One of the purported benefits of the MLS-USL partnership is that MLS teams can send players on loan to USL teams to get real competitive match experience. It also offers a window into a circuit of play where teams could find diamonds in the rough.
While there are complex, somewhat murky rules regarding the number of players MLS teams can call “dibs” on from an affiliate USL club, let’s assume 2018 MLS expansion team Los Angeles Football Club has the full assortment available and can call in as many players from Orange County SC’s 2017 roster as they like. Here are the players who most deserve a preseason camp invitation:
Jerry van Ewijk
The Dutch import was Orange County’s most consistently productive attacker over the course of the season. Playing as a second striker most of the time, van Ewijk has the air of a “tweener” in his positioning — something that has mostly failed miserably in MLS in the recent past, although I see more players with the “tweener” moniker getting more play and success the last couple seasons.
All told, van Ewijk scored nine goals and added three assists in 32 games for OC, across all competitions. A scoring rate a little under once every three games is pretty good for a winger/forward, and if not for a bad penalty attempt at one point he would have been in double-digits in goals for the season.
On the possible “con” side, van Ewijk would require an international slot if LAFC sign him, so they would have to be pretty sure they like him over other international players, assuming LAFC use their full complement of international slots. I don’t think van Ewijk dominated much in USL, leaving one to wonder if he could be truly productive at MLS level, but his background and experience, plus his production in USL this year, warrants a look from LAFC, I think.
If you’re looking for an Orange County player who dominated, Parra is your guy. In just 10 games after moving over from a productive stint with Seattle Sounders 2 for personal reasons, Parra scored five goals and four assists with Orange County. A big body, Parra played at various times as a central striker, a second striker, and as a No. 10, so he’s got some versatility. He’s also the first player in modern USL history to reach double-digits in both goals and assists in a season, combining his OC and Seattle runs this year.
There’s a question of whether Parra could move up to an MLS roster and really stick, but let’s be real — this is the issue with pretty much any of the players in USL, right? I think Parra looks a lot like Sammy Ochoa and maybe’s he been lumped in Ochoa’s style out of laziness. When Parra signed with Orange County, people I talked to who watched him closely at Sounders 2 thought he had a good shot of getting a training camp invite for the MLS Sounders at some point. Add to that his productivity once he joined OC, as the instant point man in a team desperately needing a scorer and a playmaker, and he seems like a perfect invitee for LAFC.
The starting goalkeeper is another obvious pick for the preseason camp. Lyon is just 25, and he has three good seasons of USL experience under his belt, including one with OC where he played in all but two games.
Lyon was among USL’s leaders in saves in 2017 but there wasn’t a lot else statistically to help him stand out among a very crowded USL. Add in the fact that Orange County had a lack of central defenders for a good chunk of the season, leading to full backs playing in the middle to mixed results, and you’ll understand he was unlikely to post stats that jump out relative to 29+ other goalkeepers in the league.
In watching him week to week, on balance Lyon helped Orange County stay in a lot more games than he hurt the team. Was he flawless? No, there were a couple games where mistakes cost OC. But as we saw in MLS this year, almost no goalkeeper was truly flawless, and Lyon seems certainly a good, experienced value as a backup or third ‘keeper for LAFC.
Perhaps a surprise pick of the bunch, I think a good case for Kobayashi’s inclusion can nevertheless be made. First, the midfielder is only 20, and comparing him to players (many of whom will be older) who will come out of the MLS SuperDraft from college, I think he has skills and now, experience far superior to most selections.
Kobayashi was used sparingly to start the season by Logan Pause, but once he got his opportunity, the technically gifted midfielder really impressed. In 17 appearances, he scored four goals and an assist in league play. On a team where there was no truly dominant scorer, that goals tally was good for third-best on the team in USL games. What was most impressive in Kobayashi’s game was that he was able to combine a prodigious technical ability with a nose for goal, and wasn’t afraid of the moment in trying to make an impact. In USL terms, he fit right in, and given his age I think his ceiling is much higher than what we saw in 2017. He could be the local diamond in the rough young star that LAFC could really use in their first few seasons.
Here’s another choice that many may wonder about. Franco is in many ways the opposite of Kobayashi, a veteran defender who’s spent his entire career in the American lower leagues.
I’ll say this up front, I think Franco’s ceiling would be as a depth fullback for LAFC. He’s 27, so he’s definitely got some good years ahead of him, but he’s probably not going to project as a starter. Still, Franco was Orange County’s most consistent defender in 2017, a player who looks like a traditional fullback in build and yet played some center back in a pinch, too. I think if LAFC are pinching pennies as they finish filling out the roster, looking for depth in defense, and at an affordable price, Franco could be a better option than some of the free agents kicking around in MLS. We’ll see, but I think Franco is a player who should at least get an invitation to training camp.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!