INDIANAPOLIS – Toronto FC may have traded away the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft, but that didn’t keep Kevin Payne from landing the player he coveted above all others.
In fact, by virtue of some shrewd wheeling and dealing, Toronto landed both of their primary targets – the Ontario-born duo of Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman – as well as allocation money from New England, Vancouver and Seattle to move down in the draft order from No. 1 to 3, No. 4 to 10 and finally No. 10 to 16.
It was about as well as the day could go for TFC, especially since Payne and his staff thought Bekker, a midfielder who can play box-to-box as well as in an attacking role, was the draft pool’s premier talent.
“We felt going in that Kyle was the most pro-ready player in the combine and in the draft,” Payne told MLSsoccer.com. “I think he demonstrated that at the combine. He looked like a pro playing with a bunch of college guys. The games seemed relatively easy for him. … Had we used the No. 1 pick, we would have used it on him.”
Bekker, who said he didn’t have a preferred landing spot heading into the draft, grew up in Oakville, just outside of Toronto, and acknowledged that turning TFC’s fortunes around will be a challenge likely to stretch into the next few seasons.
Still, he’s glad to stay close to home and expressed faith that Payne and recently hired head coach Ryan Nelsen, who has yet to join the team permanently, will change the culture surrounding the team.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs, but it’s always tough to be an expansion team coming into the league,” Bekker said. “Now we have the new president Kevin Payne and I think he’s going to turn it around. I think only good things are going to come.”
Payne took a calculated risk to land Welshman, betting the forward would fall far enough to allow TFC to continue socking away allocation money. That didn’t prevent the Toronto table from experiencing a few nervous moments as they waited for their man to stay on the board until the 16th pick, however.
“Before today, we discussed using three and four and using them on Kyle and Emery," Payne said. "And then, as we talked to more and more different people, we realized the names that were going to be left on the board after we picked at three. … We felt that he would slip. It was pretty nerve-wracking when we went from [picks] 10 to 16. We thought there was a real chance that he would go before that. But we had other players lined up and we felt the [allocation money] was important.”
Of course, Welshman was going through a few nervy moments of his own, especially since the 21-year-old is a diehard Toronto FC fan who was hopeful that his professional career would begin in his home province.
“It was one of those twilight moments where everything slowed down for a little bit,” he said. “It did dawn on me that it would just make complete sense if Toronto was to pick me up [at No. 16]. My mom was telling me she had a feeling that Toronto would have done it at No. 10, but then they traded it off. I had bit more of a feeling when they traded it off that it could be to see if I would fall to them.”
In the end, the speedy striker fell into Toronto’s lap, giving Payne the kind of draft haul most teams can only dream about while locking in two young Canadians that give the club a clear connection to their home province.
“I’ve been doing this drafts for a long time. Longer than anybody. You can pop a champagne cork today, but really all we’re celebrating today is the knowledge that we accomplished what we wanted to,” Payne said. “We really won’t know what this draft is worth for a year or two. … We were hoping to get three or four assets out of these two picks and we were actually able to get five. We’re pretty happy.”