BALTIMORE, Md. — A record seven players from the University of Akron’s NCAA championship-winning team were selected in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, including five of the first eight picks.
Forward Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers) and midfielder Perry Kitchen (D.C. United) went second and third overall, followed by defender Zarek Valentin (Chivas USA). Defender Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo) and midfielder Michael Nanchoff (Vancouver Whitecaps) came later in the first round, setting an MLS record for most picks from one school in the first round.
[inline_node:322589]Chris Korb (D.C. United) and Anthony Ampaipitakwong (San Jose) were both picked up in the second round.
The day was a testament to the Zips’ 2010 success, and the work of head coach Caleb Porter.
“I’m very honored to have worked with these seven guys, and they’re going to be great on the next level,” he said.
From the moment the 35-year-old Porter took over Akron in 2006, he has transformed the squad into a professional-producing program. Last year, MLS teams picked up Teal Bunbury, Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski, each of whom became major contributors for their sides. Bunbury is now an up-and-comer for the US national team.
So what is Porter’s secret in attracting some of the nation’s top talent to an unlikely school Akron?
“My philosophy is try to build a program that would be realistically capable of competing for a national championship,” he said. “And not just win, but win the right way. We want to play attractive, attack-oriented soccer, where players are developing or generating passion for the sport.”
Results on the field indicate that, as Akron reached the national championship the past two seasons, triumphing 2-1 over Louisville.
Now new challenges await the players. Both Nagbe and Nanchoff will play with expansion teams in the Pacific Northwest. Korb and Kitchen head to D.C. United, hoping to help rebuild a franchise coming off one of its worst seasons of all time. Sarkodie has a good shot at playing time on Houston’s backline, and Ampaipitakwong will attempt to add creativity in San Jose.
[inline_node:323158]“We encourage our guys to play and think,” Porter said. “We work a lot on our combination play so you have to be intelligent tactically in how you move and how you think, so I think technically and tactically our players are being prepared to play at a higher level where those things are very, very important.”
While Porter was enthusiastic about all seven of his players, he particularly highlighted the second overall pick, Hermann Trophy winner Darlington Nagbe, as one of the players who can make an immediate impact.
“For me, Darlington is the most special guy in college soccer,” he said. “In terms of skill, athleticism, game-changing, versatility, he can play anywhere in the attack. He’s ready now, and he’s going to excite a lot of people. I’ve seen this kid every single day, and some of what he does is a whole different level.
A US U-20 representative, Kitchen is a tenacious midfielder whose leadership qualities set him apart.
“He leads because he wants to win,” Porter said. “And he realizes in order to win, he’s got to help the other ten guys work hard, and do what he needs them to do to win the game. You can’t teach that.”
There’s no questioning that each player’s time at Akron has improved him, on and off the field. Next season, MLS will have seven players honed in the system that is currently producing professional talent on a yearly basis.