Combine-A-Palooza

The MLS Combine list, v.1.0 appeared yesterday, thereby officially kicking off the MLS Really, Really Stupid Season©.

I think this is an Andy Mead photo

It's not just that the list itself is made up primarily of guys who are more or less the leftovers, Seniors who are part of a class that has been picked over by the GenA vultures for four years until most of the meat has long since been removed from the carcass.

There's always a handful of talented guys who - for some bizarre reason - felt that staying in college and getting a degree was their main priority in life and who turned down offers to come out early the last year or two.

These guys have, of course, royally screwed themselves. Not because GenA pays the balance of your college tuition whenever you decide to go back, but because on Superdraft Day your talent and ability becomes secondary to the hit you represent against the salary cap.

(Excuse me, Salary Budget. MLS keeps telling us they don't have a cap. Sorry.)

So Player A, who promised Mom he'd finish college, thus forgoing the $70,000 a year GenA opportunity to have an off-the-books paycheck, can and usually will drop to the middle of the second round - and the inevitable $12,500 three year contract offer.

Coaches and GM's first priority is to grab up the guys that somebody else (ie. adidas) will be paying and thus, if they turn out to be useless, nobody much will care.

In fact, even if they're absolutely terrible they can still have long, profitable MLS careers (See Barkley, Devin. et.al.).

So in actuality the Official Combine list contains very few top draft picks, and trying to scope out the Superdraft based on this list is like trying to shovel fleas across a barnyard. There's just no point.

But what makes the whole "analyzing the combine list" exercise, particularly at this point, so wildly absurd is this:

You never saw most of these guys. Admit it.

Oh, there are a few - a very few - people around who actually watch a lot of college soccer. THIS GUY IS ONE OF THEM and I find myself hitting his site more or less daily.

And of course there are guys like our own SANDON MIBUT who have forgotten more about college soccer than most of us will ever know.

They're supplemented by the intrepid, irreplaceable BUZZ CARRICK but his specialty is tracking the GenA possibilities - you know, the guys who'll actually end up on MLS rosters - and scouting the combine, so it's a little early for his specialty.

The point though is that most anyone who claims they're going to give you a "Rundown" or an "analysis" on the combine list or who claims they can pick out the best players on the list, is hallucinating. Or simply lying, take your pick.

Let's have a quick show of hands: how many of you have seen a) Rhett Bernstein from Brown b) Richard Jata of Campbell c) Patrick Murray at Furman d) Josh Boateng of Liberty or e) Keum Sung Kim of Loyola?

In fact, let's leave aside the smaller schools: how many of these guys who are generously offering a combine list analysis have seen AJ Delagarza and Graham Zusi? Hell, most of them can't even tell you that they play for Maryland.

Further complicating - or nullifying or making irrelevant - the whole exercise is the fact that, with the reduction of the Developmental Roster from 10 to 4 players, most of these guys are wasting their time anyway.

Previously, there were 140 Dev slots league wide, so even though the entire draft (Super and Supplemental) sucked up 114 players there was still a reasonable chance to catch on someplace.

Now that there are only 56 Dev slots available in MLS, a whole lot less of these guys will ever find themselves with the opportunity to try and survive on $12,500 bucks a year without first filling out an application at Orange Julius.

Instead, the vast majority of these kids are going to find themselves in an MLS camp competing with second and third year pros for one of four jobs.

Put another way, most of them will be more likely to be struck by lightning.

However that may be, from now until combine weekend and the draft on January 15, 100 guys will regurgitate about three actual scouting reports that they stole from someone else's website and offer them up as their own. There aren't more than 50 people who've actually seen half of these players in the flesh, and far fewer who are anything like qualified to give you an informed opinion on how their particular game translates to MLS.

But then, making it up is what keeps us all pounding away at keyboards morning, noon and night.

So let the fierce arguments about the relative merits of Jokul Elisabetarson and Graciano Brito, and which one of them best fits Dennis Hamlett's coaching style, or whether it's Ryan Maduro or Bradon Barklage who is the right guy to turn Dallas FC around.

You don't know. I don't know.

But we're not going to let that stop us.