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MLS Combine 2018: What is it? Who should I watch? Should I really care?

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Lucky for you, I will answer all three of those questions to catch you up on what the Combine entails.

MLS: Combine Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Soccer Player Combine kicks off in Orlando on January 11. The Combine serves as an opportunity for young players, namely those hoping to make the jump from college soccer, to impress MLS coaches and scouts before the league’s annual SuperDraft.

By itself, the Combine isn’t anything terribly interesting. Players are together for about a week, playing three matches in that span, and teamwork is a bit lacking during an event designed to showcase individuals. However, since Minnesota United’s pick (fifth overall) doesn’t seem to be as obvious as last year--though in a great move the Loons selected Abu Danladi over the seemingly clear number-one Jeremy Ebobisse—we take this as an opportunity to do some scouting of our own and speculate on the careers of promising youngsters.

There are a few names in particular that have been popping up for Minnesota United, so these four players are the ones we’ll be keeping tabs on during the Combine.

Jon Bakero, a forward out of Wake Forest, has been projected to fall to the fifth pick. Bakero is from Spain, where his father, a Spanish international, played for Real Sociedad and FC Barcelona. Bakero was recently awarded the MAC Hermann Trophy, annually given to the best college soccer player. Even though he played as a striker in college, there is speculation that he could fit well in an attacking midfield position as well.

Chris Mueller is a dynamic attacker from the University of Wisconsin. Though his appearances for the Badgers may not sit well with some Minnesota fans, Mueller is originally from the Chicago area. He was named the B1G Offensive Player of the Year this past season after leading the nation with 20 assists, almost one per game. He has been the Badgers’ top attacking player for the past two seasons, making him another potential option in the front of the Loons’ XI.

Tomas Hilliard-Arce, a defender, was instrumental in Stanford’s NCAA Championship-winning season. He may very well be taken before the Loons’ pick, but he’s a steady option to provide much-needed depth in defense.

These three players are going to be the three players we track during the Combine, along with one other player with a unique Myou either way, innesotan connection:

Brandon Bye, of Western Michigan, plays with Minneapolis City SC of the local NPSL North Conference. He received an invite to the Combine after a 12-goal, 7-assist season that earned him MAC Player of the Year, Academic All-American, and Hermann Trophy Semifinalist honors. Though he isn’t likely to be taken very high off the draft board, he’s a talented player with a local connection that we’ll keep an eye on.

MLS: Combine Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The question now arises of whether or not you care about the MLS Combine. It’s up to you either way. Sure, college soccer doesn’t always produce the best players, but there are plenty of talented youngsters to make the Combine and SuperDraft worth paying attention to. Plus, the Loons are basically guaranteed to add a player or two from this process.

We’ll have updates on the above four players (if you can convince us on any others we should follow, the comments/FanPost sections are all yours) as the Combine progresses.