FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Three games is not much time to convince a technical staff you’re worth taking a shot on.
That’s the window provided to the approximately 65 players invited to participate in the 2012 adidas MLS Player Combine, which is set to run from Jan. 6-10 at Central Broward Regional Park in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Fans can watch all six matches streaming live on MLSsoccer.com.
More than 50 collegiate seniors will be joined by a group of Generation adidas players and international invitees for the five-day showcase as they all try to prove their worth ahead of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, set for Jan. 12 at the Kansas City Convention Center.
Both A.J. Soares and Stephen McCarthy participated in last year’s Combine before being selected by the New England Revolution in the first and second rounds of the SuperDraft, respectively, and the duo reflected on the taxing experience with a similar sentiment.
“Before I got there, I was really thinking about it,” said McCarthy. “It was very nerve wracking, because you just have no idea how you’re going to do or if you’re prepared enough. You just start thinking, ‘What if I do poorly and then don’t get [drafted]?’”
“It’s definitely a little bit nerve wracking in the sense that you feel like you have three or four games to play, and you think that the teams and coaches are going to judge you based off that, which I think is true in a sense,” echoed Soares. “But also know that these coaching staffs are smart enough to know that they’re not going to judge you based solely on three games in a couple days.”
For obvious reasons, the Combine can be a mentally stressful situation for young players who often feel like they’re playing for their livelihood. But there are physical obstacles as well.
The tightly-packed schedule includes a trio of games for each team within a five-day span, with just one day off between each game. Add in the fact that many teammates at the Combine meet each other moments before stepping onto the field and it’s easy to understand why the first and last games of the weekend are often a bit rough.
“It’s really difficult because typically you haven’t played with any of the players or maybe you’ve played with one or two of them,” said Soares. “But I think it can also present a problem where guys might try a little too hard to make themselves look good.”
Thus presents the biggest dilemma players face at the Combine: Is it more important to make myself look good or make my team look good?
According to McCarthy, the answer is actually one and the same.
“There’s a fine line between trying to show the best that you can for yourself and then trying to win games, which makes everyone on your team look better if you’re playing better together,” he said. “I think the wrong attitude would be to go in thinking that I want to just make myself look the best I can.
“I think the two teams that did the best (last year) were just the teams which moved the ball and tried to help each other out,” McCarthy added. “It’s difficult because you want to try to make sure everyone knows what you can do, but I think in the end it’s best if you help each other out as a team.”
Despite the inherent difficulties, both McCarthy and Soares said the key to approaching the Combine is with a relaxed attitude.
“Mostly just relax, because it’s not going to be the end of the world if you have one bad day,” McCarthy said when asked what advice he would give to those players about to begin the Combine. “There are a couple days, so everyone’s going to see what you can do. You have to just relax and stop thinking about [it].”
“You definitely have to go down there relaxed and approach the games just like you would with whatever team you were with before,” Soares added. “You just have to go relaxed, play the game just like you’re on a team that you want to win and that’s the best way to look good.”