With six days to go ahead of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, the prospects at the MLS Player Combine took to the field for the first of three rounds of matches between the four teams.
Manning the left side of defense for Team Nemeziz in their opening match against Team Predator was Creighton senior and four-year PDL alum Lucas Stauffer. In addition to a stellar four-year career with the Bluejays, Stauffer spent one year with each of the Portland Timbers U23 and Ocala Stampede before spending his junior and senior summers with the Des Moines Menace. On the field, Stauffer’s wealth of experience was on display, as he looked comfortable and collected handling the opposition’s talented right wingers.
“The first match felt good,” Stauffer told USLPDL.com. “I thought we played okay. As a team we could’ve maybe been sharper but then again, it’s a combine setting and we’ve never played together before. I think one of the biggest things about a combine is coming in physically fit and as sharp as possible and that’s what I tried to do.”
A four-year player for Creighton, Stauffer was a regular fixture in defense for the Bluejays, but found his fair share of offensive production as well. While manning the left side of the field, Stauffer racked up nine goals and 12 assists, including six helpers in his senior season, good for second-best on the team. He’s twice been named to the All-Big East First Team and appeared in every single match during his time at Creighton.
“Creighton was very good to me,” said Stauffer. “They were the only school to offer me a chance to come on and play for their soccer team, so I was very blessed in that respect. Omar and Johnny really believed in me from the get-go, so I was able to have a good career because of them and the guys surrounding me.”
But prior to the start of his illustrious career with the Bluejays, Stauffer spent the summer before his freshman season in the PDL with the Portland Timbers U23. Travelling across the country with a teammate from Creighton, Stauffer’s desire to improve and constantly be on the field was on full display in the summer of 2014.
“I had a buddy from Creighton, Jose Ribas, who needed someone to go out to Portland with him,” said Stauffer. “I’m kind of a soccer junkie, I’ll go anywhere I can play and get better. I don’t mind being the worst guy on a roster as long as I can train, get better and learn. Being one of the younger guys and one of the newer players that’s an environment that’s a great place to grow if you put your head down and work hard. So that’s why I picked Portland, and they were happy enough to have me and it was a great summer. I didn’t play a lot, but I learned a lot and it was a very good experience.”
The summer spent with the Timbers U23 was only the beginning of Stauffer’s PDL experience. In his sophomore summer, Stauffer spent time with the Ocala Stampede before ultimately spending his final two collegiate summers with the Des Moines Menace. In 2016, Stauffer helped the Menace win their fifth Heartland Division title and in 2017 he appeared in 11 matches for the club, while leading them to a second-consecutive Central Conference Finals appearance. One of a unique breed of four-year PDL alums, Stauffer reflects fondly on his summers spent with clubs from around the league.
“Oh man, the PDL was great,” Stauffer said. “I got to play for four fantastic coaches at three great organizations. Going into Portland as a freshman was an eye-opener for me, competing with a lot of guys there who are in MLS now like Fatai Alashe, Kharlton Belmar, Kyle Fisher and Will Seymore, who’s in the USL with FC Cincinnati. Those guys really helped me grow as a freshman, and then I played with the Ocala Stampede in my sophomore season and it was fantastic; Shane Roberts and the staff there were great to me. Then obviously Des Moines, being a Midwestern guy from Kentucky brought up in a small town, holds a special place in my heart. I played for two fantastic coaches in Mike Matkovich and John Pascarella, who’s with Minnesota United now. So I’ve been very blessed to be a part of great organizations in the PDL.”
Now a highly-touted prospect at the MLS Player Combine, Stauffer is preparing to potentially hear his name called to the stage in Philadelphia, PA at the 2018 SuperDraft. But before moving on to the professional ranks, he took a moment to express the need he believes the PDL fills in player development in the U.S.
“The PDL is fantastic,” Stauffer said. “To be honest with you, I think there need to be more franchises in the U.S. like the Des Moines Menace and Chicago FC United. They take very good care of their players and make it as professional as possible. I know Matkovich and Pascarella made for a really good training environment, so I was able to come in there, gain a lot of knowledge and get a look at what the next level was like.”