Julian Gressel sad to see MLS combine may go away

Atlanta United's Julian Gressel poses on MLS draft day

Atlanta United's Julian Gressel poses on MLS draft day

Julian Gressel might not be here, as a cornerstone for Atlanta United, without a standout performance at the MLS combine in Los Angeles in January 2017.

So, as someone who was Rookie of the Year in 2017 and one of the more productive assist-providers in MLS the past three seasons, he said Monday that he was slightly disappointed to read reports that the league may be eliminating the combine and changing the draft from a visual spectacle similar to what other leagues do to more of a call-and-name-your-pick affair.

“Obviously the combine is a way for the players to show themselves in person in front of some coaches and GMs,” Gressel said. “It's also a big way for coaches and GMs to actually speak to you and get to know you as a person, which is important. If you get a rookie that thinks he's made it, it might not be the greatest fit for the locker room. It helped me out a ton.”

Gressel was a player from Providence that Atlanta United tracked before the draft, but his performances at the combine helped the club decide to take him with the No. 8 pick, far higher than he was slotted to go in most of the mock drafts. Gressel has proved to be a steal, with 15 goals and 35 assists the past three seasons. Atlanta United will host Toronto on Wednesday in the Eastern Conference finals of the MLS playoffs.

Miles Robinson was the team’s first pick, selected at No. 2 after a standout career at Syracuse.

"We think (they) are ready to challenge for minutes now," Bocanegra said in Los Angeles after that draft.

The combine has typically been a way for invited college players, international players and others to play a series of games in front of evaluators from MLS clubs. The 2017 combine was held at what was then called the StubHub Center near Los Angeles. It was typically held in warm weather locations and included approximately 70 players.

SoccerWire.com reported Oct. 17 that the league will eliminate the combine.

Instead, according to SoccerWire, the league will hold "a smaller and much less formal player-evaluation event around the same time and place as the NCAA Men's College Cup in early December. This new mini-combine will apparently involve around 40 invitees, including some underclassmen – a demographic which up to this point has been excluded from SuperDraft eligibility, with the exception of the most promising talents who are signed to multi-year, guaranteed 'Generation Adidas' contracts to encourage them to leave school early."

Fullback Mikey Ambrose, who played at Maryland, said he likes the idea of having the event closer to the end of the college season.

“It’s a little more realistic,” he said. “Normally the college season ends and you have a break until the combine. Guys, it’s kind of weird situation. Guys don’t know if they are going or not yet. Sometimes they go last minute. It makes a lot more sense to do it right after the tournament and makes it more competitive. I think it’s a good idea.”

The draft was typically held in conjunction with the United Soccer Coaches convention, which will be in Baltimore in January. An MLS spokesman said there will be a draft held this year in Baltimore. But the made-for-TV nature of the event will reportedly be toned down, according to several reports. The draft isn’t on the agenda for the convention.

Most MLS teams have long experienced diminishing returns from the draft, especially as Allocation Money has allowed them to sign more international players. Of Atlanta United’s 10 draft picks, only Gressel and Robinson have developed into consistent first-team players and Robinson didn’t become a full-time starter until this season. Most are no longer with the team.

“For the players, I'm a bit disappointed for them because it was a really cool experience,” Gressel said. “It was a fun week. It was like your first real professional experience in soccer. Obviously draft night and whatever happened at draft night was very special. Those moments are ones I'll look back to forever. For some guys to not have that now, I'm a bit disappointed for them. But ultimately winning an MLS Cup is better than getting drafted, so I hope all the guys who get drafted get to experience that as well.”