MLS Combine

Two Promising Left Backs Raise Eyebrows at Combine

Andy Thoma and Otis Earle failed to draw much attention early in their college careers, but these two fullbacks have transformed themselves into likely Top 10 picks in next week's MLS SuperDraft.
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
January 10, 2015
8:24 AM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—Certain positions are almost always at a premium at Major League Soccer’s annual scouting combine. Creative central midfielders are always in high demand, but those types of players are so rare in NCAA soccer that teams don’t bother expecting to find viable ones in the college ranks.

Then there are the forwards who can consistently put the ball in the net. Those aren’t exactly commonplace but there have been some who have emerged from the college ranks.

And then there are left backs. Teams will take them wherever they can get them, and if they can obtain a starter with just a draft pick, even better.

Two such left backs—Washington’s Andy Thoma and U.C. Riverside’s Otis Earle—have raised eyebrows, and perhaps their draft positions, at the combine. Interestingly, neither were highly regarded out of high school and both were considered borderline pro prospects earlier in their college careers.

On Friday Both Earle and Thoma helped their respective teams post shutouts in the first day of combine action.

“They both could go top 10,” said one evaluator here. “You just don’t get a lot of chances to get a serviceable left back in MLS, and both these guys have the potential to be starters in MLS. Maybe not stars, but you don’t need every player to be a star.”

For three seasons Thoma was overlooked at Washington even though he became a starter for a top program midway through his freshman year. “MLS coaches and (media) would call me and always want to talk about someone else we have and I’d try and tell them about Andy,” said Jamie Clark. “For three years nobody listened.”

(This includes a certain reporter for ASN who was told in August that Thoma was one of the best left backs in college soccer but didn’t include him on a preseason list of top prospects.)

We're all listening now.

“He’s solid,” said one Eastern Conference scout after seeing Thoma perform in Team Nativo's 2-0 win over Team AdiZero on Friday. “He’s fast and athletic but he’s smart on the ball and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”

One play illustrated this Friday. Pushing forward in the second half, Thoma received the ball with a defender ahead of him. He could have tried to go one-versus-one with the defender but in doing so he would have risked a turnover. Instead he pulled up, made a simple square pass that allowed his team to keep possession and two passes later Nativo forced a save out of AdiZero goalkeeper Tomas Gomez of Georgetown.

“I love using my pace to go forward,” said Thoma. “But if it’s not there, it’s not there. You have to be smart. More than going forward, I want to win.”

Thoma is a native of Los Alamos, New Mexico, where his father works at the famously mysterious government lab there in a job he can’t discuss even with his family. “I have no idea what he does there,” Thoma said with a shrug.

By contrast, Otis Earle knows exactly what his father, Robbie Earle, does for a living. A British-born Jamaican national teamer, Robbie played more than 500 games for Port Vale and Wimbledon and was part of the Reggae Boyz team that captured the world's attention at the 1998 World Cup. The elder Earle now calls soccer games in the United States for NBC Sports.

The younger Earle, who was born and raised in London but now has a Green Card and won’t count as an international player in MLS, chose to attend college in the United States and he matriculated to Riverside in 2011.

Despite his pedigree, Earle didn’t immediately excel in college soccer. His freshman year he played only six game with one start. But he switched to left back after his freshman year and became a starter as a sophomore and finished with six assists in 18 games.

“I wasn’t too keen on playing left back at first but I really like how I can attack out of the position,” Earle said “I love pushing forward and using my pace and ability on the ball to help the attack.”

On Friday Earle didn’t go forward much, but played solid defense for Team Nitro Charge to help neutralize the likes of Generation Adidas player Romario Williams. “You have to defend first if you’re a left back,” said Earle.

MLS teams that have done their homework are already familiar with Earle’s attacking ability. “He doesn’t really have to show much here going forward because we all know he can do that,” said one West Coast coach.

Added another: “Both are solid, but as for which one it depends on what you want and what kind of risk you want to take. Thoma is solid. You know what you’re going to get but he’s probably not as good on the ball as Earle. Earle has the potential to be better of the two but there’s a risk he doesn’t get there. So do you take the sure thing or roll the dice a little?”

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

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