Canadian James eyes pro ranks ahead of MLS draft

BMO field, home of MLS club Toronto FC, is pictured. (Neil Davidson/CP)

Ryan James was ever-present during his four years at Bowling Green. Now the 21-year-old midfielder from Mississauga, Ont., looks to step up to the professional ranks.

James played in all 79 of Bowling Green’s matches during his four-year collegiate soccer career in Ohio, making 69 starts. He started all 40 games as a junior and senior, finishing with nine career goals and 15 assists.

The five-foot-nine 160-pounder has had injuries but they were out of season, so he always ended up on the Bowling Green team sheet.

James credits Falcons coach Eric Nichols for helping toughen him mentally as well as physically.

"One of the things I learned from Coach (is) when you have no more, what else can you give?" he said. "And keeping that composure to still perform at a high level and keep your skill.

"So I think as I player I've really grown throughout college."

James was one of a handful of Canadians invited to the MLS Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., ahead of Thursday's MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore.

"It's just a great opportunity, I can't believe that it happened," he said of the Combine invitation.

Other Canadians at the Combine are University of Akron midfielder Richie Laryea (Toronto) and University of Kentucky goalkeeper Callum Irving (Vancouver). Laryea, an underclassman who signed a Generation Adidas contract to enter the draft early, is expected to go high in the first round.

Two other Canadians dropped out of the Combine.

University of Washington midfielder Josh Heard (Victoria) was injured while University of Denver Jordan Schweitzer (born in Dallas to parents from Alberta) signed a homegrown player contract last week with the Seattle Sounders.

James likes to think of himself as a hard-working, versatile midfielder. A co-captain of the Falcons, he looked to lead by example.

"I like to keep the ball and kind of attack people when I need to. But I'm also the type of guy that will do anything for the team."

In 2010, James attended two Canadian under-17 camps -- an experience he says helped show him how the game is more demanding at different levels.

"That was really important to see before college," he said.

He started his collegiate career playing on the flank, moving into the centre as a junior and senior.

James' older brother Evan played collegiate soccer at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and was taken first overall in the 2012 supplemental draft by the Montreal Impact. Ryan went to Charlotte on a recruitment visit but chose Bowling Green, wanting to travel his own path.

The 25-year-old Evan, who most recently played for a club in Denmark, went to the Combine in 2012 and has shared his memories of the experience.

"He always goes to things first before me so he always had tidbits to say. He's just like a little role model for me," Ryan said.

James points to England captain Wayne Rooney as a player he enjoys watching, especially the way he goes the extra yard to make runs to help his team.

"It's the things that you're willing to sacrifice for the team," he said.