This is a guest blog post from 2017 Georgetown captain Chris Lema, a New York Red Bull Academy product who has been involved with the US Youth National Team at both U-17 and U-20 levels. Chris spent the past few days at the MLS Combine in Orlando, as he prepares for Sunday’s MLS Draft. Chris was nice enough to share his Combine experience thus far with DMVSoccer.com.
The Days Before
Leading up to the combine, my nerves were calm, but I was excited to get back in touch with a soccer ball. Being that my Georgetown team had been done with the season since our NCAA second-round defeat, I had not been able to play soccer on a regular-sized field in quite some time. New Jersey (where I live) had an abundance of snowstorms over the winter break, which made it a lot more difficult to get around. In order to prepare for the combine, I had to find indoor pick-up spots all over New Jersey, and do both my workouts and runs indoors in my local Planet Fitness.
I was later introduced to RC Performance, where I was training alongside Brandon Allen- going through some high intensity soccer and agility drills that I believe helped both my technical ability, and fitness- leading up to the combine and draft. Training prior to the draft was something that I knew was important, especially because I knew my body would have to adapt to the Florida climate.
On Monday, January 11th, I arrived at Newark Liberty International airport for my one-way flight to Orlando, where I met up with two other players (Brian White of Duke, and Mamadou Guirassy of NJIT) who I knew were also traveling to the combine.
The flight was comfortable and quick from New Jersey to Orlando, but as soon as I got off of the plane I felt the dreadful Florida heat and humidity. This was the reason why I pushed my boundaries in terms of fitness over the past couple of weeks.
As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I could read all of the signs welcoming the 2018 MLS Combine Players. Everything from hotel key cards to pre-printed schedules which had “2018 MLS Combine” featured on them, and that’s when it started to sink in.
2018 MLS Combine
Throughout the trip, all of the players had a first-class experience. We had our own personal Player Combine Lounge where we could enjoy some snacks, drinks, and of course play some FIFA 2018 (on Xbox One). We had three meals a day, and everything was healthy and delicious. One of the best parts about this week was that we had quite a bit of down time in between games where we could hang out with other players, catch up on some TV shows, and have meeting with numerous MLS teams. These meetings were considered “interviews” in which the team’s staff would ask you questions pertaining to both your soccer ability and personal life.
The idea was for teams to get to know you as both a player, and as a person. After the questions pertaining to how much you were enjoying the combine, some of the more popular questions were:
1) Do you like to win or hate to lose?
2) What are some strengths and weaknesses that you have?
3) How was your college experience, and how has it helped you develop?
4) How did your youth career help you get to where you are now?
5) Tell us a little bit about your family.
6) Give us a rundown on how you thought you played.
Throughout the day, you would hear players talking about their interviews with other MLS teams, and joke about the weird questions they got asked, which included riddles with a certain amount of time to answer. Once in a while, a team would throw you a curve ball question that requires a lot more brain power than usual, to try to catch you off of your game.
When players weren’t talking about their meetings, they were certainly talking about their stock going up or going down, as several articles and forms of social media post opinions on how players are doing. I tend to not let these things affect me. I just keep my head high and play the style of soccer that I’ve been playing for the past 21 years of my life, which I believe is the secret to performing well in the combine. I wanted to control what I had control over, and play my game.
If someone one day asked me if I had any advice for them leading into the combine, I would tell them to play the way you know how to play, keep the game as simple as possible, play both sides of the
ball, and try to get as many touches on the ball as you can. That’s what I wanted to focus on when I played at the combine, and I believe I did well in the three matches I played. I was happy with my performances, and was able to go home excited for what is to come in the next few days. Can’t wait for the draft!