10 Questions with Combine Director Eric Rudland
1. What sparked the idea to host a combine in the Midwest? Why now?
Rudland: So over the past 4 January's I have sent players down to Florida to attend combines with the hopes of getting serious looks and a worthwhile player experience. Most of the feedback I received from the players was not positive; too many players playing on too many fields at the same time, poor customer service and no support system to help them achieve their goal of reaching professional status here in North America. After receiving this feedback, and attending the combines to see for myself, I thought 'why not try to do something local and of higher quality?' I believe we have the facilities and professional club network to attract high quality players. With that said, the idea of hosting a high level combine has quickly become a reality. I have been fortunate to partner with Gary Parsons who has been huge in getting the PDL & USL involved and Boyzzz Khumalo who has been key in player recruitment as well building relationships with pro clubs from around North America.
2. Players have to go through an application process to be accepted into the combine. Talk about that process and how a player should decide whether to apply or not if he's on the fence.
Rudland: Our vetting process is actually unique compared to most combines. Some combines accept every player who attends, we on the other hand research the players past football history, speak to their current/previous coaches and watch recent video footage of the player. After that we look at important data, such as; dominant foot, positional play, domestic vs foreign player status, date of birth and previous injuries. All of this data is very important to pro clubs when scouting a player, so we want to do the best job we can in providing an initial filter so the pro clubs can feel comfortable with the players we are bringing into our event.
3. What type of scouts and agents will be present at the combine?
Rudland: Currently we have 9 pro clubs from North America committed to attend and a representative for 3 pro clubs in Europe. Our goal is to be at 20 professional clubs represented at the combine, so we are over halfway there. The combine will also be open for intermediaries to attend as well. Some of the intermediaries in attendance will be looking to recruit & sign new clients, others may be there to observe their clients as they participate in the combine.
4. For local fans of the game, are spectators welcome to come and watch? Is there a cost of admission?
Rudland: Yes, local soccer supporters are welcome to attend the combine. As of now we don't plan on charging for admission. All media inquiries should be directed to Bilal Saeed at email@example.com.
5. What would make this first year a success in your eyes?
Rudland: For me, if we have a handful of players who are invited in for pre-season or a trial with a pro club who attends the event, that would be huge. Along with that it's important that each player who attends the event has a first class soccer experience and views the combine as valuable return for the time & energy they put into it.
6. Why did you select Ultimate Arena as the host location?
Rudland: Ultimate Soccer Arenas is the premier indoor facility not only in the Midwest, but probably the nation. It's the home of the Michigan Bucks, PDL National Champions, and has gained exposure through other national events it has hosted. December is the prime time, in our opinion, to put on a combine so finding a reputable indoor facility that professionals in North America are familiar with was very important. I think we hit the nail on the head with Ultimate.
7. Given the name and location, should scouts expect specific regional talent or are you expecting national and international talent to be well represented?
Rudland: So far we have a good balance of talent; local, national and international. I think logistically it may be easier for players from the Midwest to attend just based on proximity, however players from other regions will want to attend to gain exposure to our network of professional scouts. In regards to international players we are very cognizant of the foreign player roster regulations here in North America, so we are working hard to make sure that we have a good balance between players who are regarded domestic vs foreign players.
8. For those who do plan to attend, what can they expect in terms of the format? Drills? Games? A mixture of the two?
Rudland: As I mentioned earlier we want players to have a first class football experience. They can expect to play in 3 matches. We will also hold a meeting with each team at the combine to discuss team tactics, playing style and formation prior to the matches. This will help players feel comfortable playing with new players in front of professional coaches & scouts. Furthermore, we will be hosting a Q&A session with current professional players, Tyler Pasher & Greg Janicki, who will share their stories & answer questions, hoping to provide worthwhile insight to the aspiring players at the combine. Lastly, the players will meet with a pro coach who will outline what coaches at the combine are looking for in regards to technical proficiency, insight, communication, speed, etc. We are hoping that this interactive component will enhance the player experience and provide valuable insight.
9. When will the combine begin announcing selected players?
Rudland: The first round of accepted players (approximately 20) will actually be announced next week Tuesday, November 15th. Along with being announced their online player profiles will go live on our website to be viewed by the professional clubs. We will also be announcing the first round of committed pro clubs that will be attending. So next week will an exciting week in the combine's evolution!
10. For players who are selected for the combine, what can they expect to happen post combine in terms of trials, exposure and etc.
Rudland: When a pro club identifies a player there will be an initial conversation with either the player, the agent or myself to express the interest. If a player really impresses a scout in the first 1-2 matches at the combine there may even be an interview set up at the Marriott, in which the professional club can spend time with the player to see if they would be a good fit for their club. Post combine, players could be invited in for a supplemental trial with a club or invited in for a designated portion of pre-season training camp. In some cases the player may be signed shortly after the event depending on the professional club's needs and evaluation of the player. Along with the on site evaluation of players each pro club that attends the event will receive video footage of all the matches played for them to use in further evaluation or to share with other key members of their technical staff. Similarly, each player who attends the combine will receive the match footage, which they can use as a valuable resource to send out to other clubs who may be interested in them. Lastly, the player's individual profile that is built for the combine will remain active on our website for the next 12 months, heightening their exposure and making it easy for them to share information about their career, playing style, experience, etc.