Major League Soccer

Is 25 Too Old for the MLS Draft? Lev-Ari Hopes Not

A prolific scorer at Cal State Northridge who aced the athleticism tests at the MLS Combine, Israeli forward Sagi Lev-Ari hopes that MLS teams will be drawn to his attributes but not scared off by his age.
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
January 12, 2015
3:33 PM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—He's been one of the most productive forwards in college soccer the past three seasons, he is one of the most athletic players here at Major League Soccer's scouting combine, and despite offers to play abroad, he wants to stay in the United States.

And yet, because of his age, there are questions about how interested MLS teams are in Sagi Lev-Ari, a 25-year-old Israeli from Cal State Northridge.

"This is where I want to start my pro career," said Lev-Ari, who spent three years of compulsory service in the Israeli military before coming to the U.S. to play college soccer. "I have offers from first division teams in Israel and if I have to go, I go. But I want to stay here and play in MLS."

After leading Monroe College in New York to a second place finish in the national junior college tournament as a freshman, Lev-Ari was lured to Southern California by Yossi Raz, a fellow Israeli who was an assistant at Northridge.

In three seasons with the Matadors, which play in the same Big West Conference that has produced players like Brad Evans, Chris Pontius, and Miguel Ibarra, Lev-Ari scored 42 goals, making him the most productive forward in Division I soccer during that time.

At the combine they conduct a series of tests to evaluate the players' athleticism and here Lev-Ari has dominated. He was third in the 30-meter sprint (3.88 seconds), tied for third in the vertical jump (33 inches) and was 11th in the 5-meter-10-meter-5-meter shuttle run designed to test agility. He was one of six players to crack the top 10 in two categories and had he been a tick faster in the agility run would have been the only player in the top 10 in all three.

Then he went out Sunday and put both his goal-scoring and athleticism on display: Using his speed to get behind the Team Nativo defense, he shook off a challenge from Washington's Andy Thoma, a likely first round pick, and scored what proved to be the game-winner for Team Predator. (See: 2:15 mark of the video below.)

All of that should make him a no-brainer to be a first round pick but there's some division over this among MLS player evaluators.

"The concern is how much better is he going to get at his age?" said one MLS assistant coach. "He has to be good enough now to come in and play because he probably won't get much better at his age."

Not everyone agrees with that, however.

"This is a grown man who has proven he can score goals and has the athleticism to play in this league," said a Western Conference general manager. "The idea for most of us is to win now and because he's physically and emotionally mature he can step in and help you from day one."

In a league where every coach is a five-game losing streak away from being fired, job security usually caries the day. Lev-Ari, obviously hopes so.

"I think I can come in and help right away," he said. "Maybe not start but I think if I get a chance I can score goals. I have shown against most of these guys I can score. I think being more mature should make it easier for me to have less of an adjustment."

He and his agent say there are offers awaiting back home and odds are they're for more money than the average MLS deal. But after a year in New York and three in Los Angeles, Lev-Ari is clear about his preference.

"This is where I want to be."

Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.

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