I spent a delightful weekend watching the three games of this year's College Cup. In the semifinals, Maryland and Georgetown battled in a double overtime, 4-4 thriller that ended with Georgetown ultimately winning on penalty kicks. The game was epic. In the other semifinal, Indiana locked down Creighton with a solid team effort and won 1-0 in regulation. Indiana then went on to repeat the performance against a weary Georgetown side and secured the National Championship with another 1-0 performance.
I was particularly interested in seeing how some of the top draft prospects would perform on the Championship stage. Like the Player Combine, the College Cup should not be seen as a definitive statement of a player's abilities. Rather it is an opportunity to see how a player steps up in critical games when titles are on the line. Some players excel and use the games as a springboard into the draft conversation. Other players have an off game and their stock may drop slightly. The games also present players with an opportunity to close a chapter in their career in style. The 2012 College Cup didn't disappoint.
The Stars Align
This year's College Cup featured a number of star prospects. Some of these star prospects were Seniors, others are underclass candidates for the handful of Generation Adidas contracts the league plans to offer. Still others are players who are tied to teams through the Home Grown player mechanism. Here are some notes on what I saw from these players.
Eriq Zavaleta, 6'1" 185 Sophomore Indiana University, is a beast. He is a prototypical power forward and many predict that he will be one of the top 3 picks in this year's draft if he accepts the Generation Adidas contract he is certain to be offered. Unlike many college forwards, he plays with his back to goal and his skills were on full display throughout the college cup. While he didn't score, he was instrumental in the IU attack and assisted on the game winner in the championship game. He has soft feet and good vision and looked comfortable holding up play in the midfield to allow his team mates to join the attack as well as creating havoc in the box. He did get winded toward the end of the first game and at times his movement off the ball was a bit static, but the potential is definitely there. He would definitely help the Sounders both in terms of skills and salary because of his likely Generation Adidas status, but there is no way that they land him without trading for one of the top slots in the draft.
Jose Gomez, 5'9" 155 Senior Creighton University, had a forgettable semi-final game. Many draft boards have Gomez listed as one of the premiere Senior playmakers in this year's draft class. He is an attacking center mid. Unfortunately, Dylan Lax from Indiana University shut him down in the semi-final. Gomez chased the game and at times seemed to drift in and out of the flow of play. I doubt that he did permanent damage to his draft chances, but he certainly didn't help them in this particular game. Looking forward to seeing what he does in the Combine.
Patrick Mullins, 6'1" 172 Junior University of Maryland, lived up to his billing as a premiere Generation Adidas target. Though the Terrapins ultimately lost the game, Mullins was solid assisting on two goals, scoring a third in regulation and then burying his PK in the Shootout. His first assist was against the run of play and was a brilliant redirected header to a teammate on a low trajectory ball that the team mate then headed past the keeper. His goal in the run of play came from crashing the net and pouncing on a rebound. The Maryland team is deep and young. Only 3 Seniors will graduate from a team that easily could be 17-20 players deep. He may decide that he has unfinished business in the college game. But if he wants it, I think the league will offer him a Generation Adidas contract. He's a second forward or crafty wing type player. Reminded me a lot of Chris Wondolowski in that he found seams to exploit both with assists and goals.
Steve Neuman, 6'0" 150 Junior Georgetown University, had one of the greatest College Cup semi-final games of all time. He scored the first College Cup hat trick in over 20 years and won the Offensive MVP of the tournament in stunning fashion. He pounced on balls. He slid into seams and he had a brilliant strike from distance. He and the other Hoyas harassed, harried and buzzed the Terps into submission. He wasn't as effective in the final, both because of Dylan Lax and because he and his team mates were simply wasted from the semi-final. But no other player did as much for his MLS stock as Neuman in this College Cup. Neuman entered the tournament as one of the stars of Hoya team, but was on the outside of the Generation Adidas conversation. After this tournament, I imagine that he is now firmly in that conversation, though reports are now coming out that he will opt to return for his Senior season at Georgetown. His style of play was very similar to Patrick Mullins and if anything he showed even more savvy for finding dangerous pockets of space.
John Stertzer, 6'0" 170 Senior University of Maryland, didn't have much impact on the semi-final game. Like Gomez, Stertzer entered the semi-finals as a key Senior midfield prospect in this year's draft. And like Gomez, he was ineffective. In Stertzer's case, his defenders struggled to get the ball out of their own end as Georgetown relentlessly pressured them. Stertzer never captured the flow of the game.
London Woodberry, 6'1" 160 Senior University of Maryland, had an OK semi-final game. Like all of the other Maryland defenders, Woodberry struggled to relieve the relentless pressure. He had some good moments and some mediocre ones. FC Dallas controls his MLS rights as a product of their Academy system and the reality is that he will probably be a solid young CB prospect for the Toros.
Not every player entering the College Cup is a star prospect. Some of them are underclassmen and some are simply solid college Seniors. Here are a few of the Seniors participating in this year's Cup who stood out to me.
Luis Soffner, 6'4" 210 Senior Indiana University, was the Defensive MVP of the Tournament. IU's fifth year Senior Goal Keeper had a solid tournament and should get an invite to the Combine. He's big and smart. He orchestrated the tight IU defense in both the semi-final and the championship, posting two shutouts.
Tommy Muller, 5'11" 168 Senior Georgetown University, is undersized for an MLS CB. He has good aerial ability though and even beat Eriq Zavaleta to a header in the midfield during the Championship. Someone will take a chance on him, but until I see more of him in the Combine, I wouldn't think he will figure high in anyone's early draft boards.
Caleb Konstanski, 6'0" 180 Senior Indiana University, seemed to be involved in many key stops for the IU defense in both games. It was obvious that he was one of the on field leaders for a team that posted two shut outs against high powered offenses. Not a bad line item on a defender's resume.
Taylor Kemp, 5'11" 153 Senior University of Maryland, was a key leader for the Terps. He's also a LB. He took the corners for the Terps and consistently worked forward into the attack. His delivery from the run of play was better than his corner service. He was also instrumental in helping the Terps break out of their own end and played reasonable defense. His Senior season was hampered by an injury so he didn't put up killer numbers this year, but he is generally regarded as one of the top LB candidates in this year's draft. He's also the kind of player who is likely to still be on the board when the Sounders pick. He's a player I intend to watch closely in the Combine as I think he is a legitimate candidate for the Sounders.
Jimmy Nealis, 6'0" 162 Senior Georgetown University, was the other standout LB in the tournament. During the Championship game he stepped up and tried to will his team into the title. Of all of the exhausted players on the Hoya squad, he stepped up and put in the gutsiest performance. He showed strong defensive and offensive skills. He had good technical skill on the ball and provided solid service from the run of play. He's another player I expect to be available when the Sounders draft and is another player I will focus on during the Combine. Between Kemp and Nealis, I think the Sounders could score a nice LB candidate in this year's draft.
Andy Riemer, 6'0" 160 Senior Georgetown University, was another sparkplug in the Hoya attack. He finished last season as a Forward and then was moved to the wings this year to make room for Georgetown's star Freshman power forward. He's a tireless player who reminded me of Sebastien LeToux. Guts and a engine that won't quit. He played the tournament with a bandaged wrist, but it didn't seem to effect him. He's the kind of character player that might be worth a flyer pick in a later round.
Beyond the immediate draft candidates a number of underclassmen stood out in the College Cup. Here are a few candidates that will grace future prospect discussions.
Femi Hollinger-Janzen, 6'0" 174 Indiana University, surprised the announcers and everyone else with how polished his game was. Known as an athletic, raw prospect going into the College Cup, Femi came to play. He was the most dangerous sub on the Indiana bench and probably more than any other player helped tip the scales in IU's favor in both games. He scored the only goal in the semi-final and was robbed of a second goal at the end of the first period of the semi's. He was dangerous and exciting.
Dylan Lax, 6'0" 165 Indiana University, locked down the defensive center midfield for the Hoosiers and neutralized whoever he played against. I couldn't pick him out of a crowd of two because I never did get a good look at him. But he just smothered the midfield and was a key component of the Hoosier's championship.
Tomas Gomez, 6'1" 196 Georgetown University, backstopped the Hoyas and played a critical role in the Georgetown run. Just a sophomore, he anchored the Hoya defense in ways that belied his youth. I thought he was a Senior until I looked up the Hoya roster.
Brandon Allen, 6'0" 180 Georgetown University, was the second best power forward in the Cup. Just a freshman, things bode well for Georgetown and finishing second to Eriq Zavaleta isn't anything to hang his head about. Unlike Zavelta, Allen spent a lot more time running and pressuring his opposition. And more than any other Hoya his fatigue showed in the final. He was just dead on his feet half way through the first period.
Mikey Ambrose, University of Maryland, sparked his team's comeback off the bench as a RB. Throughout the season he stepped up and filled in when Taylor Kemp went down with an injury. All he did in the semi final was step onto the field, drive up the pitch and launch a howitzer that rattled the crossbar and bounced out to Patrick Mullins. From the moment he entered the game, the depth and fresh legs of the Maryland team began to influence the game. He played with exhuberance and finesse. Not bad for a freshman.
Schillo Tshuma, University of Maryland, scored a brace. He looked dangerous and darted in and out of the Hoya defense. He and his fellow underclassmen bode well for the future of the Maryland program.
We can all hope for the Sounders to work a deal and land a star GA prospect like Eriq Zavaleta and he would be fun to watch develop in Rave Green. But more likely, the College Cup showed a couple of Left Back candidates in Taylor Kemp and Jimmy Nealis who would be solid targets who are likely to be available when the Sounders pick.