 2010 for that amount to the Philadelphia Union).
5- TFC a safe bet to trade down with one pick.
Kevin Payne loves the draft. Why wouldn’t he considering how well D.C. United has done with the draft through the years? With that in mind, it is a safe bet TFC keeps one of their two high first-round picks while using the other to trade down and stockpile some allocation money.
Who might be interested in that kind of move into the top three? Colorado, Columbus, Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC and Seattle are all teams I could see working some magic on draft day.
6- Jason Johnson silding, but could be a steal
Before the MLS Combine, Jason Johnson was a projected top-five player, but after struggling through two straight days (and on the heels of a finish to his college season that could hardly be called a strong one), Johnson’s stock is sliding fast.
Just how far can he fall? I had one technical director tell me he thinks Johnson could slip out of the first round. I highly, highly doubt that. For as much as he is struggling with his fitness, and as alarming as it is for a player to come to the Combine out of shape, he still has some impressive tools and could be a steal for a team like Chicago or Real Salt Lake.
7- Teams that could be on the move on draft day, and what they’re looking for?
Trade talk is a major part of MLS Combine week and we are already starting to hear some rumblings about teams that could be interested in making moves in the draft order.
As mentioned above, TFC is looking to move down with one of the two top three picks they hold, while Colorado is looking to move up. You also have teams like Real Salt Lake (forward), Sporting Kansas City (central midfielder), Columbus (centerback) and Seattle Sounders (forward, centerback) who I hear are testing the waters to see if they can move up to stand a better chance of landing an elite player at their key position of need.
8- So you want to play for Chivas USA?
It isn’t often when you have players lining up to profess their desire to play for a team as notoriously mismanaged as Chivas USA, but that’s what we had on Sunday when both Carlos Alvarez and Mikey Lopez stated that they want to play for the Goats.
That isn’t much of a surprise considering the fact that playing for Chivas USA means one of them will have been the No. 2 player in the draft, but their desire to play for the Goats goes well beyond that. Both are technical players who could thrive in a more Mexican-style system, and then you have Alvarez being from Los Angeles and having a father who once played for Chivas Guadalajara.
Which of the two will Chivas USA actually take? With new coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola stating publicly that he wants Mexican Americans in this draft, he has pretty much left himself with picking one of those two with the No. 2 pick, even though Andrew Farrell and Walker Zimmerman would address the team’s desperate need for defensive help. I wouldn’t have pegged the Goats to take Alvarez at No. 2 before the draft (he was projected more as an 8-12 pick) but based on the sound of things, it is very much a possibility now.
9- Eriq Zavaleta is a centerback
I know he scored tons of goals for Indiana, and I know some insist he’s better as a forward, but he showed on Sunday the qualities that could make him a truly special central defender.
Could he score some goals in MLS? Possibly, but he has significantly more upside as a centerback and for a team picking in the Top Five, he will be much more of a value pick as a centerback than as a forward. Ultimately, whichever team takes him could give him a look at both spots, but chances are that the team that makes him a Top Five pick (he should be a Top Ten lock) will be picking him with the hope of him potentially being a Geoff Cameron-like multi-faceted central defender.
10- The Current Top Ten on the SBI Big Board
I’m not doing another Mock Draft and Big Board until AFTER the Combine and the day before the MLS Draft, but here is how I see the Top Ten on my Big Board looking right now, based not just on Combine, but also pre-draft rankings, as of Monday (and yes, I’m sure it will be tweaked between now and Wednesday):
1. Andrew Farrell
2. Walker Zimmerman
3. Mikey Lopez
4. Kekuta Manneh
5. Eriq Zavaleta
6. Erik Hurtado
7. Kyle Bekker
8. John Stertzer
9. Carlos Alvarez
T10. Deshorn Brown
T10. Jason Johnson