Nikolas Besagno

Real Salt Lake grants teen's dream

Youth reigned yet again at the MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore, as expansion side Real Salt Lake selected 16-year-old wunderkind Nikolas Besagno with the first overall pick of 2005. Besagno is the second-youngest draftee in league history, surpassed only by last year's top pick, then 14-year-old phenom Freddy Adu.

Blessed with a useful blend of size and speed, the 6-foot, 175-pound Besagno has bossed the midfield for the U-17 U.S. national team since April, and was called up to the U-20 squad in November.

"I sit in the middle -- I'm a ballwinner," said Besagno. "I get in for tackles, win balls in the air and bring it down."

The Maple Valley, Wash., native expects to be worked into Salt Lake's plans gradually, with the new MLS reserve league his likely home in 2005.

"I'm hoping just to get in and play well with the reserve team," said Besagno. "My first season I'm not going to be playing much; I'm still going to be with the under-17s until September or October. I just want to get my first season under me, and hopefully in my second season maybe get a starting position, get some games, some playing time."

The selection reunites the defensive midfielder with his former youth national coach John Ellinger, now in charge at Real.

When asked if his relationship with Ellinger will ease his transition into the professional ranks, Besagno said, "Definitely. I know him, I know how he coaches. He knows me, my skills, what I'm good at. I think it's awesome that I get to play with him."

In fact, Besagno credits Ellinger as the driving force behind his decision to enter the draft at such an early age.

"It happened in September," says Besagno of his choice to go pro, "when Coach Ellinger told me that he thought I should play this year, that I should try out -- that's when this started."

Besagno describes himself as a tough, physical player, and admits he may have to adjust his game to the stringent refereeing standards of MLS.

"I've gotten a lot of yellow cards," he said. "It happens, but not purposely. I'll watch that -- I'm not going to try to get yellow cards, obviously, but I'm not going to lower my game."

Charles Boehm is a contributor to This story was not subject to approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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