Hunter Freeman spent 2018 scouting the country’s top college players. Often, that meant searching for their games. This week, they came to him.
With the 2019 Major League Soccer Player Combine underway in Orlando, Fla., Freeman is still evaluating talent to help FC Cincinnati. After all, he leads the club’s scouting efforts on college players.
But now, rather than trying to highlight which players stand out, most of his work is complete and he’s helping the FCC technical staff connect faces to names ahead of next Friday’s SuperDraft, where the club has the No. 1 pick.
“I’ve been sending (the technical staff) reports all season long, so seeing the guys in person is important,” Freeman said Saturday. “I don’t think anything we saw today is going to convince us one way or the other, but it’s good to see them in person. It’s also good to see them in a different environment with the top players in college. Really, it’s for the staff to see these players live and right in front of them.”
Combine participants played in matches Saturday afternoon at Orlando City Stadium. Freeman said performances during the games didn’t drastically sway opinions, but the matches provided an opportunity to see players compete alongside one another. For some players, they were able to experience a higher quality of play than they were accustomed to during the 2018 college season.
Draft stock can still rise or fall, however.
“Depending on your position, it can either help or hurt you show yourself,” Freeman said. “For a keeper who’s maybe not on a good team, this is beneficial for them because they’re able to show a lot. A striker or an attacking player who’s on a team that struggles is a bit more difficult. So, they come into this environment, they’re playing with better players and they’re surrounded by better players and it can bring out the better qualities of each individual.
“I think we saw some of that today. We’ve seen those qualities. Maybe they weren’t as often because of certain circumstances, but today we saw that a little bit more consistently.”
Technical Director Luke Sassano offered similar remarks and noted an objective of the combine matches is capturing the capabilities of certain individuals in the environment.
“You look at it from a full spectrum,” Sassano said. “There are some qualities you want to see out of certain players when they’re playing against some of the best guys in the country, so you want to see, ‘Can they stand out? How do they look with some of the other guys that are more talented?’
“But if we’ve done our homework, which I know we have, we’re be prepared to see the certain types of qualities that we’ve been expecting from the guys.”
A second set of matches arrive Wednesday morning. While there are still other events at the combine, the two games that pair the winning and losing teams from Saturday serve as a final chance to see draft prospects before the SuperDraft on Friday afternoon in Chicago.
“I think you have to take going through the combine as a unique perspective,” Sassano said.
“Most of these guys finished playing probably over a month ago, so you definitely have to take that [into consideration] when you watch them play.
“When they come out to 11-v-11 playing and going through this exercise gives a better taste of what to expect from these guys on the field. Some of the players may have had really good days, some of the players may have had really bad days. It’s importantly that we’ve done our homework and we get to see and meet these guys up front.”