[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Up until now, most of the Caribbean players who have starred in MLS have almost without exception come via the U.S. college ranks. They were already residing in the United States (likeShalrie Joseph and Ezra Hendrickson) or first came for boarding school (Shavar Thomas) or recruited to play college soccer (Stern JohnandAndy Williams). Now MLS will go directly to the source with the launch of the first Caribbean player combine in January.
Our MLS Caribbean Best XI:
*Ezra Hendrickson(St. Vincent & Grenadines)
*Shalrie Joseph (Grenada)
*Andy Williams (Jamaica)
*Stern John(Trinidad & Tobago)
*U.S. college players.
MLS will host the event Jan. 2-4 at the Antigua Recreation Grounds in St. John’s, Antigua, in partnership with the Caribbean Football Union for players 18-21 from around the Caribbean.
MLS scouts will evaluate the players, and the best will receive invitations to the annual adidas MLS Player Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., later in January.
The combine will allow MLS to enlarge its talent pool for the SuperDraft, which is being diluted by more and more players signing homegrown contracts outside the draft, and give Caribbean national teams opportunities for their best players.
Concacaf has been working with Caribbean nations to improve their sagging national team programs. Only Jamaica reached the 2013 Hexagonal and it finished last without a win in 10 games. A pan-Caribbean league is being explored, but an MLS combine would be another incentive for Caribbean players to raise their level of play.
Combines are nothing new to the Caribbean. College coaches are often invited to come to the region, and players are assembled for a look-see. Programs all the way down to the JC level -- Dane Richards (San Jacinto), Stern John(Mercer County) and Omar Cummings (Cincinnati State) were all JC stars -- recruit in the Caribbean.
Caribbean players have played a key in college soccer for more than half a century. Michigan State was the first program to develop a pipeline, recruiting Jamaicans like Cecil Heron from Detroit and Trevor Harris (father of Wolde Harris) and Tony Keyes from Kingston College in the 1950s and 1960s.
Top rookies the last two years include a pair of Jamaican forwards: Darren Mattocks, who attended Akron, and Deshorn Brown from UCF via NAIA school Mobile.
Several of the top prospects in this year's college ranks are Jamaicans: junior keeper Andre Blake (UConn) and freshman midfielder Omar Holness (North Carolina).