He may have come up just short of winning an NCAA College Cup this year with UCLA but Leo Stolz is heading towards bigger and better things. Having completed four full seasons of NCAA play he is now the top rated senior heading to the MLS combine next year.
Stolz was not a heavily recruited prospect when he decided to make the move from the German youth ranks to North America but a strong freshman season at George Mason University set him up for a transfer to UCLA where he went on to make quite a name for himself.
He developed his game at 1860 Munich for seven years before making the move to the States and was also part of the German Under-18 squad. Before he made the decision to go to George Mason he turned down an offer of a professional contract from 1860 Munich electing to go to school instead as an 18-year-old.
Four years later he leaves UCLA as a 23-year-old, two time MAC Hermann Trophy finalist, and arguably the best player in the NCAA this past year. The one thing that may keep Stolz from going at the very top of the draft is his age as he does not have the same room for improvement as some of the younger players who could wind up being signed to Generation Adidas contracts. Even if he does not improve much more he is already good enough to be a steady contributor in MLS.
The numbers that he put up in his junior season were eye catching as he picked up 11 goals and 8 assists. He took a step back in terms of numbers in his senior year with 9 goals and 6 assists but he was still the main reason that UCLA had such a strong season. For his efforts he could very well pick up the MAC Hermann award as the top player in college soccer for 2014.
Stolz may have the best touch and vision of any player that will be available on draft day and that is saying something when you consider the skill sets of some of the other top prospects like Cristian Roldan. He has another big knock other than his age though and that is his well below average athleticism. He is not going to out jump anyone or beat a defender with pace and that is the biggest knock that scouts have on him.
Despite that lack of athleticism he was able to get the jump done at the college level by finding other ways to create space for himself. Being strong on the dribble and making use of quick passing allowed him to create the little bit of space he needed to create plays for himself or for his Bruins teammates.
Stolz is a play maker who can make an impact on the game from box to box. He is the most dangerous in the attacking third but whatever team drafts him will have the option of playing him in a deeper role to use his passing and vision to help launch attacks. Just don't expect him to be a ball winner as Stolz has a fair bit of room to improve the defensive side of his game. In fact, Stolz was often leading the line for UCLA as more of a forward while he team was defending since he had little to offer in terms of helping win the ball back. When they did win it back he was ready to launch the counter attack though which is where he might have value in a deeper role.
Another area where Stolz excels is his mind. He may be one of the smarter players that will be available in the draft and that shows in the way that he plays the game. He seems to be thinking one step ahead of the average college player and knows where to be to find that space. That may be a result of him having to learn to play without top end athletic skills but it is also the result of him being a smart young man who excelled in the classroom as well as on the field.
The question with Stolz is whether or not the third time will be the charm. He turned down a professional contract in Germany to attend school and then he turned down a Generation adidas offer from MLS following his junior season at UCLA. Now he is heading to the combine but any team drafting him may have it in the back of their mind that he has other interests beyond soccer. They may have to do some convincing to show him that they are the right fit for him since he will not only have the option of playing in MLS or Europe but also in other lines of work. His interview with American Soccer Now gives a good perspective on what kind of person and player Stolz is and just why he is a bit of an enigma heading towards the draft.
A quick look at some of his highlights from the 2013 year shows just what sort of player Stolz is.
The clips show his strength on the ball and his knack for being able to create that little bit of space for himself. He never shows any sort of blazing speed but he is able to beat defenders with his dribbling ability and the moment he creates that bit of space he is more than able to pick out a pass. He is also very hard to knock off the ball as he showed on some of those slaloming runs.
The video does also offer a glimpse of his athletic short comings as on several of his runs you see defenders closing on him from behind at a rapid rate and even some instances of defenders catching up to him again after he already beat them. The good news is that in most cases he is able to avoid them or just beat them again.
Stolz is certainly one of the more intriguing prospects that will be attending the combine and it is unclear just how high he will be taken on draft day. Should be wind up committing to playing in MLS there is a real chance that he could slip to Toronto FC at the #6 picks.
If he is around at #6 the question then will be how TFC are going to approach this draft. If they are selecting based on who is the best player left on the board that could very well be Stolz but if they are selecting based on needs they may be better served looking elsewhere with Manuel Aparicio already on the roster and Jay Chapman likely to sign a home grown deal. That would be a lot of young talent playing a similar role on the team but Stolz may be the most ready to contribute of the trio should TFC fail to find a proven CAM elsewhere during the offseason.
In the right system Stolz has all the tools to be a Rookie of the Year award winner in 2015 but the question that any team that selects him will have to answer is just how to make the most of his skill set. What is beyond questioning is that this young man possesses more than enough skill to succeed in MLS.