MLS teams crave intelligence on college players. Coaching staffs spend most of the fall chatting on the phone with their contacts in the college ranks, divvying up matches to scout in person and scouring through television listings to acquire game tape. In a league with scant resources for college scouting and without a central scouting service, those are the measures required to whittle down a draft board.
All of that work provides the foundation for this potentially vital week in January. College stars from across the country will display their talents in three matches and try to sway skeptical observers at the MLS Player Combine in Lauderhill, Fla. Then, everyone will pack up and head to Indianapolis for the MLS SuperDraft next Thursday.
For now, the emphasis falls upon this exacting and peculiar five-day job interview. The slate – games on Friday, Sunday and Tuesday plus potential interviews on Saturday and Monday – tests players on and off the field.
In a bid to prepare for the rigorous days ahead, the Friday Five offers a few tidbits about the weekend ahead:
1. Cast aside last year's two-man discussion: Most of the chatter in the buildup to last year's SuperDraft surrounded Darren Mattocks and Andrew Wenger. Everyone in South Florida knew those two players would come off the board with the first and second picks. That sort of clarity doesn't exist this year. Several players could reasonably garner one of the top two selections. The uncertainty further complicates the process and increase the stakes this weekend.
(Note: Want to talk about complications? Try figuring out how this SuperDraft will unfold with Toronto FC [with its new coach playing in central defense for QPR against Tottenham on Saturday] and Chivas USA [with a new manager and no semblance of college scouting structure in place to support him] holding the first three picks.)
2. Forget about college form: This scenario rewards players who maintain their conditioning and their sharpness through a lengthy layoff. It isn't an easy task, particularly for college students trying to juggle other responsibilities. And some of them struggle to meet the required standard with their performances and suffer the consequences – sometimes modest and occasionally drastic – accordingly.
3. Remember the body of work: Coaches and technical directors usually lean on their work during the fall to provide the base for player evaluation. The Player Combine offers the last piece of evidence ahead of the SuperDraft. Performances in Florida make or break a player in some cases, but, most of the time, the displays just enhance or underscore the previous knowledge gathered.
4. Keep in mind the interview process: Many players will spend a part of their off days (Saturday and Monday) chatting with interested coaches and technical directors. The answers in those sessions offer a glimpse into how a player might fit into a certain side or operate under a particular philosophy. With the narrow margins between the potential selections in terms of talent, those responses certainly can play a part as teams sit down to form their draft boards.
5. Watch out for misinformation: Little incentive exists for anyone to share the truth this week. Agents want to push their clients higher up the draft board. Coaches and technical directors do not want to weaken their position by revealing their intentions. Players do not want to alienate any potential employers. But the rumor mill will churn out interesting tidbits of information nonetheless. Take it for the entertainment it is and wait for the SuperDraft to reveal the truth.