This time of year American soccer supporters turn their attention to the MLS Combine and the NPSL Player Showcase. But what many may not know is that one of the country’s most successful events, the Midwest Pro Soccer Combine, has already taken place. It actually happened on December 18 and 19th in Brighton, Michigan at the Legacy Sports Complex.
The Midwest Pro Soccer Combine is the brainchild of Director Eric Rudland, who is the current Sporting Director and Head Coach of AFC Ann Arbor. Previously he spent time with Lansing United, Michigan Bucks, Spring Arbor University, and England’s Crewe Alexandra FC.
“The overall average level of talent at the combine in 2017 was very good,” Rudland commented. “Depending on a team’s needs there were a number of players who could make the jump into professional football. We were very happy with the mentality of the players, their professionalism, and their talent level. It will be exciting to see which players end up pushing on as the 2018 season approaches.”
Rudland is joined by an impressive and talented staff that includes Assistant Director Gary Parsons, Talent Scout/Coach Boyzzz Khumalo, and Media/Marketing Director Bilal Saeed. Parsons is best known for work with the Michigan Bucks and Oakland University, while Khumalo is a former professional player that spent his distinguished career with the Chicago Fire, Charleston Battery, Wilmington Hammerheads, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and D.C. United. Saeed, one of the country’s top sports marketing experts, is the General Manager and Co-Owner of AFC Ann Arbor.
“The idea had been brewing for a year or two prior to the first combine,” Rudland continued. “I ran the idea past Gary Parsons and he saw the need for something different as well. Former MLS player Boyzzz Khumalo helped link us to his network. And Bilal Saeed has been the guru behind the scenes developing creative ways to promote the players and link with local sponsors.”
Simply put, combines are all about results and the MPSC has those in big numbers. Over 25 participants from the 2016 event have gone on to sign professional contracts in the U.S., Spain, England, Sweden, Australia, Finland, and Germany. In the U.S. those players have gone to the highest levels of the game with USL, NASL, and MLS clubs. Representatives from over a dozen pro clubs attended the combine this year and the event saw huge increases in interest from international clubs. The number of agents also tripled this year as well.
It’s too early to have stats for the 2017 event, but impressive numbers are a given for an event that is so professionally run. The 2016 and 2017 events both featured 70 participants on four teams. The number of applicants for 2017 surged after the tremendous success of 2016. The event is run to ensure there is quality throughout and a proper opportunity for each player to showcase their talents.
The 2017 combine featured players from across the country, but the standout had to be Gonzaga’s Ben White, who was also invited to the MLS Combine. The Tigard, Oregon native is widely regarded as one of the top defenders in all of college soccer, and additionally, one of the hottest prospects in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. Like White, the majority of players are coming off their senior seasons in college. Most of the players are also from the NCAA Division I level, but a handful of DII and NAIA players also participated.
The combine was started with the goal of providing an avenue for players to be exposed to professional clubs. Previously the group sent top players to other combines around the nation with mixed feedback. They figured that they had everything that was needed for a successful combine of their own: facilities, network, and access to pro clubs.
The MPSC provides a local option right here in the Midwest. Players have the opportunity to be identified and evaluated with the end goal being a pro contract.
Most events are focused on quantity over quality. MPSC is the exact opposite. They have a strict vetting process in which each player has to apply to be selected for our combine. Players are vetting per a number of variables and then the top four or five players in each position are selected.
Arguably they do more than most events to help promote the players who attend. Each player receives their own player profile on the event website that they can use for future exposure. The profile includes a bio, fitness data, highlight video, and the player’s CV. The focus on quality and exposure set the MPSC apart from other offerings.
“The combine offers aspiring pros an opportunity to showcase their talents to scouts and intermediaries, as well as the chance to learn from current pros on what it takes to get to the next level and stay there,” Saeed added. “The MPSC is successful because of the work by Eric Rudland and staff, including Gary Parsons and Boyzzz Khumalo, to help players connect with clubs that have needs and opportunities. The staff genuinely cares about the success of the players and work hard to help them push on to the next level.”