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.
— Michigan Men's Soccer (@umichsoccer) December 13, 2018
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.
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.
— Pitt Men's Soccer (@Pitt_MSOC) January 3, 2019
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.
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.
2019 adidas MLS Combine Invitees
|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|