Canadians strive to make mark at MLS Combine and move up in SuperDraft standings | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Canadians strive to make mark at MLS Combine and move up in SuperDraft standings

Canada's Cyle Larin, front, challenges for a ball with Ilia Milanov, back, of Bulgaria during a friendly soccer match between Canada and Bulgaria, in Ritzing, Austria, Friday, May 23, 2014. While star teenager Larin is expected to play a starring role at Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, other Canadians are working hard to get their name called at the podium. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Ronald Zak
January 12, 2015 - 1:57 PM

While star teenager Cyle Larin is expected to play a starring role at Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, other Canadians are working hard to get their name called at the podium.

Canadian midfielder Jaineil Hoilett and defenders Skylar Thomas and Nikola Paunic are attending the MLS Combine in Florida. Defender Jordan Murrell, a native of Markham, Ont., who played alongside Thomas at Syracuse University, is not at the Combine but has drawn attention.

The 19-year-old Larin, who left UConn after two years to sign a Generation Adidas contract, could go No. 1 to expansion Orlando City SC on Thursday at the Philadelphia draft.

Larin, a native of Brampton, Ont., has already won three caps for the Canadian senior side. He's currently in Jamaica with the national under-20 team at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship.

Montreal picks third overall while Toronto FC has the sixth, ninth and 11th overall picks Thursday. Vancouver will select 13th.

"Right now pretty much everything is unknown," Thomas said of what lies ahead this week.

"Right now I'm not too sure where I go, but wherever I go I know I'll be happy there," he added. "I'm ready."

Thomas and Paunic, both 21, haven't been too far apart at the Combine, which runs through Tuesday. They are rooming together and played 45 minutes next to each other in a Combine game Sunday that saw Thomas score.

It's a stressful time for the young players. Not only have most been out of action since the end of their college season, but they find themselves playing on makeshift teams before a high-powered audience of coaches and scouts.

Bad weather didn't help matters Sunday.

Paunic said he has tried to follow the advice of former South Florida teammate Ben Sweat, who was taken in the first round last year after the Combine.

"Just go down there, have some fun, play some soccer. That's it," said Paunic, recalling Sweat's words.

The 22-year-old Hoilett, the younger brother of Queens Park Rangers midfielder Junior Hoilett, was a late addition to the Combine. He got the invitation while at home in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, one day after most players arrived in Fort Lauderdale.

The six-foot-four Thomas, a native of Pickering, Ont., started 56 career games for Syracuse and scored eight goals. A former midfielder, Thomas uses his size to good effect in the air with three goals off set pieces this year — two with his feet and one with his head.

Thomas, Murrell and goalkeeper Alex Bono, who is expected to go in the first round, anchored a stingy Syracuse defence that led the Atlantic Coast Conference in fewest goals allowed (12), goals-against average (0.55) and shutouts (12).

Bono, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, was called up by the U.S. national team for its January camp.

The Orange finished 10th in the rankings with a 16-4-1 record before losing to Georgetown in extra time in the NCAA tournament round of 16.

"It was a great experience," Thomas said of his senior year. "We played well together as a team. We knew it was our last year for some of us ... there was a bit more urgency than there was in previous years."

Thomas and Murrell — who formed the Orange back three with Tyler Hilliard last season — go back before Syracuse, playing together on the Canadian under-18 team.

The six-foot-three Paunic, who has played for Canada at the under-20 level, started 40 games in two seasons for a South Florida squad assembled from around the world. The 2014 Bulls drew on talent from Canada, the Bahamas, Botswana, Brazil, England, Ghana, Isle of Man, Serbia, South Africa, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S., Uruguay, and Venezuela.

"I don't think there's a (NCAA) team more diverse than us ... I've got buddies in South Africa and Ghana and everywhere," said Paunic, whose roots are Serbian. "It's great."

South Florida (10-7-3) lost to Tulsa 6-5 on penalty kicks in the American Athletic Conference Championship game. The Bulls had upset Larin and UConn 2-0 on penalty kicks in the tournament semifinal.

Prior to South Florida, Paunic spent two years at the University of Toronto, captained the Toronto FC academy side and played for the Serbian White Eagles in the Canadian Soccer League.

Like Thomas, he raves about his college experience on and off the pitch. Paunic, a former winger, is also complimentary about his time at U of T under coach Anthony Capotosto and at the TFC academy, where he captained the team under coach Danny Dichio.

"I just thought that the move to the States for my last two years of college would be the right decision and it looks like I made the right choice," he said.

Hoilett, who qualifies for the draft as a youth international, saw action Sunday after arriving Saturday at the Combine.

"It was a bit of rush, got all the paperwork sorted out and getting the flight," he said.

Hoilett has spent the last few months staying with his brother and training with QPR. In recent years he has played for a variety of teams in Germany.

"I loved it there." he said. "After I learned the language, it was very easy to adjust. All the people are friendly."

There have been other opportunities in Germany, where he says the rules on import player aren't as stiff as in England. He wanted to see about options elsewhere — including back home.

Hoilett has already trained at Toronto FC and played for its affiliate in Wilmington, N.C. Despite the late invite, the Combine was too good an opportunity to pass up.

"I had to take the opportunity," he said.

So far so good. Hoilett said while his fitness is not perfect, he was happy with his first Combine outing.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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