CARSON - It’s just before after 11 a.m. on a cool, rainy Tuesday in California. The first technical staff to arrive at Matchday Two of the 2017 MLS Combine is walking through the gates of StubHub Center with a full agenda to run through just under two hours ahead of the day’s pair of games.
Oscar Pareja and his staff quickly set up shop inside their suite on the concourse level and begin to formulate a list of players they want to watch as the day transpires. Having arrived on Sunday morning and already taken in a pair of Combine games that very afternoon, the Dallas staff works before Tuesday's showcase to narrow their list of players to focus on from the 53 invitees to just 29 names of interest. Some are expected to be some of the first off the board, some are potential options with either of the club’s second round picks - but all are of intrigue to the coaches.
Doing their due-diligence, they begin running through scenarios of which of their top interests might be available where.
“If we move up to X-spot, do we see him being available there?”
“Probably, Team A is going to likely pick this player, and Team B is going this way.”
“If we stick at No. 18, is this player going to possibly still be available?”
“I think he could be, but lets break out all of these players by position and then we can place them in order with what we see today.”
No stone is unturned, no player is too highly or lowly ranked.
After a busy start to the offseason, the club has several new additions already on the roster and there are only a few roster spots available heading into Preseason 2017. However, the club has 7 picks in the SuperDraft, 3 of which come in Friday’s opening two rounds - the first coming at No. 18 Overall.
There’s an obvious dilemma playing out in the conversation. If the club waits to select a player at 18, the quality available there is likely a fraction of that at the top of the order. With so many guaranteed draftee cuts out of camp based sheerly on the number of roster spots available, do they send multiple picks away to move up and take a top talent? Or do they select the best available players and let them all duke it out in camp for those spots? They’ve got just under 72 hours to find their answer to that all-important predicament.
As other teams begin to arrive, the large sheets of paper the coaches have written their top prospects on, their positional breakdown of said players and the hastily written out draft order by the lone reporter in the room are relocated away from the windows so that no other staff can get a peek at what the Dallas crew is cooking up.
The two matches roll around and the coaches make their way to the outdoor seating area of the suite, each with a roster and a list of players to watch. Aside from occasional commenting on a particular player or development in the game, they sit transfixed on the field. Realistically, they’ll only see each player in live-action for a few hundred minutes before draft day.
After the second match ends, the coaches gather back inside and begin to dissect what they’ve seen. Some players that were on the list at the start of the day, are just as quickly removed. Some that weren’t on the radar have worked their way into the conversation - at least enough to be a focus on Day 3.
Before heading out for the day, Jimmy Nielsen - head coach of Dallas’ USL-affiliate OKC Energy FC who has been at both match days of the combine and joined the FCD staff in the suite between the matches - becomes the focal point of the larger conversation.
Pareja and Nielsen begin projecting which players already on the roster could see considerable minutes in OKC this upcoming season, and which ones there isn’t much room for on the Energy FC roster. Such is the nature of an independent lower-division affiliate.
Knowing that some later round picks could be beneficial in Oklahoma even if they don’t make the MLS roster in Dallas, Pareja and the staff get the names of players Nielsen has an eye for through two days. The second-year relationship has the two staffs closer than ever in the collective goal of successful seasons.
As the sun sets over StubHub Center, the Dallas staff makes their way back to the hotel with plans to grab dinner, huddle up for a few hours that night and get set for player interviews coming up on Wednesday morning.
There's just two full days left to find their top list of players.
Stay tuned all week to FCDallas.com for full coverage of the adidas MLS Combine and the 2017 MLS SuperDraft on Friday beginning at 2 p.m. CT.