Starting Thursday, the eyes of FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch and technical director Luke Sassano will be geared toward the 2018 Men’s NCAA Division I Tournament, where we get our first look at the players FC Cincinnati could draft with the top pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. The tournament will serve as a vehicle for college seniors and potential Generation Adidas undergraduates to showcase their skills and earn an invite to the MLS Combine in early January. While not all the potential draft picks qualified for this year’s tournament, here are five players to keep your eyes on leading up to the MLS Combine and SuperDraft.
Andre Shinyashiki – University of Denver, Forward
Not many other players have done more to improve their draft stock this season than Denver senior forward Andre Shinyashiki. The Sao Paulo, Brazil, native led the NCAA in scoring with 28 goals in 20 matches. His knack for finding the net has led to five hat-tricks this season and has seen him move to the top of Top Drawer Soccer’s Top 100 list. Even though he landed on the early season MAC Hermann Watch List, one does have to ask if this season is a fluke? Coming into 2018, Shinyashiki’s career best in college was nine goals in both his sophomore and junior seasons. It’s hard to poke much through 28 goals, and he will clearly be near the top of most boards come Jan. 11.
You can catch Shinyashiki and his No. 15 overall seeded Denver Pioneers play Sunday. They face the winner of Air Force vs. Central Arkansas at 5 pm.
I had a chance to talk w/ @DU_MSoccer Andre Shinyashiki today. He leads the country w/ 19 goals & has scored more goals than all but 12 of the 205 NCAA Division I programs in the country (using team goal totals entering play on Monday & not including Denver.) @DenverChannel pic.twitter.com/y8eJyb44q6
— Alison Mastrangelo (@AlisonM_TV) September 25, 2018
JJ Williams – University of Kentucky, Forward
FC Cincinnati might not have to go too far to find their No. 1 pick in the 6 foot, 3 inch forward out of Kentucky, JJ Williams. Williams played with the Dayton Dutch Lions this summer and has been the man up top that has led No. 3 Kentucky to both the 2018 Conference USA Regular Season and Conference Tournament championships. His 16 goals rank third in the country and tie the school record for most in a season. Although his stats warrant a top pick in the upcoming draft, the junior still has one year of eligibility left if he wishes to return to college to obtain his degree. Otherwise, he must sign a Generation Adidas contract to be drafted. If Williams comes out, I could see him become tempting to FC Cincinnati, as his size leads to direct comparisons to Fanendo Adi. It could be an ideal situation for the club, as Adi is on a two-year deal and they could groom Williams without putting the immediate pressure of needing to perform early as a top pick.
The Wildcats hold the No. 3 overall seed in the draft and face the winner of UCLA vs. Portland on Sunday at 4 pm.
C-USA Player of the Year JJ Williams scores for UK right after the halftime break. pic.twitter.com/lXQ960P0jf
— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) November 11, 2018
Benji Michel – University of Portland, Forward
Another candidate to come out early via a Generation Adidas contract, Benji Michel earned All-WCC honors in 2018 for the third time in three seasons for Portland. The forward out of Orlando, Fla., battled injuries throughout the season but still managed to score 10 goals during the campaign while earning Top Drawer Soccer’s Player of the Week on Oct. 2. At 5 feet 10 inches, Michel likes to use his speed to run at defenders while managing to be quite efficient in front of goal. He has found the back of the net 10 times in each of his three seasons of college soccer.
Michel and Portland will face PAC 12 Powerhouse UCLA on Nov. 15 at 7pm.
UPDATE: Portland advanced after winning 1-0 over UCLA, thanks to Michel’s game winner.
— Portland Pilots (@PortlandPilots) November 16, 2018
Cal Jennings – UCF, Forward
The 2018 American Athletic Conference (AAC) Offensive Player of the Year, Cal Jennings has made MLS clubs stand up and take notice with his 20-goal campaign. A junior out of Georgia, Jennings has been a standout at UCF, leading it to the 14th overall seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. The crafty forward has made a living this season with intelligent movement finding space behind opponent’s back lines. His 5.53 shots per match leads the NCAA, and his ability to get a shot off with minimal space is scary in the closing moments of matches. It is yet to be determined if Jennings will come out early, but like Shinyashiki, 20 goals in any league will earn you chances at the next level.
UCF will face the winner of Washington vs. Lipscomb this Sunday at 6 pm.
Mohammed Kamara – UCLA, Forward
Mohammed Kamara might be familiar to FC Cincinnati supporters as the junior spent some time on trial with the club this summer. The native of Liberia saw his college career start in an interesting way as an Ebola epidemic set the path in motion for a move to the United States to play for Tyler Junior College. At TJC he won the 2016 and 2017 NJCAA National Championships and led the nation in scoring with 48 goals in 2017. His play earned him a transfer to UCLA in 2018, but he was unable to carry over the firepower from TJC, netting just five times for a somewhat mediocre Bruins squad. Though raw, some MLS scouts see the upside that could warrant the No. 1 overall selection. If he were to make the jump to MLS, his status as a junior would require a Generation Adidas contract prior to the draft.
UCLA faces off against Benji Michel and Portland on Thursday at 7pm.
Check here for all the broadcast information for the 2018 NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament.