While this year's MLS SuperDraft might not have had the same hype as a year ago, the entry selections of the past two years came together at The Home Depot Center on Friday night, where the U.S. under-20 national team secured their place in next summer's FIFA World Youth Championships with a 2-0 victory against Panama.
After the eyes of MLS were focused on the 2005 draft in Baltimore, their attention turned to southern California, where last year's No. 1 overall pick Freddy Adu followed up with his performance in Wednesday's 6-1 victory against Trinidad & Tobago with a second goal in the tournament. Four of the players taken in this year's draft -- all in the first 18 picks -- saw action for the USA.
Defender Chad Barrett and midfielder Will John will remain teammates after the Chicago Fire selected the two with the third and 18th overall picks respectively. The Colorado Rapids took defender Hunter Freeman with the seventh pick in the SuperDraft, while the MetroStars selected Tim Ward with the final pick of the first round (12th overall), which they obtained in a draft-day deal with FC Dallas.
Of the new draftees, only Ward was absent from the starting lineup in Friday's qualifier against Panama. The first half of the game saw both sides settled in on defense, as the two teams battled to a scoreless draw at the intermission. Virginia product Freeman anchored the center of the U.S. defense, limiting the Panamanians to just one shot in the first half.
On the offensive side of the ball, Barrett, John and the rest of the U.S. attack found little space to create anything in the opening 45 minutes. But after the break, the U.S. was able to press the attack and gain the upper hand, and the two newest Fire teammates combined for the breakthrough.
John, who attended Saint Louis University, collected a quick throw-in from Barrett and raced into the Panama penalty area before he was eventually hauled down, and the resulting penalty kick was finished off by Adu to give the USA the lead.
Barely a minute later Barrett and Adu seemed to have combined for a second goal as the UCLA product whipped in a great ball from the right flank for the D.C. United wunderkind to put away, only to see the effort called back on a questionable offside call.
Jacob Petersen finished off the match for the USA in the final minute, running onto a pass from MetroStars striker Eddie Gaven to seal the victory and send the under-20 side to next year's finals in the Netherlands.
After the match, John wasn't shy to admit that his mind was a little scattered due to the excitement of the day.
"My mind was everywhere today," he said. "But when it came to it, I got focused for the game."
John also shed a smile when talking about his new Fire teammate.
"We're all good friends on the team," he said. "It's good to have another guy from the U-20s with me in Chicago.
For Barrett, going No. 3 in the draft was a dream come true. "It means a lot to me," he said. "Every kid dreams of going pro. It kind of surprised me to go No. 3, but Chicago liked me. That means a lot to me."
Like John, Barrett is also looking forward to continuing his friendship with his U-20 teammate in the Windy City.
"Everybody loves it there (Chicago). I know five guys on the team, so hopefully I'll fit in well," he said.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.