ASN's Brooke Tunstall spoke with the UCLA midfielder, who has rejected MLS' lowball offer and will pursue options in his native Germany. Plus: Kay Banjo's unlikely path to the MLS Combine.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.
January 09, 2015
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—The biggest news out of Combine Eve yesterday was the absence of one of the top seniors in college soccer. UCLA midfielder Leo Stolz, a two-time All-American and a finalist for the Hermann Trophy given to the top player in college soccer, is a no-show.
As American Soccer Now previously reported, Stolz is unhappy at his contract offer from Major League Soccer. Last year after an outstanding junior season, he was offered, several sources said, a Generation Adidas deal of around $130,000 per year. He turned it down, citing a desire to finish his degree. After leading the Bruins to the NCAA final this year, MLS offered Stolz a contract about half as big as last year’s, and Stolz has balked.
Several sources here also said Stolz has expressed a desire to have an impact on what team he plays for, something MLS was reluctant to do. Stolz will instead pursue offers in his native Germany with “second and third division clubs,” he told ASN.
“It’s not as much about not wanting to join MLS as it is deciding to want to go back to Germany and try and begin my career there.”
Stolz said the German clubs he’s trialing with asked him to keep that private.
“I will be going back there tomorrow and the trials start Monday,” Stolz revealed.
Ironically, he once turned down a contract offer from 1860 Munich out of high school to pursue a university education in the United States, Stolz is seen as one of the most pro-ready central midfielders in college soccer this year, able to play-make from a deep-lying role.
“He’d have been a top pick in the draft for sure, and maybe the top senior picked,” said an MLS head coach who asked not to be named. “It’s a pretty big loss for the draft.”
Stolz joins Saint Louis senior forward Robbie Kristo, a three-time All-American who has signed a deal with a Serie B team in Italy, as top seniors who opted for Europe over MLS.
Stolz was speaking from St. Louis, which he flew into for tonight’s ceremony for the Hermann Trophy, given to the top player in college soccer. The other two finalists are North Carolina senior forward Andy Craven and Syracuse junior goalkeeper Alex Bono, who signed a Generation Adidas deal with MLS earlier this year.
Bono and Craven are expected to arrive here Saturday and play in Sunday’s combine games.
Another sign of MLS' considerable growth is on display here at the league’s scouting combine: teams are bringing armies of staffers to the event.
Several MLS teams are now arriving at the combine with six- and seven-person technical staffs. Some clubs have actual scouting departments with regional scouts who have gathered here to help provide input on player evaluations and form their clubs’ strategies for next week’s draft.
“It’s amazing how big this thing has gotten,” said new San Jose assistant coach Steve Ralston, who participated in the league’s first combine before the inaugural 1996 season. “Nothing like the first one. It’s grown so much. And that’s a good thing.”
When Ralston participated 20 combines ago, most MLS team’s had two-person coaching staffs. A few had a goalkeeper coach but there wasn’t money in the budget for him to travel. Now the likes of Matt Reis and Pat Onstad, veteran goalkeepers turned coaches for Los Angeles and Columbus, are here in part just to evaluate the handful of netminders invited to this event.
The biggest delegations tend to belong to the MLS clubs that have added reserve teams in the USL Pro League.
“Teams like the Galaxy and us and Montreal, they have their first team coaching staff and technical director then a reserve team coach and another technical director or general manager for that team,” said Seattle Sounders associate head coach Brian Schmetzer. “And they’re not necessarily looking at the same players. Sigi and I, we might be looking at players one through 30. The second team guys are looking at players 31 through 60.”
For teams adding a USL Pro side this means “basically starting from scratch adding 20 new players,” said Schmetzer. “Some will come from the first team and some will be homegrowns (from their teams’ academies) but you’ve still got to find a lot more players.”
The Galaxy added a USL Pro team last season and Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal are adding them this year.
Despite their large entourage, the Galaxy are here without their leader. Head coach Bruce Arena recently underwent knee replacement surgery and is recovering from that and opted to stay home…
Few players here have had a roller coaster ride to get to the combine like forward Kay Banjo, who also might have the most awesome name of any player here. In 2012 he was a junior at Towson when he learned the school was dropping the men’s soccer program. Rather than immediately transfer, Banjo opted to finish his degree and then last fall enrolled at nearby UMBC as a graduate student. He was part of the Retrievers' magical run to the College Cup semifinals last month and now finds himself at the combine playing alongside the top seniors in college soccer.
“It’s been amazing, unbelievable,” Banjo said. “When Towson dropped soccer, I thought my career might be over. Then I get to go to the College Cup and now I’m here. It’s crazy….”
The Dominican Republic has justifiably been considered a beisbol factory, having sent thousands of players to the Major League Baseball. But despite sharing an island with futbol-mad Haiti, the Domincian isn’t much known for its soccer.
One player here trying to change that is Jean Carlos Lopez Moscoso, a 21-year-old midfielder who showed well this weekend at a combine MLS had for young Caribbean prospects in Puerto Rico. He was the only player from that event invited to Ft. Lauderdale and is joined by several other players from Latin America the league is designating as “youth internationals” who will be available in the draft.
Those players are Argentines Brian Acuna (21) and Adrian Antonio Reta (22); Colombian Carlos Alberto Riascos (20); and Peruvian Vladimir Hood (18).
Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.