Mauricio Pineda - UNC - Chicago Fire FC academy product
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

College Homegrown prospects: Who might MLS teams sign from NCAA game?

The men’s Division I NCAA season is coming to a close. And as the postseason approaches, for some of the top MLS academy alumni, a Homegrown offer may come sooner rather than later.

Who might be some of the targets to watch in the offseason? Check out the top 10 candidates from the college game.

10. Brian Saramago – CF – Loyola-Maryland

  • MLS Academy: New York Red Bulls
  • College Years: A four-year standout in the Patriot League, Saramago earned Conference Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, and collected first team all-conference recognition every season. He finished his college career with 34 goals and 23 assists in 68 games.
  • Skill Set: A fox-in-the-box striker who gets himself into good spots, "Saramagol" has shown good instincts in the penalty area ever since his days at the Red Bull academy. He can play anywhere across a front three as well, offering the kind of flexibility valued at the next level.
  • Projection: With his NCAA eligibility up and having spent summers playing in USL League Two with the Red Bulls U-23 side, the technical staff in New Jersey should have a good read on Saramago. He could either sign a Homegrown deal with the Red Bulls or ink with Red Bulls II. Either way, he is more likely to start out seeing more time in the USL Championship, depending on how he adapts.

9. Brandon Williamson – CM – Duke

  • MLS Academy: D.C. United
  • College Years: Williamson was a regular presence in the Duke midfield during his four-year career. He earned Second Team All-ACC honors in 2018, leading the Blue Devils on a deep tournament run that season. He made 70 appearances for the ACC side during his time in Durham.
  • Skill Set: Slotting in for Duke as a box-to-box midfielder, Williamson is an active player that can cover large swathes of ground. He can connect passes relatively well, though will need to show he can compete at a faster pace to make his mark in MLS. While playing mostly in center midfield, he’s shown the traits of a potential right back, which would open up a path to playing time more immediately should he sign with D.C.
  • Projection: The senior seems like a no-brainer Homegrown signing, as he can spend the season with Loudoun United in the USL Championship as he adjusts to pro soccer.

8. Eddie Munjoma – RB – Southern Methodist

  • MLS Academy: FC Dallas
  • College Years: After three steady seasons at SMU, Munjoma broke out in a big way this fall during an excellent season for his team. At the time of publication, he’s scored 11 goals and seven assists, bombing forward into the attack on a regular basis. Prior to this season, he had compiled two goals and 14 assists in 49 appearances.
  • Skill Set: An attacking right back who steams forward into the attack, Munjoma could also offer depth as a right winger, depending on the system.
  • Projection: Signing a Homegrown deal and having the chance to see minutes in USL League One with North Texas SC seems the most likely outcome. He’ll be a known commodity, having played for Luchi Gonzalez in the academy, and spent four years playing college soccer close to Frisco.

7. Drake Callender – GK – California

  • MLS Academy: San Jose Earthquakes (HG rights traded to Inter Miami)
  • College Years: Taking over the starting role at Cal in 2017 after Jonathan Klinsmann left school to sign in Germany, Callender’s been one of the top shot-stoppers out west over the past three seasons. He earned All-Pac-12 honors, either First or Second Team, during his three years as a starter, helping the Bears reach the NCAA tournament this past season.
  • Skill Set: A 6-foot-3 goalkeeper that shows good athleticism and can cover the entire frame with relative ease, Callender has the tools to be a successful goalkeeper at a high level. One evaluator had him pegged as the best senior GK in the class, and he has looked the part at a school that’s seen the likes of Klinsmann and Stefan Frei pass through en route to the professional ranks.
  • Projection: Considering the fact that Inter Miami went out and traded for his Homegrown rights, Callender’s signing should come any day now. With Bryan Meredith the only ‘keeper on the expansion team’s roster at the moment, his status in 2020 depends on who else they bring in and how he performs. At minimum, he’ll be playing in USL League One as he begins his professional career.

6. Milan Iloski – F/W – UCLA

  • MLS Academy: Real Salt Lake
  • College Years: After two so-so seasons at UCLA, Iloski broke out in a massive way as a junior. He scored 17 goals, including a pair of hat tricks in 2019.
  • Skill Set: A wide forward that can play up front as a central striker, Iloski showed the ability to finish in a variety of ways this past season. He’s not the quickest or fastest player, but gets into dangerous spots on a regular basis and was a huge bright spot in a down season for the Bruins.
  • Projection: Having spent time at the RSL academy, Iloski could vault into a Homegrown deal if the team is interested. He’d likely start out with the 2019 USL Champions Real Monarchs before getting an extended run in MLS. Injuries have limited him in the past, so there’s always the chance he heads back to UCLA and gets closer to a degree.

5. Jesus Perez – CM – Illinois-Chicago

  • MLS Academy: Chicago Fire FC
  • College Years: After playing his freshman season at Akron, Perez transferred to Illinois-Chicago, where he’s emerged as a consistent attacking force over the past three seasons. He earned All-Horizon League First Team from 2017-2019, and was the conference’s Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019. He scored 14 goals and added 28 assists at UIC.
  • Skill Set: A creative and crafty central midfielder, Perez has been one of college soccer’s best attacking midfielders the past few years. He can create goals from set pieces or open play, and has been consistent during his time at Illinois-Chicago.
  • Projection: With no head coach in place yet at Chicago, it’s unclear what lies ahead for Perez. At minimum, the Fire could shop his Homegrown rights to other teams eager to work with the talented midfielder. He’s probably not going to step into an MLS roster right away and set the world alight, but Perez is a talented player that could thrive as a central midfielder in the right environment.

4. Blake Bodily – W/AM – Washington

  • MLS Academy: Portland Timbers
  • College Years: After two solid seasons at the Pac-12 power, 2019 has been the Blake Bodily breakout campaign. The Pac-12 Player of the Year this season, he’s scored 11 goals and added six assists for the Huskies.
  • Skill Set: A creative player who can pop up in wide areas to create goals, or come inside and score them himself, Bodily’s an up-and-coming talent who could add depth off the bench in MLS.
  • Projection: As a junior, Bodily could return to Washington for one more season. That remains possible, although the Timbers could also shop his Homegrown rights if they aren’t interested in signing him. Now 21, the Idaho native joined Timbers 2 on an academy contract as a teenager but ultimately didn’t sign a pro deal.

3. Aidan Morris – CM – Indiana

  • MLS Academy: Columbus Crew SC
  • College Years: Morris is at the tail end of just his first season of college soccer, one of several freshmen to start for Indiana. A native of Florida who relocated to play with the Crew SC academy, Morris earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year earlier this season as the Hoosiers won the regular season and conference tournament titles.
  • Skill Set: A tough, tenacious and smart central midfielder, Morris has quickly shown the quality to indicate he’s a future professional. It may not come in 2020, but there’s every reason to believe that it won’t be too far from now. He’s shown the ability to dominate games at the collegiate level, win balls on a regular basis and pick out the right passes to get the Hoosiers going.
  • Projection: Only a freshman, and without a USL team to get regular minutes in Columbus, Morris seems very likely to head back to school.

2. David Loera – CAM – North Carolina State

  • MLS Academy: Orlando City SC
  • College Years: A magical player with the ball, Loera has 57 appearances, scoring nine goals and adding 15 assists during his stint in Raleigh. He’s earned All-ACC honors all three seasons.
  • Skill Set: Creative and crafty in possession, Loera buzzes around the attacking third looking to make things happen. He’ll likely face the usual questions that attacking midfielders do when moving from college to pro soccer: Where he fits on the field from a positional standpoint, if he can impact the game offensively and how he’ll adjust to facing improved defenders. Loera’s adapted to college and has the quality to do the same if given time to develop and adjust to MLS.
  • Projection: Loera has the chance to play one more season at NC State. But he’s ready for the jump, and would be a young, up-and-coming talent for Orlando. With their USL League One team an option as well, he can join the Lions and get minutes right away.

1. Mauricio Pineda – CB/DM – North Carolina

  • MLS Academy: Chicago Fire FC
  • College Years: One of the best college players during his time in Chapel Hill, Pineda finished with 79 appearances over his four years. While mostly playing as either a defensive central midfield or center back, he did score 17 goals and add eight assists.
  • Skill Set: More than capable with the ball at his feet, Pineda is a smooth player that makes good decisions in a timely fashion and helped anchor a possession-oriented side. He’s easily been one of college soccer’s best players that past few seasons, looking a cut above many of his peers when he’s playing up to his talent level.
  • Projection: Like Perez, Pineda’s status is up to the decision-makers in Chicago. If the Fire aren’t interested, Pineda could end up having his Homegrown rights traded away. Either way, his college eligibility is exhausted and he looks ready for MLS. His older brother Victor was a Fire HGP from 2010-14.

Other names to know

F Liam Butts (Penn State/Atlanta United), CB Brandon Terwege (SMU/FC Dallas), F Grayson Barber (Clemson/Sporting KC), F Victor Bezerra (Indiana/Chicago Fire), CM Dante Polvara (Georgetown/New York City FC), CM Isaiah Parente (Wake Forest/Crew SC), CM Sean Zawadski (Georgetown/Crew SC)

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