Spending four years at Stanford University helped J.J. Koval cut ties with his childhood MLS team, the LA Galaxy.
The MLS SuperDraft made sure to snip any remaining strings.
The San Jose Earthquakes selected Koval, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound midfielder, ninth in the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, putting him squarely on the other side of the California Clasico rivalry. San Jose also scooped up UCLA center back Joe Sofia with their second-round pick.
“Going into the day, knowing where our pick was, he was the guy that we wanted,” Quakes coach Mark Watson told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Philadelphia on Thursday. “We’re really excited. We really like what he brings on the field ... and we know he’s a really good character off the field as well.”
Koval put new teammate Sam Cronin at the top of his list of MLS role models, along with Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman and Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso.
“Their distribution of the ball, the way they go into tackles, the way they lead their team – those are things that I look up to, especially being the captain at Stanford this past year,” Koval told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “I want to be a leader like they are.”
Although Koval was widely regarded as the best defensive midfielder in this year’s draft class, Quakes general manager John Doyle sees him as another box-to-box player to go along with Cronin and recent signing Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi as San Jose aim to strengthen the spine of the team.
“In watching him in his college career as much as we have, you feel secure in the pick, as far as the ability for him to grow and become a good quality MLS player,” Doyle told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “And I think there’s a lot of room for growth with him and a lot of potential.
"He’s a very rangy player, covers a ton of ground, offensively and defensively. He’s 6-1, good physically and good technically on the ball.”
Said Koval: “I feel like I’m very comfortable on the ball. I spend a lot of time with the ball at my feet. I’m always touching the ball. I have a ball here in the hotel, just to kick around and be juggling all the time.
"I feel like I pass the ball well; I’m not going to make many mistakes in terms of turnovers. I’m also a bigger center mid, so I like to get stuck into challenges. I tackle hard and I cover a lot of ground on the field.”
The Quakes were involved in some of the frenzied trade discussions that permeated the Philadelphia Convention Center, but they ultimately stayed put at No. 9. That decision paid off when Chicago – now run by former Quakes coach Frank Yallop, who had been part of San Jose’s extensive scouting work on Koval – traded out of the No. 8 slot.
The Quakes didn’t deviate from their plan, even though two-time Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins of Maryland remained on the board. (Mullins was taken two picks later by New England.)
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“This is a place that’s always been a dream to play at,” Koval said. “There was no way to keep up [with the trades], so I was just sitting back, relaxing as much as I could. ... I had no idea what was going to end up happening, but to hear my name called by the Earthquakes is a dream come true.”
In Sofia, the Quakes bought some insurance in case the dreams of Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson come true. Both of San Jose’s top two center backs are hoping to earn spots on their countries’ World Cup teams – Honduras and the US, respectively – which could leave the Quakes thin along the back line in the middle of the MLS season.
In addition to the final two rounds of the SuperDraft, Doyle is still working on multiple options for a final attacking veteran to add to the mix even after winning the lottery for young forward Billy Schuler this week and announcing Friday the signing of the club’s first Homegrown player, attacking midfielder Tommy Thompson.