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Upper St. Clair’s Mertz, Pitt’s Perez among 60 invitees taking part in MLS combines this week

The starting point of the year across all divisions of the revamped U.S. soccer pyramid really begins in earnest this week with MLS college soccer combines — and then on Friday, teams will select players in the SuperDraft, with recent Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC nemesis, FC Cincinnati selecting first overall.

Players taking part in the combines are almost entirely from NCAA Division I schools with a few exceptions.

Along with MLS coaches, USL Championship and USL League One coaches are in Orlando scouting players — including Riverhounds Head Coach Bob Lilley.

A few players of local interest that are taking part in the combines include Robbie Mertz, a former Upper St. Clair/Century United player, who completed his four year career at the University of Michigan last Fall and Javi Perez, who in the past two years has been an instrumental part of the beginning of the turnaround for Pitt men’s soccer.

Mertz, a sharp technical player who is 5-foot-7 inches, has played primarily as a central midfielder with the Maize and Blue, was a United Soccer Coaches All-North Region (second team) and All-Big Ten (first team) selection in 2018. He played in 76 matches (55 starts) over his four-year collegiate career, scoring nine goals and picking up 12 assists. A two-year team captain, Mertz started all 21 matches in 2018, tallying two goals and four assists. He was voted one of the 10 finalists for the 2018 Senior CLASS Award. Recently, Mertz has trained with the Riverhounds Pathway to the Pros program prior to his senior campaign at Michigan.


Riverhounds Fall To Michigan; Upper St Clair's Mertz Scores

Pitt midfielder Perez, who will play for Team Predator and wear No. 61 throughout the combine is the second Pitt men’s soccer player to be invited to the MLS Combine, with former teammate Pol Planellas being the first invitee last year. 

Perez was the Panthers’ captain in his final season and earned Second Team All-ACC honors for the second consecutive year, while also receiving United Soccer Coaches All-South Region Third Team honors. The Valencia, Spain, native played a major role as the team leader and was an integral component to the Panther midfield. Perez ranked second on the team in points (11), goals (four) and assists (three) in 2018.

Mertz and Perez are two of 60 of college soccer’s top players that are showcasing their talent over two days of matches (Saturday and Wednesday) and one-on-one meetings with technical staffs from MLS clubs. .

Each hopes to hear his name called when the first two rounds of the SuperDraft take place this coming Friday, January 11 in Chicago.

A year ago, preparing for his first season with the Riverhounds, Lilley went to the MLS combine in a very similar place, having 11 players signed to the roster — and looking to fill another 11 to 13 spots.

Lilley will be on the lookout for diamonds in the rough, much as he did a year ago. One player that ended up in Pittsburgh who took part in the MLS combine was Thomas Vancaeyezeele.

Even though Vancaeyezeele stood out as a No. 6 on both days, breaking up play in tough spots and completing all his passes — he went undrafted.

Vancaeyezeele, who would remain unsigned, was invited to Hounds’ preseason camp in February only after Lilley saw him play again in a preseason friendly when he played with his college teammates from Charleston University. After signing shortly after going on trial with the Hounds, Vancaeyezeele would go on to lead the USL team in appearances, games started and minutes played as a versatile player that played multiple positions. Vancaeyezeele has since earned an extension to his contract with the club holding his option for the 2020 season.

Hounds re-sign Vancaeyezeele to contact extension that includes club option for 2020

While the MLS combine and SuperDraft will dictate how the dominoes will fall in terms of where players end up on MLS rosters, and eventually to those that find opportunities to earn roster spots in USL Championship and League One, Lilley isn’t exactly convinced that Division I players from power conferences and top flight programs are ever a sure thing. That’s why he’s methodical in his approach to signing players, and the combines only offer a glimpse at some players, and are only one part of the player procurement process.

“It’s almost like ACC players are like community property. They have the highest powered agents. They cost more than we’re willing to risk paying,” Lilley told Pittsburgh Soccer Now in November. “Liking a player on what he’s done in college and knowing what it will translate into the pros is still guess work. Hopefully, more you find out about the player,about their character, it helps, but it’s still educated guess work to find out if they can make the adjustment.”

Pitt’s assistant Behonick among coaches at combine

Pitt men’s soccer assistant coach Michael Behonick will serve as one of eight coaches at the 2019 adidas MLS Player Combine currently being held in Orlando, Fla.

Behonick is joined by Johnny Torres (Creighton), Bo Oshoniyi (Dartmouth), Damon Rensing (Michigan State), Mike Noonan (Clemson), Matt Chulis (Virginia), Steven Totten (Princeton) and Jeff Matteo (Seton Hall).

Behonick is no stranger to the MLS, as he was a combine invitee in 2003 following a standout career at American University. He then went on to play professionally for seven years as a goalkeeper, spending time with MLS clubs DC United and New York Red Bulls, NASL side Puerto Rico Islanders and USL side Charleston Battery, winning a USL championship while playing with Charleston.

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2019 adidas MLS Combine Invitees

Player School POS Hometown Citizen
Asiedu, Anderson UCLA M Dormaa Ahenkro, Ghana Ghana
Barraza, Louis Marquette GK Santa Teresa, NM USA
Bashti, Amir Stanford F Cupertino, CA USA
Basic, Jakov UMass-Lowell M Zagreb, Croatia Croatia
Bone, Tucker Air Force Academy M Granite Bay, CA USA
Borges, Marcello Michigan D Kearny, NJ USA
Brown, Sam Harvard M Ann Arbor, MI USA
Bruening, Nils UNC F Hamsburg, Germany Germany
Buckmaster, Rece Indiana D Auburn, IN USA
Bunk-Andersen, Pat Clemson D Copenhagen, Denmark Denmark
Camara, Mamadi Simon Fraser F Montreal, Quebec Canada
Castenheira, Dylan Columbia GK Landing, NJ USA
Coffee, Kyle Washington F Syracuse, UT USA
Comsia, Alex UNC D North Vancouver, BC Canada
Cuello, Emil SMU M Orem, UT USA
Dee, Geoffrey Louisville M Germantown, TN USA
Delhomeele, Hugo Syracuse M Rennes, France France
Dotson, Hassani Oregon State M Federal Way, WA USA
Dunwell, Brad Wake Forest M Grand Rapids, MI USA
Elney, Sebastian Maryland F Boca Raton, FL USA
Enstrom, Simon Boston College F Huddinge, Sweden Sweden
Figbe, Prosper Virginia D Ilorin, Nigeria Nigeria
Gasper, Chase Maryland D Alexandria, VA USA
Gdula, Logan Wake Forest D East Lyme, CT USA
Greenberg, Dylan Connecticut D Dix Hills, NY USA
Hague, Jimmy Michigan State GK Walled Lake, MI USA
Hauser-Ramsey, Jacob Connecticut D Seattle, WA USA
Hein, Lennart Saint Louis D Hamburg, Germany Germany
Jones, DeJuan Michigan State F Lansing, MI USA
Kadono, Shinya California – Berkeley F Irvine, CA Japan/USA
Kenton Fadel, Kervin Coastal Carolina D San Jose, Costa Rica Costa Rica
Loebe, Janos Fordham F Kierspe, Germany Germany
Lundt, Ben Akron GK Berlin, Germany Germany
Mbacke Thiam, Abdu Connecticut F Dakar, Senegal Senegal
McCabe, Tommy Notre Dame M South Orange, NJ USA
McDonough, Brendan Georgetown D Matthews, NC USA
Mertz, Robbie Michigan M Pittsburgh, PA USA
Miller, Colin Providence College GK Bel Air, MD USA
Miller, Kamal Syracuse D Pickering, Ontario Canada
Mohammed, Abdi Akron D Westerville, OH USA
Montgomery, Callum UNC Charlotte D Victoria, BC Canada
Nuhu, Rashid Fordham GK Accra, Ghana Ghana
Osmand, Mitchell Rio Grande D Sydney, Australia Australia
Patino, Santiago FIU F Orlando, FL USA
Perez, Moshe Denver M Shim’a, Israel Israel
Perez Burgos, Javi Pittsburgh M Valencia, Spain Spain
Piatczyc, Joey West Virginia M Lee’s Summit, MO USA
Pyle, James UNC GK Charlotte, NC USA
Riley, Camden Pacific M Dallas, TX USA
Rivas, Sergio Seattle M Albuquerque, NM USA
Rydstrand, Joel Creighton M Almunge, Sweden Sweden
Samuels, Andrew Maryland D Tampa, FL USA
Sejdic, Amar Maryland M Louisville, KY USA
Shinyashiki, Andre Denver F Sao Paulo, Brazil Brazil
Sierakowski, Ryan Michigan State F McHenry, IL USA
Swartz, Harry Northeastern F Needham, MA USA
Tchilao, Don Oregon State F Chandler, AZ Benin
Ueland, Thomas Notre Dame F Lexington, KY USA
Verstraaten, Wouter Pacific D Heeze, Netherlands Netherlands
Ward, Akeem Creighton D Vienna, VA USA


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John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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