Chargers grad receives soccer invite

Chargers grad receives soccer invite

CHAMPAIGN — Shortly after awakening from a nap on Dec. 11, Jacob Bushue began to scroll through his Twitter feed.

If the former Centennial soccer standout was not yet fully roused from his afternoon snooze, a certain congratulatory tweet from Indiana University undoubtedly snapped him to full attention. It’s how Bushue first became aware that he and three of his Hoosiers teammates had been invited to the Major League Soccer Player Combine this month in Florida.

One day later, formal notification from the MLS arrived in his e-mail inbox.

It was the kind of early Christmas present that made Bushue feel like, well, a kid again.

“Ever since I was little I’ve been wanting to be a professional soccer player,” the 2009 News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year said late last month during a hometown stop. “I’ve honestly been wanting to do this since I was 7 or 8, so having this opportunity ... is a dream come true.”

There are those who think it is a reachable dream. In a mock draft posted Dec. 24 on the website, Bushue is projected to be chosen in the second round by Sporting KC with the 38th overall pick. The four-round draft is scheduled for Jan. 16 in Philadelphia.

Needless to say, it’s been difficult for the 6-foot-1 midfielder/defender to think about virtually anything else.

“That’s pretty much what I’ve been dealing with every day, pretty much for every second,” he said.

Bushue, who graduated from IU in December, prepared for the Jan. 10-14 combine by training five days a week in the Chicago area with some high-profile pros.

The 2013 All-Great Lakes Region third-teamer was familiar with an offseason training group directed by former pro player and coach Bret Hall, and it struck Bushue as being the ideal environment in which to prepare for the combine. So he asked his former club coach, Todd Bailey, to inquire about whether he could join in.

Bushue was welcomed, and now the former Hoosier is working out with the likes of reigning MLS MVP Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko of the Chicago Fire and several members of the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“It’s been a really cool experience,” Bushue said.

It’s clear that the two-time All-Big Ten second-teamer knows his MLS history. Although he was only 6 at the time, Bushue became hooked on the league in 1998 during the Chicago Fire’s march to the MLS title.

“With C.J. Brown and Dema Kovalenko and all those really great (Fire) players,” he recalled. “I’ve kind of been following it ever since I was little.”

Now, Bushue has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Fire Hall of Famer Brown and the others. He’s among 50 NCAA Division I seniors who were invited to the combine, along with a select few underclassmen as well as some non-D-I college players.

During the five-day combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., representatives from the league’s 19 franchises will assess players in matches held on Days 1, 3 and 5. On the two rest days, Bushue and other hopefuls will be interviewed by the teams. They’ll also be measured and tested for physical skills, such as running speed and vertical jumping.

“I’ll be playing (with and against) the top players in the country,” Bushue said. “I’ve played against most of (the combine invitees) growing up through club soccer. It’ll be competitive, but it’ll be nothing that I haven’t seen before.”

Bushue saw — and contributed — plenty during a highly successful four-year run with perennial power Indiana. He scored 22 points in 86 matches — 79 of them starts — while helping the Hoosiers win an NCAA title in 2012 as well as Big Ten regular season and tournament crowns in 2010 and 2013, respectively.

Given that resume — combined with Bushue’s physical and leadership skills — Indiana coach Todd Yeagley fully expects his former player to make a strong impression at the combine.

“He won every title you could win as a college player and he is a leader, and those qualities translate to the next level,”  the Hoosiers coach said. “He is very competitive, with excellent physical qualities. His tactical and technical improvements have helped him raise his stock.”

Bushue is well aware that being selected in the draft is no guarantee that he’ll be on an MLS roster in 2014. But being drafted presumably would guarantee he’ll receive a serious evaluation from a coaching staff during preseason training camp. And that’s all the 21-year-old asks.

“It’ll be a challenge for sure, but I think I’ve had some good preparation through my club and college career, so I think I should be able to do it,” Bushue said. “If it doesn’t work out in MLS, I’ll probably have to try to find some different avenues to be a professional soccer player.

“But I feel like at the end of the day, whatever is supposed to work out will work out. And hopefully it’s over here in America.”