KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Montreal Impact stuck to their guns during the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, keeping a firm hold on the top pick and then swooping in on a player widely considered the most talented player in a deep 2012 draft class.
On what was an historically quiet day -- the first draft in MLS history without a single trade -- the expansion Impact hitched their wagon to Duke’s do-it-all superstar, Andrew Wenger, the Hermann Trophy winner who carved out a niche as a both a defender and a striker in his days with the Blue Devils.
Wenger was the top choice in a two-horse race ahead of sensational playmaker Darren Mattocks, the latest in a long line of MLS-ready talent pouring out of Akron in recent years and the player most considered the best offensive prospect in the draft.
Wenger, 21, was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year in 2011 thanks to 17 goals and eight assists in 22 games, but don’t expect him to play up top in Montreal. He was also named the 2010 ACC Defensive Player and is projected to fill a midfield role for head coach Jesse Marsch and the Impact, who entertained a host of trade offers for the top pick.
And that included talk of a potential deal involving striker Brian Ching – but the Impact didn’t budge. Now they’ve got a versatile talent and a Generation adidas member in Wenger who is also expected to suit up in this summer's Olympics with the US Under-23 team.
“I like to be around the ball,” Wenger said. “Whatever gets me close to the ball, that would work. I’m playing center back for the national team right now and I’m trying to get used to playing in the back again after playing forward all year. It’s just a little bit of a learning curve at the moment.”
The Vancouver Whitecaps landed a bona fide attacking prospect in Mattocks, marking the second consecutive year an Akron player was taken No. 2 in the draft after Darlington Nagbe went to Portland in 2011. Mattocks, 21, is considered perhaps the best offensive prospect the school has produced, after scoring a combined 39 goals in 47 games with the Zips. He opted to forgo his final two years of eligibility to sign a Generation adidas contract.
“I knew from the get-go that it was going to be between me and Wenger,” Mattocks said. “They chose Wenger. That’s OK. It doesn’t really matter where I go. I’m concerned with getting good playing time and scoring a lot of goals. That’s what I’m here for.”
The New England Revolution followed at No. 3 with UCLA and US Under-23 playmaker Kelyn Rowe to help add punch to their midfield, and Toronto FC landed UC Santa Barbara midfielder Luis Silva with the fourth pick.
Striker Casey Townsend, who was named the MVP of the MLS Combine last week, was taken fifth overall by Chivas USA, and UCSB midfielder Sam Garza went to San Jose with the No. 6 pick.
D.C. United landed Louisville midfielder Nick DeLeon at No. 7, Portland picked up Connecticut defender Andew Jean-Baptiste at No. 8 and the Chicago Fire went the defensive route at No. 9 for Louisville defender Austin Berry.
Ethan Finlay, the striker from Creighton who finished runner-up to Wenger in the Hermann Trophy race, went to the Columbus Crew to round out the top 10.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the fate of Generation adidas striker Chandler Hoffman, who slipped from a potential top-three pick all the way to No. 13, where the Philadelphia Union scooped him up to add to their stable of young talent.
Hoffman scored 18 goals and added six assists as a senior at UCLA while leading the Bruins to the College Cup, and was a Hermann Trophy semifinalist.
“I felt at the combine I hadn’t met with that many teams and I felt maybe was there was a chance of falling that far in the draft,” Hoffman said. “Obviously I’m just thankful to be picked.”
Unlike when Akron dominated the headlines with a record seven players taken in the 2011 draft, there was no singular school that made such a dramatic impression this time around. Creighton and Louisville led the pack with four players taken each.