What do Carlos Bocanegra, Chris Seitz, Darlington Nagbe, Eric Miller and Sacha Kljestan all have in common? (That is, besides all being decent picks for an all-MLS Team on FIFA)... They all made the leap into Major League soccer after successful NCAA careers via the MLS SuperDraft.
U.S. Soccer's pyramid is structured unlike any other federation’s, and the prevalence of high school stars going on to play soccer in college makes the NCAA a hotbed for future MLS talent. Each year, a committee of MLS coaches and NCAA coaches selects a group of players to be invited to its player combine in Orlando Florida. Back in December, Major League Soccer announced the initial list of 60 NCAA Division 1 college players invited to participate in the combine, a group led by 2017 MAC Hermann Trophy finalists Jon Bakeroa (Wake Forest) and Tomas Hilliard-Are (Stanford).
With the 2018 adidas MLS Player Combine set to kick off this weekend (the first matches streaming Saturday, January 13, on MLSsoccer.com), here's a look at some of the top pre-combine prospects coming out of NCAA soccer:
- Francis Atuahene (Winger, University of Michigan): Touted as arguably the most exciting player in this draft class, Atuahene boasts tremendous pace and power -- two crucial elements to succeed as a winger in MLS. A Generation adidas signee, the Ghana native can strike the ball with both feet and has the potential to become a dangerous attacker in the league. VIEW HIGHLIGHTS
- Joao Moutinho (Defender, Akron): You might read "Joao Moutinho" and think: "How is a 31-year-old Portuguese international eligible for the MLS SuperDraft?” But this Joao is of a (slightly) different breed. Raised in Portugal, Moutinho is a former Sporting CP youth academy standout who played college soccer for a strong Akron side that reached the Final Four of this past year's College Cup. A left-footed center back, Moutinho's passing range and positional awareness set him apart as one of college soccer's best defenders.
- Wyatt Omsberg (Defender, Dartmouth): Omsberg is an Ivy League product who grew up in Scarborough, Maine. A two-time All-American, two-time Ivy League Defender of the Year, and three-time first-team All-Ivy selection, Omsberg has been compared to U.S. men's national team young-gun Matt Hedges of FC Dallas. At 6-foot-4, the center back certainly has the size and aerial presence to compete at the highest level, but he will need to show that he is quick enough to keep pace with the burners of MLS.
- Rafael Andrade Santos (Midfielder, VCU): One of the most highly touted No. 10's in college soccer this past season, Santos can change a game at the drop of a hat. Able to create chances for others as well as finish with his powerful left foot, Santos could -- with the proper defensive coverage -- slot into an attacking midfield role and make an instant impact on a MLS side.
- Gordon Wild (Striker, University of Maryland): The curious case of Gordon Wild is one of the most intriguing stories of this year's MLS Combine. After scoring 33 goals in two seasons of college soccer at Maryland, Wild went wild to start the 2017 campaign, scoring five goals before reversing course and going cold for the final 13 games of his college career. The German-born striker is a left-footed poacher who has displayed goal scoring prowess in the past, so look for a team to take a chance on him early in the first round. VIEW HIGHLIGHTS
- Mac Steeves (Striker, Providence College): A two-time All-Big East first-time selectee, Steeves scored 35 goals and notched 12 assists in his career with the Friars. Playing as a strong, powerful target forward, Steeves also has surprising shiftiness and technical ability for his size. A natural goal-scorer, don't be shocked if Steeves gets scooped up late in the first round by a team with a need for offensive depth and goal-scoring support.
- Tomas Hilliard-Arce (Defender, Stanford): Hilliard-Arce won three-straight NCAA National Championships at Stanford to supplement his back-to-back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. A four-year stud for Stanford, Hilliard-Arce practiced alongside (and against) the likes of Jordan Morris and Brandon Vincent, and should be one of the first defenders off the board in this year's draft. Tomas is known for his cerebral reading of the game and leadership intangibles.
- Chris Mueller (Midfielder, University of Wisconsin): Beer, brats and cheese -- that's what Wisconsin does. As of late, Wisconsin also excels on the soccer field, and Mueller was one of the main reasons why. The shifty midfielder was far and away the Badgers' most talented player in 2017, and his prolific set-piece ability makes him an intriguing prospect. Mueller may have a tough time playing as a traditional #10 in MLS, so it remains to be seen how teams will envision using him.
- Mason Toye (Forward, Indiana): Another Generation Adidas signee, Toye starred as a target forward for the national runner up in his freshman season. Boasting solid technique and explosive athleticism, Toye sets himself apart due to his ability to create his own shots and get past defenders to the end line. He did not impress as an aerial target at Indiana, but is still young and should be on the radar of many MLS teams as an immediate contributor. VIEW HIGHLIGHTS
- Mo Adams (Midfielder, Syracuse University): Although the Orange did not perform up to their usual standards this past fall, Adams' versatility and outstanding decision-making helped him to a stellar year for 'Cuse. The box-to-box midfielder has a tremendous work rate that allows him to cover a ton of ground while his composure allows him to be consistent with the ball.
- Ema Twumasi (Winger, Wake Forest): Say that name five times fast. Similar to countryman Atuahene, the Ghanaian winger is a huge threat on the flank. A skilled dribbler with the ability to play at pace, Twumasi was best known in college for his ability to set up his teammates; however, his lack of consistency in terms of finishing is one of the knocks on him as a prospect. If he can develop a true eye for goal, Twumasi could make an immediate impact as a rookie in MLS.
Author: Nick Woolf