Combine presents unique challenges

The 2011 MLS Combine kicks off this weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and those prospects lookin

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Zack Schilawski turned heads at the 2010 MLS Combine last January, so much so that the New England Revolution made him the ninth overall selection in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft just a few days later.

But according to the former Wake Forest forward, showcasing himself at the Combine was a complicated process.

More than 70 top prospects have gathered in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for the 2011 MLS Combine, which kicks off this weekend at Central Broward Regional Park. For the young guns looking to raise their existing stock or perhaps simply make a name for themselves by standing out among the crowd, several challenges lie ahead.

Chief among those challenges is the contradictory nature of highlighting their own abilities while playing a sport built on team chemistry.

According to Schilawski, Combine attendees must find a balance in which they work with their teammates while simultaneously taking advantage of individual opportunities.

“I’m not one of those guys who’s going to go out there and make spectacular plays,” said Schilawski via phone interview on Thursday afternoon. “But if I’m involved with a few other teammates, then I can do well in combination play, moving off the ball and working hard defensively. So you kind of just focus on your strengths and hope that you get some guys out there who know how to play and are on the same page with you.

“But if you’re a defender, when you get your opportunity to step up and make a tackle, you’ve got to make sure you do it,” he continued. “If you’re a striker and you get a chance to take a guy one-on-one, you have to go for it. You can’t be shy.”

In that sense, Schilawski admits that a “me-first” mentality can occasionally work to a player’s advantage at the Combine.

“A little bit of selfishness comes into play,” he said. “As a striker, you’re not necessarily looking to set up another guy as much as you want to get your shot off and try to get a goal.”

As it is, working in tandem with other prospects at the Combine can be difficult from a pure soccer standpoint, as most players arrive in Florida the day before the games begin and have little time to acquaint themselves with their teammates. While some attendees will have a level of familiarity with others based on their time in college, many teammates will be playing together for the first time this weekend.

That’s not to mention the obstacles involved with off-field preparation between games, which uncharacteristically falls under each individual athlete’s own control.

During their college and club careers, players typically have scheduled team meals and structured warm-ups on game days. That’s not the case at the Combine.

“It’s kind of a different environment as far as going to an event and not playing for a team necessarily,” said Schilawski. “You just have to look after yourself. You have to make sure you’re eating at the right times, getting a proper warm-up, getting to bed. There’s no team atmosphere where you’re doing the right things by the team. You have to just look out for yourself and make sure you’re doing the right things to make sure you’re at your best.”

Once the Combine attendees take the field, it’s all about making themselves known.

“You have to put your game in your own hands and make sure you do whatever it takes to show well,” Schilawski said. “It isn’t always easy to do for a lot of people.”