The MLS Combine kicks off today in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, amassing the 64 invited hopefuls from all over the country to compete for team scouts and a chance at being drafted on January 15th. Over the course of the next five days, players will alternate matchdays with assigned teams and interview days with potential clubs, culminating with the final matches on Tuesday, January 13th.
This year, the draft class doesn't pack as much punch as previous years but it would be wrong to insinuate that there is no talent available. MLS announced their Generation Adidas signings yesterday, though it's not too likely that Houston will get a stab at them (Cyle Larin [F] and Cristian Roldan [M] are expected to go with the first two picks, leaving Romario Williams [M/F] and Conor Donovan [D] likely to be snagged before the Dynamo get a shot).
Following the Combine, the 2015 SuperDraft will be held in Philadelphia on Thursday, January 15th and the Dynamo will feature at the 8th, 36th, and 49th picks (the fourth-round pick was traded back in 2010 for Crew forward Jason Garey). Dynamo coaching staff that is traveling for the event includes Owen Coyle, Matt Jordan, Nick Kowba, Wade Barrett, Paul Caffrey, and, pending visa approval, new assistant coach Sandy Stewart. Amidst a hectic offseason of player acquistions, including Joe Willis, Cubo Torres, Leonel Miranda, and a rumored centerback, holes still remain in the Houston roster that the coaching staff will look to remedy.
Currently, the Dynamo are home to 21 players on the roster. While negotiations continue for some (like Samuel Inkoom), Canetti recently told Yellow Card Podcast the roster should be around 80% complete by the start of the January 23rd training camps. As the Dynamo continue to flesh out the midfield and forward corps, the defense has gone largely untouched and will need further depth heading into the 2015 season. While it's unlikely that those drafted will get significant playing time next season, they should be doled out to Houston's USLPro affiliate, the Charleston Battery, where they'll be allowed to steadily develop into useful players for a time of need or a competition like the US Open Cup.
Heading into today's matches, Dynamo Theory has singled out multiple players we think should be tracked through the weekend and maybe use a draft pick on next week.
Oumar Ballo (UMBC) - The 6'2" center back is an athletic defender who should be able to keep pace with speedy forwards and get physical as is needed.
Boyd Okwuonu (North Carolina) - Technically skilled central defender with one of the highest passing accuracy percentages but not as defensive as the Dynamo need. Also, his 5'8" stature is a big detractor. Could be flipped to another team if snagged.
Joe Greenspan (Navy) - A 6'6" center back, Greenspan is unique in his skill but is also committed to Navy service after graduation. There is the potential to draft him (perhaps with #49), obtain his rights and after two years, he could join the Dynamo as a member of the Naval reserves - a risky proposition.
Axel Sjoberg (Marquette) - Six foot seven. That's mostly what you need to know about him. The 24-year old Swede has an intimidating silhouette as a center back but questions remain about his speed and if he'd be able to keep pace in MLS. Sjoberg has the potential for development and a stint with the Battery could be perfect.
Ramon Martin Del Campo (UC Davis) - A real steal if he falls to Houston in the first round. At 6'2", Martin Del Campo has seen experience in the U-23 USMNT. The center back signed a contract with MLS to commit for the 2015 season this week so his stock has risen a bit which makes his availability to the Dynamo less likely.
Other defensive targets include the 6'3" Akron right back, Saad Abdul-Salaam (who would make a great depth move behind Kofi Sarkodie), the under-the-radar St. John's center back Tim Parker, and Skylar Thomas, a center back out of Syracuse. While unlikely, if he happens to fall, Houston has to grab Conor Donovan (North Carolina, US U-20 defender) of the Generation Adidas class.
Cameron Iwasa (UC Irvine) - Creative midfielder/forward could be of use in Coyle's system which, based on the offseason acquisitions thus far, seems to be all about players flexible enough to play multiple positions.
Akeil Barrett (Tulsa) - Versatile on right and left midfield flanks as well as playing up front if needed. For how much we saw Boniek, Davis, and Clark float from side-to-side last year, Barrett would do well as a backup.
Leo Stolz (UCLA) - The German-born product of the 1860 Munich academy has twice turned down pro contracts in favor of finishing schooling (including a Generation Adidas offer last year). He's a cerebral and talented midfielder who's looking to kickoff a stateside career. Playing behind a Houston CAM with the potential to be starting after a couple years of development could be a huge move for the Dynamo. (Update: According to Sam Stejskal, Stolz has passed on the combine)
Other midfield targets include SKC Defender Matt Besler's younger brother, Nick, Connecticut maestro Adria Beso Marco (likely available at #36), and, if the Soccer Gods shine on Houston, Generation Adidas defensive midfielder Cristian Roldan out of Washington.
Khiry Shelton (Oregon State) - Pac-12 Player of the Year, Shelton is a Texas native and could provide a boost to most forward tandems in MLS. He's a hot asset, though, so it's likely he'll be gone before the Dynamo are ready to make a move on forwards but he'd be a great option off the bench should Houston get bit by an injury bug.
Andy Craven (North Carolina) - Teammate of Okwuonu, this central forward doesn't stray away from taking shots and can pepper the goal from any point in the box. He doesn't create a lot of his own chances, however, and needs the service to be effective a la Bruin. Could be a nice target forward backup if needed.
Andy Bevin (West Virginia) - A powerful center forward that makes the right moves in front of goal - whether that's shooting or passing. He tallied twelve goals and eight assists in 2014 for West Virginia and could be a very effective option coming off the bench. If you're looking for a smaller version (5'9") of Mark Sherrod, this Kiwi is where it's at.
Other forward targets include the seasoned 25-year old Israeli Sagi Lev-Ari, and Generation Adidas signee Romario Williams who can play as a winger or striker alongside a center forward.
While the MLS Combine won't be available for streaming as it has been in previous years, MLSsoccer.com will provide full coverage including video highlights, interviews with players and coaches, and other news items. The Superdraft takes place next Thursday, January 15th at 11:30AM CT. Broadcast information for the draft will be announced at a later date.