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So the first question to get answered is, “Who are these people?” Those people are college soccer players and were selected by the league to be brought in for closer inspection. 60 are seniors who’ve graduated, 6 are underclassmen selected to be Generation Adidas players. Of the 66 of them, over 85% were All-Conference/All-Region this past season and 20% were All-American selections. But you all probably at least know those basics, so I’ll get into it.
For anyone who calls this a crap-shoot: Yes, it basically is, but only if you don’t look at it properly. So I’ll go down the list a bit and give my picks for the players to watch for in each position. Teams haven’t been announced yet (probably later today), but when they do, I’ll definitely have things to say then. For now, we go by positions! Three each!
Ben Lundgaard, Virginia Tech
This guy’s a PR major, but I don’t think he has to do any talking to sell himself in the draft. While not the best stats-wise of the net-minders in the combine, he comes in with the most accolades. Ranked at #22 by TopDrawerSoccer, head and shoulders above his competition here, he also has a spot on the the All-ACC First Team. As I said, his numbers aren’t really impressive, picking up a career 1.28 ERA (or goals against average, whatever); but you can also put that aside when you realize that he’s at Virginia Tech, who’s a bit of an underachiever in one of the best conferences in the nation for soccer. Lundgaard led that conference in saves with 108. He might not seem like much, but he might do something. Keep an eye on him in the combine and we’ll see where it goes.
Eric Dick, Butler
Here’s the First Team All-American. While TDS likes Lundgaard, it seems like the United Soccer Coaches love this guy. And the stats check out. An 0.92 ERA, .801 Save%, and 28 career Shutouts puts Dick square on the map. When it comes to the situation around him, Butler is usually seen as a really solid program, this year getting ranked at #15. THe only real reason why they didn’t get too far in the NCAA Cup is because they had to go up against Wake Forest, the #1. If I had to make my pick of the best player of these three, it’d be Dick, so check him out.
Jeff Caldwell, Virginia
With a career record of 34-14-13 with 23 of those wins being shutouts, Jeff Caldwell packs a massive case. Coming from, let’s face it, the better of the Virginia universities, he definitely had some help along the way. And with only 61 games under his belt compared to the others’ 70-71, his 0.85 ERA seems somewhat diminished. Not to mention, he has one of the worst Save% of all the keepers with just a .776. With that sort of miss rate, it’s a wonder how he doesn’t have a higher ERA. So this guy isn’t used to being challenged. I want to see how he does when he is challenged, so I’ll be keeping close tabs on him when he’s out there.
Tom Hillard-Arce, Stanford
Hillard-Arce has been a draft favorite for the past couple of years. Honestly, everyone’s been waiting for him to show up in the draft and I think it’s an absolute shock that he didn’t win the MAC Hermann. Instead he was a runner-up this season and a semi-finalist last season. Topping the TDS lists for a loooong time, I’d say it’s almost a certainty that he doesn’t drop out of the Top 3. Just make sure you pay attention to him in the combine games because he’s going to put on a display of what a good young defender should look like.
Joao Moutinho, Akron
Here’s another guy who’s topping TDS lists. Only a freshman, Moutinho made an instant impact, starting every game for Akron while picking up 3 goals and 5 assists. That doesn’t sound impressive, but come on! He’s a defender. What sort of stats do you expect? Coming out of the Sporting Lisbon academy straight to Akron, he is clearly ready for MLS and MLS agreed by giving him a Generation Adidas contract. Not only is he getting in early, but he won’t take up an international slot, as well as being a much smaller cap hit. But that’s for after the combine. For now, watch him.
Tim Kubel, Louisville
Last year I jumped the gun a bit early on calling for the Fire to draft this guy. Now that he’s officially in the draft, I want to make sure that I re-state that he is one of the best right backs around. Clearly the best attack-minded defender with a career total of 21 goals and 25 assists, I think he should be contending for a starting spot wherever he goes. With TDS putting him at #11, he’s got the credibility; but that international tag might sink his stock a bit. This is his shot to show that he’s more than worth the international slot.
Ema Twumasi, Wake Forest
Coming out of the “Right To Dream” program in Ghana, Twumasi worked quickly putting his mark on Wake Forest soccer, biking in his first career goal there. Now after a solid sophomore season, He’s been picked up on a Generation Adidas contract. If I could compare him to another MLS player I’d say he’ll be fairly similar to fellow “Right To Dream” graduate David Accam, except it seems Twumasi has a bit more ability getting back on defense. Also, he’s not as fast as Accam because basically no one is faster than Accam except for Usain Bolt and Dominic Oduro. Still, look out for him on the wings banging in assists.
Alex Roldan, Seattle
Roldan gets on my list solely from him being statistically the best midfielder at the combine. 18 goals, 17 assists, and clearly the highest volume shooter. This looks to me like someone who might be able to slide in to a #10 role, or at least an attack minded midfielder. He’s the brother of Christian, another midfielder who had a breakout season this year with the Sounders. Unlike his brother, Alex isn’t a homegrown player which means he’s available in the draft. He’s definitely someone to watch in the combine.
Oliver Shannon, Clemson
Here’s someone I like from a pure leadership standpoint. While not the most impressive player, Shannon has been an important captain for Clemson since his Junior year. Coming out of Liverpool, his experience in the Everton Youth academy seems to prove vital for him. I think to compare him to an MLS player, I’d take Dax McCarty. He’s not a pure attacking player, he’s not a pure defender, but he is all heart. I think whatever team picks him up will be very lucky to have him. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles walking into a group of guys he’s never played with before, so the combine will really test his adaptability.
Jon Bakero, Wake Forest
You only need four words: MAC Hermann Trophy Winner. But since I have more space than that, Bakero has picked up exactly 100 points in his total time at Wake Forest becoming the third Deacon to do so. He bagged 16 goals and 14 assists this past season and was the spearhead of a #1 ranked team. The only drawback is again that international slot. Some teams are more willing to take chances on young players than others and I think that with the combine he should show that he’s worth it.
Chris Mueller, Wisconsin
Straight outta Schaumburg, even his bio page on the Wisconsin website touts him as “one of the most highly-decorated players to ever walk the McClimon turf.” While not a goalscorer, Mueller makes sure to spread the love around, with 35 career assists to his name, 20 of which came just this past season. Even though he received honors for Offensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Big Ten, the USC decided that he wasn’t good enough for an All-American mention. TDS disagrees, ranking him at #3 in the country. Why isn’t he a Fire homegrown? Because he joined the Chicago Soccers instead of the Fire’s academy. But that’s a rant for another time.
Albert Ruiz, Florida Gulf Coast
Albert Ruiz has been my man since I first saw his 22 FREAKING GOALS LAST SEASON!!! I don’t care what he did last season, that is just a massive amount of goals and should’ve earned him a Generation Adidas contract on the spot. That is just 2 goals behind Niko’s record breaking amount in just HALF THE AMOUNT OF GAMES! So what, FGCU doesn’t really have much competition in A-SUN. That doesn’t change anything about the quality this player possesses. Unfortunately, I think a lot of teams are going to sleep on him because of his lackluster 2017. He holds onto an international tag, so that might sink him even further. All he needs to know however, is just play his natural game at the combine. He actually holds the NCAA record for the fastest hat-trick in D-I history at 9 minutes and 2 seconds. That all the time he needs to get going.