As MLS watchers shift their gaze from the combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to the SuperDraft in Philadelphia, ASN's Brooke Tunstall shares his insights on the league's top prospects.
SOME LUCKY MLS TEAM
January 13, 2015
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, maybe even its cross-town rival, is going to be the beneficiary of the New York Red Bulls’ glut in central midfield.
Because of its depth at the position, the Red Bulls didn’t extend a homegrown offer to Maryland central midfielder Dan Metzger, a product of the club’s vaunted academy program who became an All-American this season and one of the few college players here who is a member of the U.S. U-23 national team pool.
“Really like him,” said an assistant coach for an Eastern Conference team. “Among the seniors, he and the (Nick) Besler kid from Notre Dame are the best central midfielders in the draft. Metzger is really smart so he isn’t too far away from being able to play right away.”
The Red Bulls already have Dax McCarty and Eric Alexander, two fringe U.S. national team players, in central midfield and last month it signed Sean Davis, a central midfielder from Duke, to a homegrown contact after his senior year.
Red Bulls spoke with Metzger about a deal but no contract was offered after Metzger assessed the situation and opted to enter into the draft.
“It never really got that far," Metzger told American Soccer Now. "I’m sure if they really wanted me they’d have offered something. I don’t think it would have been as good as I’d have hoped for. I talked to (Red Bulls assistant coach John) Wolyniec and he told me they were interested. I don’t think I necessarily got that far to talk to them about signing. They’re a great organization. My time there was great. My coaches there—Paul O’Donnell, John Wolyniec, (Mike) Petke—were great.
“That being said, I thought what would be best for me would be to go into the draft instead of signing and see where that takes me.”
Metzger said the chance to get more playing time played a big role in asking the club not to pursue a homegrown claim on him.
“That definitely had something to do with it. Obviously they have Dax in the middle, Alexander, and just signed Sean. They definitely have a lot there in that position. I thought there’d be more opportunities for me to make an impact right away if I went into the draft.”
Metzger said he holds no ill will that the club opted to sign Davis, with whom he said he is “really close."
“Not at all,” he said. “They were great. They just made a personnel decision.”
Interestingly enough, Metzger is often compared to McCarty, the engine of the Red Bulls midfield who typically plays in a deep-lying position. “That’s where I’m most comfortable,” Metzger said. “I played other positions in the midfield, but I feel most comfortable in the middle in sort of a deeper role, doing the dirty work and then setting up the forwards to look good.”
He had meetings with several teams yesterday, including Columbus and expansion New York City FC, which would present an obvious sub-plot on Derby Day if it drafted Metzger. “That would be fun,” Metzger said with a slight grin.
New York City currently picks second in the draft but there are talks they could move down in a trade, which would make picking Metzger in the middle of the first round more of a possibility.
MAKING AN IMPACT
In the second day of games Sunday, the tackle of the day happened in the early game when Team Adi Zero’s Sergio Campbell, a mammoth six-foot-four center back from Connecticut who has already been capped by the Jamaican national team, went in hard against Team Nitro Charge’s Otis Earle from U.C. Riverside.
Campbell got almost all ball on the strong challenge but it made a large thud that reverberated in the stands and sent the five-foot-ten Earle, whose father Robbie played for Jamaica in the 1998 World Cup, sprawling.
“I was like, ‘Come on man, Jamaican heritage,’ ” Earle said with a smile. “But my head was spinning for like 10 minutes after that."
Earle came into the combine as a likely first round pick and has done nothing but solidify his standing with two strong games.
Campbell, despite his size and caps for Jamaica, was a bit of a question mark but he’s impressed with two strong games, showing good mobility for a big man and a willingness to communicate.
“The biggest thing for me is to show I can play with the smaller, faster guys,” he said. “Obviously I’m pretty good in the air. But I need to show I can do more than that, that I’m good on the ball, read the game and can handle the pace of the faster guys. I think I’m doing that.”
EYE ON THE USA, AND LARIN
Almost all of the coaches here have made it a point to spend some time getting to a TV monitor to watch the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the U-20 World Cup that is currently being held in Jamaica. The games are being shown on Fox Sports 2, which the combine’s official hotel does not have on its cable package...so they’ve had to find local watering holes showing the games.
Connecticut’s Cyle Larin is on the Canadian U-20 side and North Carolina State’s Conor Donovan plays for the U.S. Both are Generation Adidas signings who will be in Thursday’s draft, so all the scouts are hoping to catch a glimpse of them.
One observer here with a vested stake in the outcome is midfielder Cristian Roldan, a Generation Adidas signing from Washington. At 19, Roldan is the only American player here at the combine who is young enough for the U-20 team.
He has been part of the pool of players U-20 coach Tab Ramos has called in previously but did not make this roster. However, he is hoping a strong start to his MLS career could get him another shot with the team, provided the Yanks qualify. (Which is no sure thing after its 0-1-1 start.)
“I want another chance to make the team, to try and get to the (U-20) World Cup,” said Roldan, who has been one of the best performers at the combine and will likely be one of the draft’s top picks. “That’s a reason it’s important I get to a team that’s a good fit for me so I can play right away.”
Roldan was born in the United States to a mother from El Salvador and a Guatemalan father. Despite being eligible for three national teams, Roldan has little doubt about his first choice.
“Definitely the United States, no doubt,” he said. “This is where I was born and grew up. Maybe if a few years into my career I’m not getting a chance with the U.S. then I’ll consider one of them but I want to wear that red, white, and blue jersey.”
SMALL SCHOOL RISERS
Every year at the combine there are some surprises—players from less-heralded schools who come here and raise a few eyebrows and sometimes force their way up teams’ draft boards.
This year, two such players appear to be Christian Volesky of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Ignacio Maganto of Iona.
At six-foot-one, Volesky brings nice size to the forward position and he tested well in the athletic evaluations, finishing first (4.01 seconds) in the 5-meter-10-meter-5-meter shuttle run designed to test agility and second in the 30-meter dash (3.84 seconds).
Sunday he put all that athleticism on display, rising to head home a corner kick from Nick Besler. Volesky scored 29 goals in four seasons of college soccer but never more than the nine he put home as a sophomore. Still, players with his combination of size and speed don’t come around very often and some team will likely be intrigued enough to take a chance on him.
While Volesky is all about athleticism, Maganto is more about his technical ability. A product of the Getafe academy before coming to Iona, the Spain native has shown good dribbling and passing ability amid a combine crowded with large, athletic Americans.
In four seasons at Iona, he scored 27 goals and registered 14 assists and was the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s 2014 player of the year after logging 11 goals and five assists.
He’s only listed at five-foot-eight and his name wasn’t found near the top of any of the athlete charts. But with technical players at a premium, Maganto has stood out and teams needing a creative spark off their bench will give him a long look.
“This guy,” one scout said pointing at his name on the combine media guide, “has shown us something. He can play!”
Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.