MLS SuperDraft Prospects for Real Salt LakeA list of Combine players to watch for in 2014
by Wes Brown | Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, marks the next edition of the MLS SuperDraft. Immediately preceding this is the 5-day MLS Combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., which showcases much of the collegiate talent in the country.
The league has already announced the 50 players invited to the Combine, and there are several players to keep an eye on that could aid the growth of Real Salt Lake’s stable of young talent.
Here’s my list of players to watch who could fill some gaps in or add depth to the RSL roster:
Michael Kafari – University of New Mexico
Kafari, a Ghana native, was a teammate of RSL’s Devon Sandoval at UNM. As a defensive midfielder, he’d fill the void created by Yordany Alvarez and then some. While physical, he’s calm on and off the ball with a first touch that would save him from precarious situations. He likes to hold when in attack (similar to Kyle Beckerman), is an able passer especially in tight quarters, and has the footwork necessary in 1v1 situations, which allows him to maintain possession before distributing forward.
The bonus is he’s played with Sandoval before with the Lobos, meaning there’s existing chemistry he could bring to the squad. The downside is he’d require an international roster spot. Fortunately, RSL just vacated 2 of them by releasing Alvarez and Khari Stephenson.
Taylor Peay – University of Washington
Peay is not only a native of Salt Lake City, but was a member of RSL’s U-17 and U-18 youth squads, making him a top choice for RSL. The 6’2” central defender would bring an attacking presence to the backline. He’s able and willing to carry the ball out of the back before distributing, which is almost a must-have in the team’s style of play.
He’d be a great addition in a long line of centerbacks at the club, but the problem is just that – RSL has a depth chart filled with centerbacks, most with a similar style as his. Still, at 22 years old, Peay is more in line developmentally with Aaron Maund than Chris Schuler or Kwame Watson-Siriboe.
Michael Calderon – University of New Mexico
Another Lobo, Calderon is an attacking midfielder that could technically play left, central or right. He’s a bit older than most at 25, but he brings an international pedigree having served for the U-20 Costa Rica Men’s National Team. He’s well-rounded and is just as likely to score as he is to thread a pass for an assist.
A fun tid-bit linking him to a former RSL-er: Calderon is the 1st Lobo player to have recorded 1 goal and 2 assists in an NCAA tournament game (2012) since Jeff Rowland back in 2004. Nothing like a historical connection to sell a player.
Zach Bolden – University of Denver
RSL shouldn’t be 100% sold on Bolden as a perfect fit, but he has enough raw talent that brings potential for refinement by new RSL manager Jeff Cassar. Adding the attacking midfielder would also be a coup for the club as he was a member of the Colorado Rapids’ U-18 team as well as being a Denver native. Call it a bit of revenge for the likes of Tony Cascio and others in the past.
Bolden is a bit of a hybrid winger as he likes to occasionally drift inside in the attacking third. But this does not make him a “central winger” as he spends most of his time on the flank. He could add a bit of flexibility in tactical approach, and his long- and short-range shooting ability would be something RSL could make use of.
Steve Birnbaum – California State University
A member of the US U-18 and U-20 national teams, Birnbaum is another passing-minded central defender with superb aerial abilities. He’s captained teams since youth soccer and has led the Bears since 2011. Unfortunately, Birnbaum’s LCL injury in 2012 cost him all but 2 games that year, and one would think there could be hesitation about future problems.
Regardless, he fits the mold of a Nat Borchers, and if the coaching staff could convince him to attack more especially on set pieces, Birnbaum could be a promising addition.
Romena Bowie – Virginia Commonwealth University
There’s not much not to like about Bowie. He’s quick, athletic, a great passer and has the vision to pick out very dangerous attacking runs. But what is most impressive is his preemptive style off the ball. He’s great at pressuring opponents early before they’ve even settled, and more times than not it results in a turnover.
Although he’s listed as, plays at and is pegged to continue at the defensive midfielder position, it’s possible he’ll do more as a convert to the side of the diamond. Imagine his passing, vision and pressure combined with his 2-way play in the RSL system.
Reinaldo Brenes – University of Akron
Brenes, another member of Costa Rica’s youth teams, is a true striker. He’s clinical, opportunistic and finishes a bit like Robbie Keane. The forward position might be tight for RSL, but the option of moving Joao Plata and/or Olmes Garcia to midfield opens options up top. That could be the price needed to afford someone of Brenes’ talent. No doubt he’s on many teams’ watchlists, and he’s one that’ll definitely be on mine during the Combine.
Who have you been watching? What college talent are you high on? And, more importantly, in what areas do RSL need to fill during the SuperDraft?
NEXT UP: March 8 – Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, StubHub Center, Carson, Calif. 10:30 p.m. EST, MLS LIVE.