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Jan 12, 2010

Loyd's stock continues to rise

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Three very cold days in Florida was what most of the top prospects in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft had to impress scouts ahead of Thursday's draft, and while some stepped up and improved their chances of being drafted highly, others struggled with the level of play and conditions.

No player did more to impress MLS scouts at the Combine than Tony Tchani, a 6-foot-4 central midfielder with impressive strength on the ball and a sharp passing touch. Tchani's dominant display left a handful of teams trying to figure out how to trade their way into position to take him. "He's a player who can come into the league and play right now," one MLS coach said. "He has the size and strength to cope with the MLS style of play, but he brings something else special to the table with his vision and passing ability."

Tchani was one of several players to boost their stock at the combine. Here is a rundown of some of the combine's other standouts, as well as some players who saw their stock drop over the past few days in Florida.

STOCK RISING

1. Zach Loyd, M/D, North Carolina

If Tchani was the best player at the combine, Loyd was the second most impressive. His ability to play well at whatever position he was put in showed off all of his many qualities, including a good passing touch, hard-nosed defending, a good ability to read the game, and surprising pace.

"He's just a good all-around player, and the scary part is, he didn't really play much at what is probably his best position, defensive midfield," said another MLS head coach. "In our league, where you have the salary cap and the small roster, finding a player who can help you at a variety of positions is like finding gold."

2. Amobi Okugo, M, UCLA

Okugo came into the combine very highly regarded, but there was some question about how he would handle the competition. The 18-year-old UCLA product did very well, showing a strong skill set and confidence on the ball. He likely solidified himself as a top-10 pick.

"You have to love the upside because he's already there from a physical standpoint," one MLS technical director said. "He's 18 and can already handle himself well, so if he winds up in the right environment, he could be special."

2010 MLS SuperDraft
Jan. 14
Convention Center, Philadelphia
2 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

3. Dilly Duka, M, U.S. U-20

The U.S. U-20 midfielder was in danger of being on the stock-falling list after day one but rebounded with a very impressive second day at the combine. Playing in his more natural central midfield role, Duka showed a good motor, quality passing touch and toughness. He missed Day 3 with an ankle injury but still did enough on Day 2 to merit being a top-10 selection.

"There are a lot of good athletes at this combine, but there aren't as many good soccer players. Duka is a soccer player," one MLS head coach said. "He's creative and [he's] a smart player who showed on the second day that he has the talent to develop."

4. Justin Morrow, D, Notre Dame

The MLS combine class was supposed to feature a deep crop of left backs, but Morrow was the only one to really stand out. A converted midfielder who has played in the back for only one season, Morrow showed a very good ability to get forward while also appearing like an adequate defender. He likely played himself into a second-round selection.

5. Drew Yates, M, Maryland

The Maryland midfielder was a role player on the Terrapins' national title team in 2008, but at the combine, he was the one of the few bright spots. A big central midfielder who might wind up playing on the wing in MLS, Yates impressed coaches with his intelligence, work rate, quickness and touch.

6. Irving Garcia, M, UC-Irvine

One of the truly pleasant surprises of the combine, Garcia is just 5-5 but showed great technical ability, impressive speed and a good feel for the game. Some scouts think he is too small, which along with his style of play won't suit all teams, but he's just the type of player who could do well on a team that stresses possession and technical qualities in its midfielders.

"A team is going to take a chance on him, and it wouldn't surprise me if he winds up being one of the best players in this draft," one MLS technical director said. "He impressed down here, and I know some teams will want to take him. The question is, how early do you grab him?"

STOCK FALLING

1. Andrew Wiedeman, F, California

Perhaps no player saw his stock drop more than Wiedeman, who struggled for chances through all three days at the combine. Known as a bit of a goal-poacher, Wiedeman's inability to put his stamp on games proved worrisome to coaches who are having doubts about his being able to find chances at the next level.

"He should probably still go in the first round, but he didn't do himself any favors," one MLS coach said. "His team wasn't that strong, but you still have to find a way to make an impact on games even when chances aren't coming, and I don't think he did that."

2. Andre Akpan, F, Harvard

Another highly rated striker coming into the combine, Akpan looked little like the former U.S. U-20 standout whom MLS had coveted for years. He looked a bit stiff and showed none of the pace he has been reputed to possess. He had some moments but was otherwise a disappointment who could slide into the late first round.

"He looks like a player who wasn't totally interested in being here," one MLS coach said. "You wonder how motivated he is and whether he still has the tools he had when he was younger. He didn't show well at all."

3. Corben Bone, M, Wake Forest

The Wake Forest playmaker didn't have a terrible combine, but as one of the five highest-rated prospects coming into the draft, he was probably the least impressive of the group. The talent is there, and teammates raved about playing with him, but didn't make the impact expected of him, and there are questions about where he will ultimately slot into once he's in MLS.

"He's quick, and you love how much he moves around, but I'm not sure where he works best, as a central midfielder or someone on the wing," one MLS technical director said. "There is ability there, but it's safe to say he probably lost some ground on the other top guys like Tchani and Bunbury."

4. Ofori Sarkodie, D, Indiana

One of several disappointing left backs, Sarkodie actually saw time at left and right back, and while he wasn't bad as a defender, he showed very little in the way of an attacking threat. Some scouts think he's a bit stiff and not as strong technically as some teams would like at the position.

"He looks like a player who may have peaked at an early age," one MLS assistant coach said. "He was good on the U-17 level, but he hasn't carried over the same characteristics or abilities. He's barely gotten forward here, and that was something people wanted to see. To his credit, he's a smart player, but I'm not sure he did enough to make teams want to take him early."

5. Jovan Bubonja, GK, Illinois-Chicago

A year ago, Bubonja was lauded as a goalkeeper who could be the second player taken at his position after standout Stefan Frei, but he didn't sign with MLS and played his final year at Illinois-Chicago. After a disappointing final season, Bubunja entered the combine needing to impress if he was going to go in the first two rounds. He showed very little and probably projects to be a late second-round pick, if that.

"You have to wonder if he was just overrated a year ago," one MLS goalkeeper coach said. "Even when you're not facing a lot of shots and dealing with a lot of action, you can still do things to make a good impression and I just haven't seen much of that at all from [Bubonja]."

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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