All players on the field Saturday – the first day of competition at the MLS Player Combine – were eager to leave an impression ahead of Friday’s MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia., but three in particular stood out.
1. Jon Bakero – The 21-year-old attacker finished the 2017 collegiate season with a career-high 16 goals and 14 assists for Wake Forest. He made his presence known this weekend by setting up teammate Albert Ruiz with the go-ahead goal for Team Predator in the first match.
“Playing as a forward in the combine, it’s important to have some people you can understand,” Ruiz said when asked about Bakero’s vision on the field that helped notch an assist. “I think Bakero is a really smart guy to play underneath a striker.”
2. Afonso Pinheiro – The São Paulo, Brazil native has been a consistent goal-scorer during his collegiate career, finding the net 39 times in 81 games played for the University of Albany-SUNY.
He also played two seasons in the USL Premier Development League with FC Tucson, where he scored nine goals in 13 appearances in 2016. His goal count dropped last year to just three goals in 11 games.
But he found the back of the net Saturday, when it mattered most. Pinheiro unleashed an impressive left-footed shot in the second match of the day, finding the equalizer for Team Tango during a 1-1 draw.
3. Edward Opuko – The winger didn’t get his name on the scoresheet, but he flashed his speed down the flanks during game 2 of the MLS Player Combine.
Opuko is one of six Generation adidas players that took the field that day. To get there, he scored a career-high eight goals and four assists in 2017 for the University of Virginia, opting to forgo his senior season to sign the MLS contract.
His former Cavalier teammates, Jeff Caldwell and Pablo Aguilar, also are at the combine this weekend in Orlando.