Los Angeles Soccer: Ethan Finlay
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?”
The NCAA College Cup kicks off Friday afternoon in Hoover, Ala., with No. 2 Creighton taking on surprise semifinalist Creighton in the 3 p.m. PST opener. No. 4 UCLA meets No. 3 North Carolina in the second game, at 5:30 p.m.
The title game is Sunday at 1 p.m. All three games will be shown live on ESPNU.
Here's a quick rundown on the final four:
- UCLA (18-4-1)
The Bruins lost in the quarterfinals the past two years, but a shift to a pure possession attack -- with style as or more important than results -- has taken UCLA to a different level. Junior forward Chandler Hoffman gets to finish a spectacular campaign, in which he's netted 18 goals to head a dynamic attack, at home: He's from Birmingham.
Pacific 12 MVP Kelyn Rowe adds attacking dimensions off the bench and Englishman Andy Rose provides a midfield foundation around which the Bruins revolve. And they might be at their strongest at the back, where goalkeeper Brian Rowe has posted eight straight shutouts -- keeping his sheet clean for 747 minutes, 40 seconds.
- NORTH CAROLINA (20-2-2)
The Tar Heels reached the title game three years ago and lost in the semifinals the past two years, and now first-year coach Carlos Samoano -- promoted when Elmar Bolowich moved to Creighton -- looks to take them to a second title 11 years after the first. They bring in a nine-game winning streak, with six of the victories, including the last two, by shutout.