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Rising Prospects: MLS Combine Day One

By COLTON CORESCHI -, 01/14/18, 3:00PM EST


Lopez-Espin, Bakero shine on first day of MLS Combine matches

Photo by UCLA Athletics

After each day of matches at the 2018 MLS Combine, will examine the prospects we believe stood out from their peers, utilizing data from performances, the PDL Scouting Network and USL coaches.

After match day one, the initial list of five contain some Premier Development League players many expected to shine, and some others whose performances came as a pleasant surprise. With two more match days to go, the opportunities for players to stand out continues on Monday, but here’s who made the most of Saturday’s matches.

Five Rising Prospects

Ricky Lopez-Espin, F (Creighton/Tampa Bay Rowdies U23)

Heading into the Combine as the reigning Big East Player of the Year and a First Team All-Big East player, Ricky Lopez-Espin was on the radars of many, but was perhaps slightly overlooked compared to his ACC and Big Ten compatriots. He changed that perception on day one, shining for Team Nemeziz after coming on in the second-half, scoring two goals and looking all-around dangerous in attack. The Tampa Bay Rowdies U23 alum certainly made his case as a rising talent.

Brian White, F (Duke/New York Red Bulls U23)

Despite earning the PDL MVP and Golden Boot this summer with the New York Red Bulls U23 ahead of a breakout senior season with the Duke Blue Devils, Brian White remained ranked behind several other forwards in his class entering the Combine. Playing predominantly on the right wing, White looked confident in attack and developed a good relationship with the aforementioned Lopez-Espin, providing an assist on a well-placed cross.

Jon Bakero, F (Wake Forest/Carolina Dynamo)

Is it possible to be one of the most highly-touted prospects and still rise? Wake Forest and Carolina Dynamo alum Jon Bakero made the case that you certainly can. The MAC Hermann Trophy winner and NCAA points-leader entered the Combine as a potential to be a top draft pick next week and looked brilliant for Team Predator. He was quick, confident on the ball, and picked up an assist, helping his teammates shine around him.

Francis Atuahene, F (Michigan/Michigan Bucks)

Like Bakero, the Generation Adidas signee from Michigan and the Michigan Bucks somehow exceeded his lofty expectations on day one. Atuahene repeatedly took on defenders and won, allowing him to loose multiple shots on target, though he didn’t find the back of the net. He looked dynamic in his role in attack, consistently threatening the back line of Team Tango.

Brian Iloski, M (UCLA/San Diego Zest)

Playing with Atuahene on Team X, Brian Iloski linked up well with his PDL compatriot, playing effectively off the Michigan man to help set him up in dangerous situations. Iloski also garnered an assist on an airborne cross to another PDL alum, as he set up Will Bagrou for his scoring effort. He showed the ability to effectively play in support in the midfield and certainly raised his stock.

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