The past few days the Orlando City soccer operations staff has been in Fort Lauderdale for the 2016 Adidas MLS Player Combine. The six-day event gives prospective MLS draftees a final opportunity to impress teams shortly before the MLS SuperDraft with all 20 teams watching.
This year, MLS invited 72 college and young international players to the combine. The players have been split into four teams with 18 players on each team. Coached by premier college coaches and MLS assistant coaches, the players take part in three doubleheaders every other day from Jan. 8 to Jan. 12.
The players also take part in physical tests. Like combines in other professional sports, these tests provide teams with critical player information such as speed, strength, and agility.
For the top players, the combine will have a much lesser effect than those from smaller schools in lower divisions. In 2015, Orlando City technical staff knew they wanted to select Cyle Larin first overall. That, combined with him being on duty with the Canadian U-20 national team meant the forward didn't take part in the combine. This year, it seems the clear number one selection by the Chicago Fire will be Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro. Despite Yaro's nearly unanimous designation as the draft's top player, Yaro is taking part in this year's event.
The combine will likely not have a significant effect on teams' draft selections in the early rounds. Teams have done their homework throughout the college season and have narrowed down their potential selections to just a few players. Many clubs likely already had an ordered list of who they plan to take before the players even arrived in South Florida.
However, the combine does give clubs the opportunity to see players that are not from the highly coveted programs, which can be beneficial.
In 2015, defender Matt Polster entered the draft from SIU-Edwardsville with little expectation of being drafted in the early rounds. However, Polster excelled in the combine, convincing the Fire to select the 22-year-old with the seventh overall pick. The selection stunned fans and pundits alike and showed what kind of an impact the combine can have.
While Polster did play for Chicago's PDL team in 2014, garnering the Fire's awareness of the player, technical director Brian Bliss said after the draft that it was his performance in the combine that convinced the team to select him in the first round. Polster would go on to play in 30 of the Fire's 34 games in 2015 and started 27 of those games.
Picking seventh in this year's draft, Orlando City has probably narrowed down its list of possible selections to a select few. They also probably have a good idea of who they wish to select in the later rounds as well. But this week's combine will give the team an opportunity to see some players that weren't as readily available to scout during the college season possibly helping them find a hidden gem.