What it was like to win U20 CONCACAF Championship – Guest post by Jeremy Ebobisse

USA vs Panama

The early part of the season was quite hectic. From numerous flights and bouncing around between the US Under-20 National Team and Timbers, I had little time to settle into my new home. I spent about a week with the Timbers before jetting off to Florida to prepare for World Cup Qualifying.

Unlike every other draftee, I would not have the benefit of an entire preseason to fully assimilate myself into my new team’s culture, both on and off the pitch, so I had to maximize the little time I had there. Like anyone else stepping to a new environment, I was quite nervous.

How was I going to make friends?

What was the right balance between not saying enough and saying too much?

How would I react to being the least experienced player on the field for a change?

Those questions would resolve themselves shortly thereafter.

Preseason: Welcome to MLS

The word preseason can sometimes come off with a sort of negative connotation, but I absolutely loved it. Maybe its my youth, maybe it’s the fact that it was my first (although limited) preseason, but regardless, it was the perfect introduction to my new environment. I felt right at home and vindicated for my decision to leave college early. The other Timbers players challenged me, but also guided me along the way. The two-a-days flew by and, before I knew it, we were playing our first games against New York Red Bulls and NK Istra.

It was my first taste of professional action and, though it was limited, I would remember those minutes as I went on with the US team, knowing that there was a lot waiting ahead of me when I got back.

CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Off to Costa Rica

Though we had only been apart for about a week, it definitely felt good to be back with the US U-20 team as we prepared for our journey to become the first American team to bring home a CONCACAF U-20 title.

3 games in 11 days, along with two-a-days and meetings to prepare, meant that there were no breaks. We would be ready for our opening match against Panama, and to succeed in such a major tournament.

Since January 2016, I remember the team setting the goal of winning the CONCACAF U-20 tournament. If I’m being honest with myself, I had been waiting for this opportunity since I realized I wouldn’t be a part of the U-17 cycle several years earlier. It doesn’t matter how/what path we took to make the team, what was important was that we were together, shared a common goal, and knew how to achieve it.

 

USA vs Panama

A 1-0 loss to Panama early on, after a couple of successful tune-up matches, had us all fearing the worst, even if we didn’t necessarily admit it to ourselves. But we all knew, deep down, that one loss was never going to be the end of our CONCACAF hopes, as we proved. It definitely wasn’t the way we wanted to start the campaign, but maybe it’s what we needed in the long run.

Despite all of the anxiety from supporters back home, and increasing media criticism, the team never gave up hope.

USA u20 vs haiti

After a slow start against Haiti (tied 1-1 at halftime), we recuperated and bounced back, defeating Haiti 4-1. The vibe around our locker room was back…. we were ready to face anyone, and as a team, we could still improve and build on the result.

A final group game against St. Kitts was rather routine and professional (USA won 4-1), and we now had one focus: beating Mexico.

usa vs mexico 2017

There was quite a bit of build-up heading into such an important match against our bitter rivals, but we felt prepared and ready. We were able to score the first goal that Mexico conceded all tournament early on from a corner, held on for the rest of the match and won the match 1-0.

Next up was El-Salvador, who Mexico made short work of a few days prior, beating them 6-1. We knew that our dream of making it to the Final was ever so close, and we were focused on making that dream a reality.


We won the El Salvador game 2-1, with the winner coming from (fellow DMV’er) Eryk Williamson, who could forget that goal?!

It’s a Celebration

In the Final, we were able to beat Honduras in penalties and claim the U-20 CONCACAF U-20 Championship!

USA vs Honduras u20

The rush of emotions, the sheer joy from winning CONCACAF and making history would be something I’ll never forget. The streamers falling out of control, the victory lap with our fans, the unrelenting excitement, it was all so special. A month away from our family, friends, and clubs ended in the most spectacular of fashions.

We had done something that many great players attempted. We would go back to our clubs, carrying this piece of history with us, and taking valuable experiences to improve our game at the club level.

With one eye already on the World Cup, we knew that the next three months would be crucial, so it was straight back to work.

DMV Alumni Take On The MLS SuperDraft

5 DMV Alumni Took On This Years’ Edition Of The MLS Combine & SuperDraft 

2017 MLS DRAFT

DMV locals Mike DeGraffenreidt (Loyola Blakefield/Baltimore Bays), Chris Odoi-Atsem (DeMatha Catholic/AC Bethesda), Jacori Hayes (DeMatha Catholic/Baltimore Bays), Suli Dainkeh (South Lakes HS/DC United Academy), and Jeremy Ebobisse (Walter Johnson HS/Bethesda-Olney) were 5 of 68 players invited to this past week’s MLS Combine which took place in Manhattan Beach, California.

With the impending MLS SuperDraft, all 5 players spent the week trying to improve their draft stock in hopes of being picked in the first 2 rounds that would take place on Friday, with a further 2 rounds of the draft to come the following Tuesday.

Here we take a closer look at how each of our 5 local representatives faired against some of the best competition in the country.

Michael DeGraffenreidt

michael DeGraffenreidt

A product of Baltimore Bays Chelsea academy and Loyola Blakefield, Mike started off at Louisville exactly how he finished off his youth career: as a starter. The 52nd ranked recruit on the ESPN 150 and Maryland Soccer Player of the Year was a 4-year starter at the ACC school. He played 77 games in his time there, starting 76 of them.

Combine Recap

Mike had a solid MLS Draft combine, playing a half in each of the 3 games and looking fairly comfortable despite not being tested often. After recording his stats in game 1 and 2, he went a combined 48/51 on passes completed (94%), 6/7 on aerial challenges, completed 5 tackles and while on the field Team Chaos only let in 2 of their 6 total goals conceded, with nothing Mike could do about either one.

I thought DeGraffenreidt showed off an excellent range of passing, but really wasn’t tested too much throughout his 3 games at the Stubhub Center, but an excellent college career and a pretty good combine should help Mike get picked up next Tuesday during the 3rd and 4th rounds of the draft.

Chris Odoi-Atsem

Chris Odoi-Atsem

The former WCAC and All-County player of the year left DeMatha Catholic with a glittering list of accolades, including several WCAC titles and a 2011 National Championship to boot. After a very impressive youth career at AC Bethesda and powerhouse DeMatha, Chris joined the Maryland Terrapins with high expectations, and delivered from Day 1. He played 88 games in his career, starting 83 of them, delivering 3 goals, 8 assists and contributing towards 33 shutouts as well.

Combine Recap

Day 1 of the combine was Chris’s day for sure, as he was 1 of only 2 players to place in the top 5 of all 3 athletic tests performed. Chris finished 4th in the 30 meter dash with a time of 3.89 seconds, 3rd in the 5-10-5 shuttle with a time of 4.22 seconds and 1st in the Vertical jump test with a leap of 36.5 inches.

Chris only went on to impress coaches more as the combine went on, completing 47/54 passes (87%), making 11 tackles and a number of great attacking runs as well. Coaches definitely noticed his strong athletic upside, and knew his technical skills would need some fine tuning, but DC United took their first pick and used it wisely on a local guy. Ironically enough, the former Terp grew up so close to their own academy that they could’ve saved the first round pick had they scouted him several years earlier and claimed him as a homegrown player. Either way, it shows how much faith the club have in his abilities, and DC has picked up a very strong outside back option in Chris as he will look to head into preseason learning as much as he can from the likes of Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and the other veteran defenders in their squad.

Jacori Hayes

Jacori Hayes

One of the most talented players in the country, Hayes had an exceptional year at Wake Forest that took them all the way to the College Cup, only to lose out in PK’s to the now back-to-back national champions, Stanford.

Jacori had a standout youth career, captaining his Baltimore Bays academy side, being a part of the U18 USYNT, and being named a high school All-American as a part of the DeMatha national championship side in 2011.

Pre-combine, he was a lock to go top 10 after a college career in which he played in 81 games, starting 74 and collecting 15 goals and assists a piece while doing so. Not only did he have a great record at Wake but he won award after award being named to the All ACC teams 3/4 years, NSCAA All American team, TDS Men’s Best XI and many more. Jacori had an up and down draft showing off his skills and excellent soccer mind but failing to have much end product resulting in many critics saying his stock dropped over the course of the week going into the draft.

Combine Recap

Across the 3 games, Jacori mixed his time between CDM and CAM, as scouts questioned where he would play in MLS. He maintained an 83% pass completion rate (82/99) while making 13 tackles. However, Jacori wasn’t able to show off his best attributes at the combine. Regardless, his standout college and youth resume saw him drafted 18th overall to an FC Dallas side not afraid to play their youth. We fully expect Jacori to go into preseason ready to prove all those people wrong who didn’t take him in the picks prior.

Suli Dainkeh

Suli Dainkeh

Suli headed into the University of Maryland as a member of the U18 USYNT. The 2012 Gatorade State Player of the Year (VA) was also a member of the DC United Academy. Dainkeh was a heralded prospect out of Reston, Virginia and was ranked #16 midfielder in the country by Top Drawer Soccer.

Suli completed one of the most accomplished 4 years of any player in the combine, as his UMD side went 4 years in a row winning the conference tournament, with he himself picking up a Second team All-Big Ten selection. Dainkeh finished his Maryland career with 33 shutouts, while playing in 71 games, starting 60 of those and also throwing in a goal and 2 assists.

Combine Recap

The VA native had a tough time at the combine through games 1 and 2 as he gave away a PK and received a yellow card. On game day 2 he also had a hard time as he faced off against a strong pair in Chris Nanco and Colton Storm with not much help in front of him. Stat-wise through the first 2 games, Dainkeh showed well as he maintained a 90% pass completion rate (65/72), made several key clearances, completed 13 tackles and won 5/6 aerial duels with opposition players. Dainkeh had a very good day 3 though as he showed the side of him that earned so much praise at UMD and he was much better which definitely will help him get picked up somewhere soon in these next 2 rounds of the draft and we fully expect Dainkeh to earn a contract come preseason as he looks to kick off his professional career in the MLS.

Jeremy Ebobisse

Jeremy Ebobisse

Last and certainly not least, Jeremy Ebobisse, who looked to be the #1 Draft pick in nearly every single mock draft I looked through over the past few weeks.

Jeremy has been one of the DMV’s top talents since a young age, as he starred on the locally infamous OBGC Rangers and Bethesda-Olney sides that were oozing with technically sound and exciting players, including Arsenal’s Gedion Zelalem. Jeremy and others can thank head coach Matt Pilkington for their success, as he was able to train and develop some of the best players to ever come out of the DMV up until NYCFC was able to prize him away from the area.

Jeremy’s OBGC sides won multiple state and regional titles, but never won that elusive national title that they missed out on after several trips to National Championships, including that final agonizing one to PDA in the USSDA Championship.

His final youth soccer season was his junior year of high school, as he was able to graduate in 3 years and head to Duke a year early, but not before shattering the USSDA goal scoring record with a mind-boggling 38 goals in 24 games, with 9 of those coming in the team’s 3 playoff games (despite the fact he was playing with guys 1-2 years older than him his entire youth career). Jeremy had a tough freshman season at Duke, he played well but wasn’t able to replicate his youth career goal scoring numbers with only 2 goals and 3 assists.

His Sophomore campaign was a complete different story, as he headed into the season as a team captain and put away 7 goals as well as 4 assists. Jeremy had a stellar 2nd college season and had attracted the US U20’s attention, as he was called up to his first official YNT camp since the introductory camp in the U14 age group and took his chance with aplomb scoring 9 goals in his 11 games to date. Jeremy started to attract offers from Europe and decided it was in his best interest to forgo his final 2 years of eligibility and test the waters over in Europe.

After a couple of trials Ebobisse decided it was best for his own development to sign with the MLS, which he did as the college season rolled around in August. Since he has signed with the MLS, he has split time with the US U20’s, the Charleston Battery (1 Goal/5 Appearances), and had several training stints with MLS Clubs looking to get a closer peek at Ebobisse pre-draft.

Combine Recap

Jeremy missed Game Day 1 of the combine, as he was still in camp with the US U20’s, and then missed Day 2 as well before making his only combine appearance in Game 3. He showed well, taking on several players successfully, playing a couple of good through balls, missing a sitter and then eventually putting one away to end the combine with a beauty of a left footed strike.

Come draft day, there was much anticipation as Jeremy was expected to go early, and in came the Portland Timbers who traded the Houston Dynamo $100K TAM (Total Allocation Money), 1 International Spot AND their #10 pick in the draft to acquire Ebobisse’s services at the 4th pick.

Jeremy will head to Portland with much buzz and excitement around his arrival with an amazing fanbase out there and high expectations from us, everyone else and definitely himself heading into the 2017 MLS Season.

 

Congratulations to all of these DMV alumni players on a successful 2017 MLS Draft, we sincerely look forward to watching your careers over the next few years and wish you all the best!