The Vancouver Whitecaps went international in the first round of Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, taking a Nigerian forward and Jamaican defender.
The Whitecaps selected Akron forward David Egbo ninth overall before picking Jamaica's Javain Brown from South Florida with the 23rd pick, obtained in the December 2018 trade that sent Erik Hurtado to Sporting Kansas City.
Toronto FC filled a need, trading down in the first round to take Maryland left fullback Matt Di Rosa 25th overall. CF Montreal, formerly the Montreal Impact, continued its recent trend of trading away picks or passing when its turn came.
Expansion Austin FC chose Virginia Tech midfielder Daniel Pereira first overall. The 20-year-old sophomore started all 26 games he played in for the Hokies with six goals and six assists. A native of Venezuela, Pereira was a teenager when his family went to the U.S. seeking asylum.
Pereira was one of five players signed to Generation Adidas contracts, which don't count against the league's salary cap. All five went in the top seven of the draft, which was reduced to three rounds from four this year.
It was a draft like no other, with many schools having to put their programs on hold in 2020 due to the pandemic. Many players chosen will have the option to return to school if they don't sign with their MLS teams.
"I think this year was the most difficult year in the league's history to prepare for the draft," said Toronto GM Ali Curtis.
"Everything for the most part was virtual, whether that was watching games or conducting interviews," he added.
Another factor, at least for the Whitecaps, was the busy schedule Canada faces in 2021 with World and Olympic qualifying set to start in March and the Gold Cup in July.
"We felt (Egbo and Brown) had the tools not only to show good things in pre-season but also maybe bring us some depth in those positions that could be needed when you look at the schedule of the international camps and what can happen with Canada," said Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos. "Some of the players are not going to be with us."
Both players will require an international spot if signed to an MLS contract, although Dos Santos said that will not be a problem.
Egbo, a 22-year-old senior from Enugu, Nigeria, scored 21 goals and added 13 assists in three seasons with the Zips.
In 2019, the six-foot-one 185-pounder led Akron in goals (7), assists (4), points (18), shots (49), while ranking second in shots on goal (19) en route to earning first-team all-Mid-American Conference honours.
Egbo, who says he can play a variety of attacking positions, is not short on confidence
"Personally I think I'm good at everything," said Egbo, who came to the U.S. in 2014 on an academic scholarship to Pennsylvania's Kiski School. "That's not to sound cocky … I wouldn't say I'm the perfect striker but I think I have a little bit of everything and that's what makes me different from the rest of the strikers."
"He gives us that flexibility," agreed Dos Santos.
The 24-year-old Brown, who has won four caps for Jamaica, scored three goals in 15 games with South Florida in 2019. The five-foot-11, 160-pounder also played for HarbourView FC in Jamaica. Brown can play both centre back and right back.
FC Cincinnati used the second overall pick on Wake Forest forward Calvin Harris, another Generation Adidas player and the son of former Sheffield United player Terry Harris.
Colorado traded up to get the third pick from Houston, using it to select Clemson midfielder Phil Mayaka, another GA player, who was ACC Freshman of the Year and a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy in 2019. Mayaka emigrated from Kenya to the U.S. as a teenager.
D.C. United took Clemson forward Kimarni Smith with the fourth pick and then acquired the fifth overall selection from Atlanta, using it to select Wake Forest defender Michael DeShields.
Houston took Washington centre back Ethan Bartlow with the sixth pick. Virginia midfielder Bret Halsey went seventh to Real Salt Lake. Both are Generation Adidas players.
Toronto traded its 18th overall pick to Minnesota United, acquiring the 25th pick and US$50,000 in general allocation money in exchange. TFC then used the pick to take Di Rosa.
Toronto has incumbents Richie Laryea and Brazil's Auro at fullback. Veteran Justin Morrow's contract has expired and Tony Gallacher's loan from Liverpool is over.
"That's probably the area of the field where we have the least depth. There's an opportunity for him to compete for the position," Curtis said of Di Rosa.
Curtis says he continues to have conversations with both Morrow and forward Pablo Piatti, a designated player whose option was not picked up.
"We're a lot further along with Justin than we are with Pablo," he said.
Di Rosa won the 21018 NCAA title with the Terrapins, scoring the winning goal in the semifinal against Indiana. CF Montreal's Amar Sejdic scored the lone goal in Maryland's 1-0 win over Akron in the championship game with Canadian Dayne St. Clair, now with Minnesota United, getting the shutout.
Di Rosa's twin brother Ben, a defender from Maryland, went in the second round (44th overall) to New York City FC.
Toronto chose Virginia winger Nathaniel Crofts in the second round (45th overall). The native of Sheffield, England, had 11 goals and 11 assists in 64 games (63 starts) with the Cavaliers.
"A guy that has really good athleticism … We think he can play a number of positions," said Curtis.
TFC wasn't short on intel on Crofts. His roommate at Virginia is the son of Jeff Bradley, TFC's director of communications.
TFC opted for Georgetown midfielder Paul Rothrock and SMU defender Jon-Talen Maples in the third round (64th and 72nd overall, respectively).
Curtis says Rothrock has a "good engine" and is deceptively quick. Maples is a centre back who can also play in the centre of midfield.
"We think maybes he's a bit of a sleeper," said Curtis.
Vancouver picked UCLA midfielder Eric Iloski and Michigan defender Joel Harrison, a native of Langley, B.C., in the second round (46th and 53rd overall, respectively). Harrison has spent time in the Whitecaps residency program.
CF Montreal previously traded its first-round pick to Austin for Canadian defender Kamal Miller and its second-round selection to Minnesota in the Mason Toye deal.
Montreal chose Michigan State midfielder Giuseppe Barone in the third round (63rd overall) and then passed on the 65th overall pick.
There were 12 Canadians among the 170-plus players available in the draft.
Earlier Thursday, the Whitecaps flipped second-round draft picks with Nashville SC, acquiring a 2021 international roster slot in the process. Vancouver gave up the 36th overall pick, receiving the 46th overall selection.
The deal also involved an exchange of general allocation money. Vancouver sent $175,000 to Nashville with a promise of up to $75,000 in return based on "performance benchmarks" of the player selected by Nashville.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press