Erik Hurtado and Kekuta Manneh recall 2013 Major League Soccer Player Combine experience

Hurtado on MLS Combine: "Everyone wants to be number one"

VANCOUVER, BC – Going into last year’s MLS Player Combine, a pre-draft event where some of the league’s top-ranked draft eligible prospects convene for one last chance to impress their potential employers, Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado both felt they had something to prove.

At 18-years-old, Manneh was among the youngest combine invitees and one of the few players who hadn’t played at the collegiate level. It didn’t take him long to make an impression, however, as the Gambian scored a goal in the first of three combine matches.

“It was really important for me because I wasn’t a collegiate soccer player,” Manneh told whitecapsfc.com. “Most people didn’t know who I was. That goal kind of put me out there and people probably started wondering, ‘Who is this kid?’”

Kekuta Manneh talks about getting drafted by Whitecaps FC

The 'Caps knew very well. They had invited him to train in Vancouver the previous month and "his performance at the combine confirmed what [they] already knew," Lenarduzzi said at the time.

Hurtado, meanwhile, had just finished off his senior year at Santa Clara University – which play in one of the smaller National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) conferences – and was not yet signed to an MLS contract.

At that point, he wasn’t even planning on attending the draft. That changed after an impressive showing throughout the combine earned him a senior contract with the league.

“They offered me the contract and told me they were going to fly me to the draft in Indianapolis so I was like, ‘Holy crap, this is awesome,’” Hurtado told whitecapsfc.com.

Both Manneh and Hurtado came into the combine with a chip on their shoulder and it had the desired effect, as Vancouver Whitecaps FC chose them fourth and fifth overall respectively at the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.

Whitecaps FC have two first-round picks (third and seventh overall) again at this year’s draft, which is set to take place on January 16 in Philadelphia. They will get a first-hand look at some of their potential selections on Friday when the 2014 MLS Player Combine gets underway in Lauderhill, Florida.

The 70+ combine invitees actually convened in Lauderhill on Thursday for physicals and some mingling before the first matches take place on Friday. All the participants will be divided into four teams, who will each play three matches over the course of the five-day combine.

“Everyone was friendly but at the same time everyone is there fighting for that number one draft spot,” Hurtado said. “Everyone wants to be number one but you can’t do it without your combine team, so you had to come together. It was pretty cool because you got really close with guys on your combine team after playing against them throughout the season.”

Along with the matches and fitness testing, there are two days allocated for player interviews with clubs. Manneh estimates he had about 10 or 11 interviews, while Hurtado sat down with almost every club.

The most common question Hurtado was asked was: How would you react if you don’t get much playing time as a rookie? His answer was likely music to the ears of many clubs.

“I’m going to do everything I can to get on that first team and get playing time,” he said. “And if I don’t, then I’m going to come to the coaches and see what I can do to until I get on that team and I’m not going to stop until I do.”

Both Hurtado and Manneh knew Whitecaps FC had some interest in their services leading up to the draft. Hurtado got that impression from his meeting with the club, while Manneh was invited to train with the ‘Caps back in December.

At any rate, they weren’t sure what to expect on draft day. And that’s part of the reason why Manneh said he was glued to his phone to check out the latest rumours leading up to the big event.  

“I was really in my room with my roommate the whole time, talking about how we think the draft is going to go, looking at what teams might pick which player and all that,” Manneh said. “I was very excited that everything worked out the way it did. It was an awesome experience.” 

Whitecaps FC 2014 season tickets start at just $349, subject to applicable fees. The 'Caps are also offering a flexible range of ticket products, including half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.