Tuesday, January 10, 2012
MLS DRAFT: Top 3 for UCLA's Hoffman?
By Scott French
Final mock drafts should start showing up online any minute now, and nearly all of them will continue to have Jamaican speedster Darren Mattocks, a University of Akron sophomore, going to Montreal with the first pick in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft in Kansas City, and Vancouver following by taking defender/midfielder Andrew Wenger, a Duke junior considered the one sure thing on the board.
UCLA forward Chandler Hoffman could go as high as No. 3 in the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday.
Who goes third? Might be UCLA striker Chandler Hoffman, a Generation adidas player (like Mattocks and Wenger) whose rising stock grew with superb performances in his first two games at the MLS Player Combine, which wrapped up Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Hoffman, who scored 18 goals to lead the Bruins to the NCAA semifinals, scored an 80th-minute winner to lift adiPower to a 3-2 victory in Friday's combine opener -- moments after forcing a huge save on a breakaway -- and added the first goal in a 2-1 win Sunday.
AdiPower won the tournament with a 3-0-0 record, scoring nine goals behind Hoffman, Maryland forward Casey Townsend, Dartmouth forward Lucky Mkosana and attacking midfielders Kelyn Rowe of UCLA and Luis Silva of UC Santa Barbara.
“It's always good when the roster came out to see I had Kelyn and Luis and then Casey up top with me ...,” Hoffman said in a video posted on the Soccer By Ives blog. “It's made my job easy, just combining with them, playing simple and moving the ball.”
Hoffman, of course, has played the past two seasons with Rowe, a sophomore also expected to go early in the first round. And Silva (Los Angeles/Salesian HS), another first-round certainty, was Hoffman's summer teammate with USL Premier Development League side Orange County Blue Star.
The Alabaman and Townsend, who is considered the best senior forward (and, with Silva, the best senior) available in the draft, could have been teammates at Maryland -- and their connection at the combines suggests the Terrapins might have won a couple more NCAA titles had he not chosen UCLA.
“Sasho [Cirovski, Maryland's coach], when he was recruiting me, always talked about me and Casey playing together one day,” Hoffman told Major League Soccer's website. “Who knew it would be today?”
Where will Hoffman go in the draft? He can't wait to find out.
“Obviously, it's been going through my mind, where I'm going to end up, what team I'll be playing for,” he told Soccer By Ives. “All the mock drafts have me going all kinds of different places, so I've been trying not to read too much into it and just worry about what I can control, which is just playing soccer and scoring goals. Hopefully, a team believes in me and wants to take a gamble on me.”
GAUCHO RISING: This draft appears far deeper in attacking talent than defensive talent, but there are only so many quality flank players available. One of the best is UC Santa Barbara's Sam Garza, a Texan who signed a Generation adidas contract following his junior year.
Garza, who also can play up top, was very good in the combine and looks like a middle-of-the-first-round pick, maybe higher.
Playing in front of all the MLS coaches, almost lined up one next to the other, took some getting used to, he said.
“I first had a little bit of jitters,” Garza told Soccer By Ives. “It's kind of weird. You're never used to it. But after a while, you get some touches on the ball and you just kind of go play freely, and you kind of forget about it. You focus on your game.”
Garza's game contributed to the best single-game performance of the combine, by Creighton forward Ethan Finlay, who scored a hat trick in 17 minutes early in the first half of his game Sunday. It was Finlay's combine debut after he missed the openers while in St. Louis for the Hermann Trophy presentation. (He was runner-up to Wenger for college soccer's most prestigious award.)
“Just the movement. We clicked right away,” Finlay told Soccer By Ives. “I talked to Sam before the game, and I love how he plays.”
UCLA's Andy Rose, an English defensive midfielder who also can play in central defense, also enjoyed a fine week and could be a first-round pick.
“I’m very excited about [the SuperDraft], and hopefully a good situation works out,” he told the league website. “It’s a case where I would be pleased with any place where I went. I would love to represent myself in MLS. I think I’m good enough and would love the opportunity to.”
The other local players at the combine were UCLA goalkeeper Brian Rowe, defender Shawn Singh and midfielder Eder Arreola (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS), UC Irvine midfielder Miguel Ibarra, UC Santa Barbara defender James Kiffe and Cal State Northridge midfielder Rafael Garcia (Canoga Park/Canoga Park HS).
WORTH NOTING: How good is Wenger? One observer noted that not only is he the best prospect at center back and defensive midfielder, but also arguably the best forward (where he played for Duke) and attacking wing, too. ... Players who helped their stock in Florida included Creighton center back Andrew Duran, Virginia left back Hunter Jumper, UAB forward Babayele Sodade and South Florida goalkeeper Chris Blais. Well-regarded players who struggled included North Carolina center back Matt Hedges, Louisville forward Chris Rolfe, Creighton left back Tyler Polak and Santa Clara defender Mykell Bates. ... Joe Mauceri from Top Drawer Soccer graded draft candidates last month, and only three received A's: Wenger, Mattocks and Louisville playmaker Nick DeLeon, who tweaked a hamstring and played in just one combine game. Eight more received a B+, B or B- -- Rowe and Silva included. Hoffman graded at C+, which made him the No. 4 forward at the combine. The lowest-graded players at the combine were Arreola and Notre Dame defender Aaron Maund, both with D's. Maund, by most accounts, had an impressive combine. ... A half-dozen foreign players looking to come to MLS via the draft took part, and three of them made strong impressions: Japan's Kohei Yamada might be the most complete central midfielder in the draft, Mexico's Gienir Garcia (from Cruz Azul's system) is one of the better left backs, and Paraguayan attacker Aldo Paniagua helped his stock. ... There are two rounds (38 picks) in Thursday's draft, but next week's supplemental draft has four rounds.