As the 2018 MLS Player Combine draws closer, invitees begin preparing for the scrimmages and interviews that will dominate the week leading up to the 2018 MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 19 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
While the level of professionalism present at the combine will be new to the many PDL alums invited to the week-long event, recent alums can help shed some light on the process for incoming rookies. Drafted No. 4 by the Portland Timbers at the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Jeremy Ebobisse took part in last year’s process and was happy to share his experiences with USLPDL.com.
After two strong seasons at Duke, double-digit appearances with the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team and a summer in the PDL with D.C. United U23, Ebobisse was targeted by the Timbers, who traded up from the No. 10 pick in a swap with the Houston Dynamo to select the young forward. Ebobisse enjoyed a successful MLS debut in 2017, making double-digit appearances for the Timbers while scoring his first MLS goal.
Prior to joining the Timbers, Ebobisse spent time with the United Soccer League’s Charleston Battery in 2016 and a short period on loan with the Timbers 2 in 2017, making a handful of appearances with each club and scoring in both stints.
The 2018 MLS SuperDraft will be hosted in Philadelphia on Jan. 19. MLS recently announced the list of 2018 MLS Player Combine invitees, taking place from January 11-18 at Orlando City Stadium, with 46 of the 60 players named boasting PDL experience. Since 2010, 70 percent of all MLS SuperDraft picks have been PDL alums.
PDL: What was the most enjoyable part of the 2017 MLS Combine?
Jeremy Ebobisse: "I was really surprised by the whole process, I hadn’t heard much about it. But I would say going through it with a couple of really good friends I made throughout the years, from playing on the youth national team or playing on clubs and high school teams. I think going through the process of leaving behind boyhood soccer, the youthful side with a little less pressure and fewer business concerns, to take our first steps into the real world, I thought it was really cool how we all handled that. I think we all matured a lot in those three or four days when we realized what the next year was going to look like."
PDL: The Combine has a pretty intense interview process, was there anything you wish you had known going in?
JE: "Nothing particularly. I’m definitely someone who enjoys interviews because I think it allows teams to get to know me and see if I’d be a good fit personality-wise and off the field in general. So I really welcome the opportunity to present myself, and if a team appreciates how the interview went, then it’s better that they know that before they draft me. So in general, I was pleasantly surprised to know that teams would be interviewing us."
PDL: You were on a lot of radars after your collegiate, PDL and youth national team performances. Looking back, how would you say the PDL in particular helped prepare you for the leap to professionalism?
JE: "The PDL was massive for me. Coming off an underwhelming freshman season at Duke, the PDL allowed me to put my feet back on the ground and work hard in an environment of like-minded players. D.C. United U23’s set-up was second to none. I thought the coach, Richie Burke, was excellent and he helped bring back the belief in my play and a lot of other players who may have been lacking that going into the summer. Playing against other teams, with not only college players but also some 28-30 year old men, where you kind of get bullied a little bit on the field helped us physically develop. I think the timing was perfect, since over the summer a lot of people might take that time off and fall off a little bit, but it was the perfect time for a lot of us to keep moving forward up the ladder, and I look back on that specific season after my freshman year as one of the most important soccer seasons in my development."
PDL: After your Combine performance, the Portland Timbers traded up to the number four pick to select you in the MLS SuperDraft. What was it like hearing your name called?
JE: "It was surreal. I just remember being there with my mother, and I sort of looked at her to the side and was thinking, it’s my time. I didn’t really fully grasp what was going on. It felt like I was floating over my body, like I had no control and everything just shut off. I can’t really describe the sensation in words but eventually I regained my composure thankfully, since I had to give a speech on stage. But just to be in Los Angeles that day and get drafted was a wonderful experience to share with my friends and family."
PDL: In your rookie season, you made double-digit appearances with the Timbers and got your debut MLS goal. What was your big takeaway from this year as you move into your sophomore season and beyond?
JE: "Nothing is going to be given. Obviously, I’ve had to work hard up to this point to get to where I am, but the reality is that I was always one of the most talented players on my teams, be it at Duke, in the PDL or the academy. So I knew that even if I was off a couple of days or didn’t have my best game, in the end, I’d be pretty safe and would get another shot to start and make amends. As I moved into the professional world with the Timbers, I realized that maybe I am as talented as or more talented than other players there, but I need to prove it every single second of every session. I mean, just having one or two off sessions a month would set me back. I’m not sure if I was fully prepared for that, but I quickly adapted and towards the end of the year, I started to show a level of consistency in training and games. I started to earn the trust of my teammates and coaching staff, which was extremely important for my confidence and raised my overall level of play. Double-digit appearances isn’t always the norm for a rookie, and it would be sort of easy for me to rest on the fact that I did alright for my rookie season and natural progression would mean I’d keep getting better, but I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think it’s going to be even harder. The expectations will have gone up, even though we had a coaching change. I’m sure they know what I did well and where I need to improve and they’ll be expecting me to cut down the bad and get better at the good. If I don’t get better and improve then there won’t be a spot for me on the team, and that’ll be down to me and nobody else.”
PDL: That attitude of constant development is a good one for a professional to take.
JE: "Yeah, I mean if you don’t have the right attitude, you’re not going to get much of an opportunity in this league. Another thing I’ve learned is that a lot of people are talented. It’s the people who are going to prove on a daily basis that they deserve to be on the field, those are the people that I look up to and those are the people who will play and who the coaches will trust.
PDL: You’ve touched on it already, but is there any advice you have for players coming up through that process this year?
JE: "I would say that each player needs to be confident in their own ability, but also be able to listen to others, whether it’s older players, younger players who have been there longer or general managers and coaches. Just take all the advice in and accept that it’s coming from a place of experience, and in my experience, everyone has always wanted the best for me, so I’ve been able to accept gratefully any criticisms. I think everyone needs to keep a good head on their shoulders and be open to what others are saying, but at the same time, don’t have an inferiority complex. Don’t hold yourself back just because you’re a rookie, be confident and try to impose yourself on the field and in the locker room and their teammates will appreciate their effort. I don’t think anyone in a locker room wants a rookie who will be afraid or timid. I think it’s important that they go in there, make some friends and try to gain the respect of the locker room.”