By FRANCO PANIZO
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Christian Dean last played a game at left back more than a year ago, but when a lack of left back options on his MLS Combine team led to him being asked to play there, the University of California defender stepped up to the challenge.
The end result? A subpar performance on the first day of the 2014 MLS Combine.
Dean endured a less-than-memorable opening match at the MLS Combine on Friday playing a position that he has some familiarity with, but not much. The 6-foot-3 defender helped create the equalizing goal in Nitro Charge’s (Red) 4-1 loss to Predator (Green) with a low shot that was mishandled and knocked in on the rebound, but much of the talk about his performance was that he struggled with his defending and was beaten badly on the go-ahead goal from Tesho Akindele.
Afterwards, Dean said that he enjoyed playing left back but admitted it was different than his customary centerback role.
“Personally, I like left back because of the freedom but I also like centerback because it also gives you (a view of) the entire field and I don’t have my back to the line,” said Dean, a member of this year’s Generation adidas class, when asked what position he prefers. “I feel more consistent at centerback than left back. Centerback. Centerback, yeah.”
That Dean had a rough first outing is forgivable. Plenty of quality players have struggled on opening days of MLS combines (including another tall centerback in Omar Gonzalez back in 2009) for a number of well-documented reasons, and have bounced back with better showings on Day 2 after building some chemistry with their temporary teammates.
Dean also boasts impressive size (something that is quickly noticeable) and is left-footed, making him an intriguing prospect that several coaches and scouts are drooling over because of his upside.
He is also quite candid with the media, as evidenced by his responses when asked what he felt he did and did not do well with on Day 1.
“I thought I got forward really well on the left side and finding the gaps in the middle to play with our centermids,” said Dean before stating what needed to improve. “Better 1-v-1 defending, definitely. It wasn’t good today.”
While part of Dean’s struggles can be attributed to him playing left back (combines are known for not bringing enough natural fullbacks and forcing players to play out of position), the 21 year-old is also well aware that his 1-v-1 defending needs to improve. That is especially the case seeing as how he was beaten far too easily on the match’s decisive goal and given that MLS teams could envision him as a left back or use him there sporadically to help make up for the loss of other players.
“It’s something that I’ve been working on and have to continue working on,” said Dean. “Being in the middle, there’s not as much 1-v-1 defending, so being thrown at left back it’s a little different. I did really enjoy it, it was something I haven’t done in a while and it was new, so I think next game if I do play left back, just focusing more on the defending rather than getting forward.”
Dean added that he probably will play centerback on Day 2 on Sunday in South Florida. A strong performance there and his stock could rise to the point where he convinces D.C. United or another team to take him with the No. 1 overall selection in next Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft.
That is how highly he is rated by many and why one mixed showing on the first day of the combine will not damage his stock all that much, even if he thinks it might.
“I kind of take (talk of being taken with the first pick) with a grain of salt, because after this game I might drop, you never know, because of the defending mistake I had,” said Dean. “But it’s exciting and I would love to be No. 1. I think it’s everybody’s dream, but in saying that, I just want to play. That’s it.”