With one match day left in the 2018 MLS Player Combine, attendees will have their last shot to impress on the field and in the interview room before heading to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2018 MLS SuperDraft on Friday.
Ahead of the momentous event for the 50 PDL players at the Combine, San Jose Earthquakes midfielder and recent PDL alum Fatai Alashe joined USLPDL.com to offer words of advice for the soon-to-be rookies. Drafted No. 4 overall by the Quakes in 2015, Alashe discussed his own Combine and SuperDraft experience, his time in the PDL with Reading United and the Portland Timbers U23 and how the newest PDL alums can make the most of their rookie seasons.
After a stellar four-year career with Michigan State in which he appeared in 86 matches and scored eight goals, Alashe was targeted by the Quakes early in the first round. He became an immediate fixture in San Jose, appearing in 28 matches while starting 27 in his rookie season. After making his debut against FC Dallas in the first match of the year, Alashe scored the first goal in Avaya Stadium history against the Chicago Fire two weeks later.
During his collegiate career, Alashe spent two seasons in the PDL with Reading United in 2013, making nine appearances and scoring once, and the Portland Timbers U23 in 2014, appearing in 11 matches and scoring twice. Alashe also spent a brief period on loan with the United Soccer League’s Reno 1868 FC, making two appearances for the Quakes affiliate.
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 50 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 2015 MLS Player Combine and lead-up to the SuperDraft?
Fatai Alashe: “The best part about the combine and lead-up to the SuperDraft for me was being around all of the other college seniors that I had competed against and met over the years. It was nice being able to connect with new people who were all sharing similar experiences. I met a lot of people from all parts of the country at the combine, so enjoying the time spent there was the most important for me.”
PDL: Was there anything about the experience that caught you by surprise?
FA: “The most surprising thing about the experience for me was all the interviews with the teams. It was really the first time I'd been put in a setting where I was interviewed by someone that could potentially be my boss a week later. It was interesting to hear the different philosophies from team to team and to get a feel for the personalities of all the different coaching staffs throughout the league.”
PDL: You were well-known to scouts and coaches after your career at Michigan State, the U.S. U23 Men’s National Team and in the PDL with Reading United and the Portland Timbers U23. How would you say the PDL in particular helped prepare you to play professionally?
FA: “I would say the PDL helped me a lot in order to reach my dream of playing professionally. I was exposed to high-level soccer playing with some of the best players in the country on every PDL team I played with. My time spent at both Reading United and Portland Timbers U23 were huge parts of my development as a player. Day in and day out competing with top players is something you have to get used to quickly, especially at the professional level. At those two clubs, they were able to instill this in us early on, so it made the transition for me a lot easier.”
PDL: You were selected very early in the first round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, 4thoverall by the San Jose Earthquakes. How did it feel to hear your name called and to walk up on stage?
FA: “It was a mixture of emotions running through me at that moment. My family was there so I was excited they were able to share that moment with me. I was extremely happy to hear my name called, and then immediately nervous because I hadn't prepared a speech! Everything went pretty smoothly, but my excitement and adrenaline were pumping still for hours after. It was a very special moment that I had looked forward to my whole life.”
PDL: You had a strong rookie season, appearing in 28 matches and starting 27 while scoring and assisting two goals apiece. What helped you have such early success in MLS?
FA: “I think a lot of credit for my early success my first season has to go to my college coaches and teammates, as well as all the summer teams I played on throughout school. They are what helped develop me into a player that was able to compete at this level from the start. I think each place that I went along the journey to get where I am had a huge impact on me in their own special way. I also have to give credit to my teammates and coaches here in San Jose. My rookie year, they did a great job making me feel comfortable and helping me to have the confidence to step out there and perform even as a young player.”
PDL: What are some things you’ve learned in your first few seasons since becoming a professional player?
FA: “I've learned a lot in my first few years. You learn a lot about the game of course but also a lot of things off the field. You have to carry yourself differently and kind of learn how to present yourself in a positive manner at all times. A lot of the veterans have preached things to me since day one, and lots of times it sounds like stuff that's not very important but as you get older you start to realize that the things they’re saying are true. At this level, doing the little things goes a long way. You have to be professional in everything you do.”
PDL: Do you have any advice for the recently drafted PDL alums as they head into their rookie seasons?
FA: “My advice to the rookies would be first and foremost make sure you enjoy it, because this isn't a guarantee. We have the best job in the world and you have to appreciate every day whether it goes well or not. I would also say that it’s important to soak in as much information as you can early on. Listen to what the people around you are telling you, because they've all been in your shoes at one point before, they usually know what they're talking about and are only trying to help you. Lastly, I would say have confidence in yourself, because there's a reason you are where you are. If you didn’t belong, you wouldn't be here.”