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First look at the 2011 MLS rookies
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The annual Major League Soccer Combine has long been seen as an imperfect tool to judge incoming talent, but it is what the league has and it is still a major key in determining just where players will be drafted each year (check out this year's mock draft).
The most recent MLS Combine, held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had its usual mix of standout performances and disappointing efforts, with the 2011 draft class looking like another good one. The play was mixed, in part because of the absence of six of the top players in the draft, but the emergence of some international players and good showings by some top prospects helped this year’s Combine give scouts a good sense of just how deep the 2011 draft will be.
So what did we learn from this year’s Combine?
There aren’t a bunch of top playmakers, but some promising forwards. There aren’t a plethora of MLS-ready centerbacks, but a decent crop of fullbacks.
Here is a closer look at the players who helped their stock the most, and those who hurt their stock with their play in Florida.
Jalil Anibaba, North Carolina, Centerback
The athletic defender entered the Combine as one of the top centerbacks in the draft and all he did was emerge as the best senior in the draft. He will likely go after Generation adidas defenders Perry Kitchen and Zarek Valentin, but Anibaba impressed scouts with his overall game to the point that he should be knocking on the door of the Top 5.
John Rooney, England, Midfielder
Yes, he’s Wayne Rooney’s brother, and there will be plenty of hype surrounding him as long as he’s in MLS, but Rooney showed at the Combine that he can actually play. He’s not a striker like his brother, but a hard-working central midfielder who can cover ground from box to box, and can spark the attack. His Combine showing, and his name, could help him crack the first round, though early second round seems more likely.
Joao Plata, Ecuador, Forward
You may have never seen a smaller player, but the 5-foot-3 Plata was arguably the most impressive attacking player at the Combine. Certainly, his first two days he showed flashes of being mini-Messi-like, but coaches and scouts wonder how a player his size will adjust to the physical style of MLS. He had a tougher time on day 3 of the Combine going up against a tougher defense, which probably offered a better idea of what he could do.
MLS: June 23-25
|Thursday, June 23|
|Saturday, June 25|
|San Jose||0-0||LA Galaxy||Recap|
|Real Salt Lake||3-1||Toronto||Recap|
|Sunday, June 26|
|MLS Scores | Table | Fixtures|
Will Bruin, Indiana, Forward
The Hermann Award finalist flew in from St. Louis and promptly had a disappointing first day, but with some actual rest he returned on Day 2 to show the size, strength and passing skills that make him the top target forward in the draft. He is a Top Five-caliber talent who could be the first non-Akron player selected.
Greg King, UConn, Defender
With left back remaining a serious position of need in MLS, it didn’t take scouts long to notice King playing well through the first two days of the Combine. He’s not likely to go in the first round, but the Australian-born fullback showed an ability to get forward and solid defensive qualities at the Combine that should boost his stock come Thursday.
Demitrius Omphroy, California, Defender
The most impressive right back at the Combine, Omphroy emerged from relative obscurity to flash some good speed and appealing attacking qualities. He probably won’t go in the first round, but could have played himself into a second-round selection with his Combine.
Cole Grossman, Duke, Midfielder
There weren’t many standout central midfield performances at the Combine, but Grossman was one of the steadier players over the weekend, showing good two-way qualities and a nose for goal. Projected as a late first-rounder heading into the Combine, Grossman did more than enough to solidify his place in the first round.
Michael Tetteh, UCSB, Defender
The one player on this list who could have easily wound up on the stock falling list, Tetteh salvaged his Combine on day three by finally flashing the attacking qualities that earned him a Generation adidas contract. A speedy left back who likes to get forward, Tetteh failed to attack the first two days, but on the third day he got forward and sparked his team’s attack. He’s a sure-fire first rounder, but his final day’s performance could push him closer to a Top 10 pick.
Corey Hertzog, Penn State, Forward
After shaking off a disappointing first day, Hertzog flashed the speed and shiftiness that made him one of college soccer’s leading scorers in 2010. The Generation adidas striker came into the Combine as a Top Ten pick, and while he may not have done enough to break into the Top 5, Hertzog solidified his place as one of the top three forwards in this draft.
Eddie Ababio, North Carolina, Defender
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A converted forward who excelled at right back at UNC, Ababio showed off good speed and skill playing right back on day one. He played more centerback later in the combine and did well there, but is probably still more a right back prospect.
Tyler Lassiter, North Carolina State, Defender
One of the many centerbacks who struggled to deal with the attacking talent at the Combine, Lassiter showed some promise when moved to left back, but his overall Combine performance was forgettable and he’d be hard-pressed to be drafted in the first two rounds now.
Michael Boxall, UCSB, Defender
The big UCSB defender looked overmatched the first two days, and struggled to deal with speedy attackers. Projected as a late first/early second round pick before the Combine, Boxall could slip considerably now.
Amani Walker, UC-Irvine, Forward
A big target forward who could have impressed in a thin pool of big forwards, Walker showed very little. He looked slow and wasn’t really a factor in the air.
Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Akron, Midfielder
One of the top-rated midfielders in the draft coming into the Combine, Ampaipitakwong struggled to get going. It isn’t rare for creative midfielders to struggle with unfamiliar teammates, and Ampaipitakwong’s college track record should lead to a late first/early second selection.
Michael Farfan, North Carolina, Midfielder
Much like Ampaipitakwong, Farfan came in with high expectations but rarely showed off the passing touch and vision that made him a star for the Tar Heels. He’ll still go in the first round, but Farfan missed a chance to push his stock further.
Ashley McInnes, Tulsa, Midfielder
A quick winger/forward, McInnes didn’t really differentiate himself and was largely overshadowed by teammates.
Curtis Ushedo, UAB, Defender
A big defender who might have played himself onto the radar of Toronto FC or Vancouver because of his Canadian background, Ushedo looked big and slow.
Marlon Ganchozo, Ecuador, Midfielder
While most of the other international non-college players impressed at least somewhat at the Combine, Ganchozo was flat-out awful. He had come in with some hype from South America as a hot-shot prospect, but he looked overwhelmed.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.