LAUDERHILL, Florida — Putting together a coherent team on what is essentially a moment’s notice is the toughest thing about the Combine. Soccer is the ultimate team sport – context matters in our game more than any other – so throwing new faces together and saying “Play beautiful soccer!” should pretty much be a non-starter.
With that in mind, we’re going to start off our Stock Watch with the adiPower starting midfield trio, who looked like they were born on the same pitch.
John Stertzer, Mikey Lopez, Alex Isern – They played like brothers. You probably know Stertzer (the day’s best player before coming off with an ankle “stinger,” in his words) and Lopez from the fact that they played at high profile schools – Maryland and UNC – and are expected to be first round picks. (CLICK HERE to watch Lopez talk about the game)
GOAL: Stertzer scores 1st of 2013 Combine
Isern, though, came out of nowhere. The Barcelona native spent the last two years at Winthrop, yet looked right at home surrounded by all-Americans. He’s about to turn 25, and he’s not an athletic specimen, but he definitely put his name on some draft boards with the way he was able to combine with the other two in dictating both the pace of the game and where it was played.
All three of these guys finished the day looking better than they did when it started, reminding everyone along the way that our game is at its most beautiful when it’s kept simple.
Andrew Farrell – Is it possible for the consensus No. 1 pick’s stock to rise? Turns out the answer is “yes.” Farrell (above) was physically dominant (expected), but also picked up an assist on a 40-yard, defense splitting through ball (unexpected). It was a cultured play.
He also had one of the day’s worst plays, getting dispossessed midway through the second half, but was bailed out by a great save from James Belshaw. Farrell showed admirable self-awareness afterward, saying “I have a tendency to try to do too much. It’s something I know I need to work on.” Combine coachability and talent, and you usually have a guy that you can build around for a long time.
Kofi Opare – A few things went wrong for adiPower in the second half of their 2-2 draw vs. Prime, starting with the revamped midfield simply not being as dominant. But the other thing was that Eriq Zavaleta started finding space and winning his physical battles en route to creating both goals. That wasn’t happening in the first 40 with Opare on his back. He was arguably the second best central defender on the day, after Farrell. If he plays as well in Sunday’s and Tuesday’s games, it’ll be shocking if he’s not picked.
Donnie Smith – AdiPure were blown out 4-0, and could never get into the game (or onto the ball) in central midfield. But Smith, whenever he was on the pitch, found a way to be dangerous moving forward. He’s all north-south, but he looked good at both left midfield and in a brief run at left back. Smart, athletic and consistent service from the left side … that tends not to last long on draft day.
Carlos Alvarez – Coaches have had four years to scout the UConn playmaker, who was more of a trequartista for Prime on the day. He admitted that he and Zavaleta struggled to figure things out in the first half, but the two of them combined relentlessly in the second for the comeback. Had a goal and an assist, and showed the finishing touch he’ll need in order to become a regular at the next level. Reminded a lot of folks of TFC’s Luis Silva.
Jason Johnson – Looked out of his element on the left side of adiPower’s 4-3-3, and took too long to pick his passes. Was in position to make an impact time and again, but rarely did.
GOLAZO: Powers thumps it home
Dillon Powers – Scored a golazo and served a perfect free kick for an assist. But he was one of the sloppiest midfielders out there in possession, constantly trying to do too much and forcing his team into a series of desperate clearances.
Blake Smith – The New Mexico winger was supposed to be the trickiest one-v-one player in the draft, but he barely registered on the day. Looked lost playing wide, and indecisive the few times he got into the final third.
It’s always a danger to read too much into the Combine – all three of the guys in the “Stock Down” section are going to be first round picks, and justifiably so.
Just as easy is getting too high on a player because of one good performance. But in a draft weak at right back, it was hard not to notice Boston University’s Michael Bustamante, who spent the first half there for adiPower. An attacking midfielder in college, he provided width and dedicated two-way play for at an unfamiliar position, then added a solid second half in central midfield. In the words of MLSsoccer.com's Jason Saghini, “That’s an MLS player.”
Hard to disagree after Day 1. We’ll see on Sunday what Day 2 brings.