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Jan 14, 2009

Cronin's performance solidifies top-prospect status

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- There's something that feels just a bit unjust about Major League Soccer's combine, and how a player's performance there can sometimes mean more than an entire college career.

That is the harsh reality, though, and it's why players see their stocks rise and fall just days before the MLS SuperDraft every year. This year was no different, as some players came through with strong showings at the four-day event, while several top prospects delivered disappointing performances.

Three of the draft's best prospects -- goalkeeper Stefan Frei, midfielder Sam Cronin and defender Omar Gonzalez -- did enough to maintain their high rankings (though Gonzalez did struggle in his first day at the combine), but almost all the other first-round candidates saw their stock either rise or fall over the past week in Florida.

Here are some of the players who improved their stock the most, and some who saw their stocks dip ahead of Thursday's draft (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360).

Stock rising

1. M, Sam Cronin, Wake Forest: Though he was already pretty highly regarded before the combine, Cronin left the combine considered by many to be the best field player in the bunch, a poised midfielder.

"He, probably more than anybody in this group, is ready to play on the next level," one general manager said. "He still needs more repetitions in tough situations, but he's a very good player who is going to go somewhere and play right away."

2. F, Peri Marosevic, Michigan: The U.S. U-20 star showed good strength on the ball, clever movement and good passing ideas. Only 19, Marosevic showed enough to be the second forward taken and a top-seven pick.

2009 MLS SuperDraft
Thursday
St. Louis
2 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360

"He's a hard worker, gets after it and follows plays up well," said one head coach. "He's one of the youngest guys here, but didn't play like it. He has a real nose for the goal."

3. F, Chris Pontius, UC Santa Barbara: Pontius was mobile, creates space and showed the best shot at the combine. He played some on the wing, but he looked better at forward and looks capable of providing some goals as a rookie.

"He came in with some expectations and lived up to them," one coach said. "He was moved around a bit and did well, and you can project him as someone who should be able to score some goals for you."

4. D, Babajide Ogunbiyi, Santa Clara: Had arguably the best combine of any defender. Came in with a good reputation, and his combination of size, surprising quickness and good decision-making could move him into the first round.

"He didn't have a whole lot of hype coming in, but he played well, and being that big he's going to have some teams thinking about him much higher than you would have expected a week ago," said one general manager.

5. D, A.J. Delagarza, Maryland: A central defender in college, Delagarza played great at the combine but still left coaches skeptical that, at 5-foot-8, he can play center back in MLS. He played right fullback on the final combine day and looked sharp there, which could boost him into the second round.

"If he were three inches taller he'd probably be a first-rounder," one general manager said. "He's probably not a realistic option as a center back in the league, but he's a good player, and I'm sure there are teams that will think about taking him higher based on what they saw this weekend."

6. D, Kevin Alston, Indiana: Overcame a shaky first half in his first game to show coaches why he's the best fullback in the draft. He's fast, relentless, skillful and capable of overlapping into the attack quickly.

"Some people were hoping he would come in and be a good left back candidate, but what he showed at right back was still pretty good," one general manager said.

7. D, George John, Washington: John is just a month removed from surgery for a torn meniscus, but still impressed with his size-skill combo. The 6-4 converted midfielder is a dark-horse candidate to sneak into the first round.

"He's very smart, and he's calm," one general manager said. "He's good with the ball and reads situations well, which is good, and he didn't lose many balls. He was an organizer as well."

8. GK, Steward Ceus, Albany -- At an 6-6, Ceus impressed coaches with his tools, with some thinking he could be the second goalkeeper taken after Frei.

"He's raw but he's a giant and he moves really well and he could grow a ton of he went to the right club," said one assistant coach. "The only problem for him could be the smaller rosters in MLS this year [24 total roster spots, four fewer than last year], which means teams aren't likely to carry three goalkeepers.

Stock falling

1. F, Steve Zakuani: The top-rated prospect in the draft had nowhere to go but down, and his lackluster performance in the combine is threatening to cause him to slip in the draft the way Patrick Nyarko slipped to No. 7 in the 2008 MLS Draft after being considered the top prospect. The tools, particularly Zakuani's pace on the ball, are still there, though, so don't expect him to fall too far.

"Everybody expected more, and it looks like he didn't do much since the break, and that hurt him," one coach said. "He'll still go high, but he looked rusty."

2. M, Jeremy Hall: Failed to make much of an impact at the combine. Hall did little to resemble the dynamic force who starred for Maryland, but that doesn't mean he won't go high. Scouts aren't likely to forget how good he looked during the college season.

"Maybe it was the team he was on, but he just didn't get too involved," said one coach. "He's a player who should benefit from having some better players around him, but I was hoping to see more of the attacking qualities you saw in college."

3. D/M, Rodney Wallace: Only played two of the three game days and was forgettable save for the second half of his first game. He looked bad playing in midfield, but a young and athletic left-footed left back is still sure to be taken in the top 10, just not the top five, as first thought.

"He's not a left winger, at least that's how it looked when he was played there," one coach said. "He's a good athlete and looked more comfortable attacking from the back, but you saw him get beaten a few times."

4. M, Baggio Husidic: He came in labeled the draft's best playmaking prospect, but showed up looking slow and heavy. The skill and vision were there to see, but his lack of pace is a cause for concern and could lead to him falling out of the first round.

"You worry about where he fits in at the next level," said one coach. "He's got a good soccer brain, and teams are always going to be interested in a player like that, but I'm not sure he helped his stock."

5. M, Danny Cruz, UNLV: One popular question among coaches at the MLS combine was just whose recommendation led to the 19-year-old Cruz landing a Generation adidas contract. There is no question he is a good athlete, but he didn't show much to lead coaches to believe he is anywhere close to ready for the pro level.

"He's got a good motor but wasn't able to do much, so you wonder how far away he is from being able to help you," one coach said. "Somebody will take a chance on him because he's young, but I was hoping to see more."

6. D, Yohance Marshall, South Florida: Marshall went into the combine as one of the highest-rated central defenders, but his propensity for mistakes likely cost him a place in the first round.

"He has the physical tools, but you hope his concentration gets better with maturity," said one coach. "He's too casual on the ball, but I'm sure someone will look at his athleticism and be intrigued by that."

7. GK, Neil Kitson, St. John's: After making so many great saves in the College Cup semifinals against Maryland, Kitson came into the combine with some expectations to live up to. He responded with a poor showing throughout, complete with a couple of blunders that make you wonder when, or if, he will be drafted at all.

8. M, Akeem Priestley, Connecticut: For someone who was supposed to be an attacking midfield prospect and a prospective playmaker, Priestly didn't do much attacking. He's strong on the ball, but didn't look overly creative or quick. He could be a decent holding midfielder and could still get drafted in that sort of role, but failed to live up to the hype about him.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.

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