The MLS SuperDraft 2021 presented by adidas unfolded Thursday, with teams across the league adding promising players from the college soccer ranks.
Check out what sporting directors and head coaches offered about their selections as they search for players to boost their rosters.
Josh Bauer (No. 31), Aiden McFadden (No. 59)
Atlanta United were the benefactors of University of New Hampshire center back Josh Bauer slipping to the second round, where they picked the two-time All-American with the No. 31 pick. Bauer, who also earned two America East Defender of the Year honors, played briefly with USL Championship side Birmingham Legion in 2020.
"These things are always strange on draft day, you never know how they’re going to go, other team’s needs or what people see," Atlanta United VP and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said. "We liked Bauer, we had him train with us a couple summers ago so we were very familiar with him. Great kid, really smart, intelligent defender. So we were pleased when he came around at 31 and that’s why we took him."
McFadden had six goals and six assists across 49 appearances (38 starts) at Notre Dame. Bocanegra drew parallels between McFadden and former Atlanta forward Jon Gallagher, who was traded earlier this offseason to Austin FC.
"Aiden is very similar profile to Jon," Bocanegra said. "The kid can run all day, he can play anywhere across the front three, great fitness levels, really hard-working and intelligent."
Bauer and McFadden could both benefit from Atlanta United having a second team in the USL Championship, giving them an outlet if first-team minutes are hard to come by.
Columbus Crew SC
Justin Malou (No. 27), Joshua Jackson-Ketchup (No. 52)
Crew SC, 2020 MLS Cup champions, have one of the deepest rosters in the league. Yet president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko feels they found value when taking Clemson defender Justin Malou at the end of the first round.
"There’s sort of the combination of best person remaining on the board from a talent perspective, but then also a need," Bezbatchenko said of Malou. "I think we blended the two in this case because we feel like along the backline he can play both as a center back and as a right back. He can show his speed getting up and down the flanks. For us, it’s an opportunity to fill a need, but he was also one of the last few on the board that we had, that we felt like was the best available."
Columbus, who hope to add a second/reserve team, also added defender Joshua Jackson-Ketchup out of Ohio State. They face a busy 2021, qualifying for the Concacaf Champions League on top of MLS and domestic cup rigors.
Houston Dynamo FC
Ethan Bartlow (No. 6), Kristofer Strickler (No. 30), Brandon Terwege (No. 57)
Houston turned to University of Washington and Generation adidas defender Ethan Bartlow with the No. 6 overall pick, adding a quality center back to their roster. In forward Kristofer Strickler (Virginia Tech) and defender Brandon Terwege (Southern Methodist), the Dynamo grabbed two others who will look to compete for time.
Houston's biggest draft headline, however, might have been acquiring midfielder Derrick Jones via trade from Nashville SC. The trade involved picks swapping, too, a move that left them confident in how the board evolved.
"We are very pleased to add Ethan Bartlow, who we had as the top-rated defender in the draft, with the sixth pick," Dynamo head coach Tab Ramos said. "Kristo Strickler has proven to be a consistent goal scorer in a tough conference and Brandon Terwege is a strong defender who our staff know well.”
Daniel Trejo (No. 14), CC Uche (No. 41), Alvaro Quezada (No. 68)
LAFC went local when picking California State, Northridge forward Daniel Trejo in the first round, with the forward earning Big West Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2019. General manager John Thorrington rates the attacker, who could help one of the Western Conference's better sides.
"We are super excited about Danny, we liked what we saw in terms of his attacking play, his ability to score goals, flexibility to play across the front three," Thorrington said. "We also like that he’s a local product here, we certainly know his coach at Northridge well and are excited to welcome him once we start preseason."
As for Trejo himself, it was a joyous reaction to start his professional career. Trejo had 26 goals and 15 assists in 58 matches (57 starts) while at CSUN.
"I'm just very very happy and excited to start the new journey with LAFC," Trejo said. "My dream has always been to play with an MLS team and a good team. And I believe that LAFC is one of the best teams in MLS and I’m just happy to be part of this team now."
LAFC also picked Ohio State defender CC Uche in the second round, as well as California, Irvine forward Alvaro Quezada in the third round.
Josh Drack (No. 16), Preston Judd (No. 35)
The LA Galaxy twice selected players from the University of Denver, starting with left back Josh Drack in the first round and then continuing with forward Preston Judd in the second round.
Drack filled a positional need, according to general manager Dennis te Kloese, as LA look to improve their defense after a down 2020 season. Those left-back plans also involved LA trading for Jorge Villafana earlier this season, leading to Portland and LA swapping first-rounders.
"With Josh we picked somebody that, in the end, we think could grow into a good, solid player on the left back position, which is a position that we were obviously looking for and still continue to develop him, still continue to grow him," Te Kloese said. "We’re very excited that we could pick him. We’ve been able to watch some games, we’ve been able to track down a lot of information. We did our due diligence and we were able to get him even with our pick through our trade with Portland, obviously was a little lower. It’s always challenging to get something, but we feel that we got real value there."
Minnesota United FC
Justin McMaster (No. 18), Nabi Kibunguchy (No. 19), Sean O'Hearn (No. 38)
Minnesota United traded up to get back-to-back picks in the first round, which they then used to acquire Wake Forest forward Justin McMaster and California, Davis center back Nabi Kibunguchy.
McMaster had 12 goals and eight assists across 58 appearances for the Demon Deacons. He's also represented several Jamaican youth national teams and came through the Philadelphia Union's academy. Now, the Loons have the opportunity to potentially negotiate a contract with McMaster.
"Justin is a player we had our eyes on right away,” Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath said. “We believe in his talent, he’s a player that will fit in with our style of play. He’s extremely athletic, he’s dynamic on the ball, he wants to take players on with the dribble and he’s more than capable of combining with his teammates across the field. It was a tough year for Justin, and we firmly believe if he hadn’t had his injury, there was no way he would have been available to us with the 17th pick.”
As for Kibunguchy, the defender from UC Davis was named to the All-Big West Conference First Team in 2019. He was picked after Minnesota orchestrated a trade with Toronto FC, while the McMaster pick came after a trade with NYCFC.
“Nabi is a top-10 talent in this draft," said Heath. “When we realized he was still available we immediately made a trade to select him. He’s a gifted and versatile player who can play in the center of the defense or as a number six role. We can’t wait to get him here to Minnesota to continue his development and let him learn alongside his teammates and coaches.”
Minnesota also picked O'Hearn in the second round. He was part of Georgetown University's 2019 squad that won the NCAA Division I title. Heath called O'Hearn "uncompromising, hard-nosed and always up for a battle."
New England Revolution
Edward Kizza (No. 22), Francois Dulysse (No. 51)
The New England Revolution have built a significant chunk of their MLS roster via the SuperDraft, and they could have another promising addition in Pittsburgh forward Edward Kizza. During three years with the program, the two-time First Team All-ACC attacker had 31 goals and seven assists in 53 games (52 starts).
"Edward Kizza is a proven goalscorer at the collegiate level," Revolution sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena said. "He's a No. 9, he's a strong player. He has a history of scoring goals and we think that's an area where we could use some help, for sure, as can any team."
The Revs then selected Manhattan College defender Francois Dulysse with their second-round pick. Dulysse, who has played with Haiti's U-20 national team, was previously signed to their USL League One side, Revolution II.
"We have a roster we feel good about," Arena said. "We have good depth in most positions. We think we needed a little bit of help in the No. 9 position, as well as center back. We were able to address that in the draft and hopefully these players can come in and show us that they have potential."
New York Red Bulls
Luther Archimede (No. 13), Lamine Conte (No. 40), AJ Marcucci (No. 67)
The Red Bulls had three picks, one across each round, as led by Syracuse forward Luther Archimede. They then grabbed Louisville midfielder Lamine Conte and Connecticut College goalkeeper AJ Marcucci, with the latter coming from the Division III ranks.
While scouting was limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic, head of sport Kevin Thelwell felt RBNY got three of their top prospects. Thelwell, who arrived stateside from Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers, was involved in his first SuperDraft.
"I’m delighted to say that the three boys we’ve [picked] were in our top 10 right from the very start," Thelwell said, "and so we view it as a very, very successful draft on the basis that we got the three players that we’ve always followed and liked."
Orlando City SC
Derek Dodson (No. 8), Rio Hope-Gund (No. 19), Brandon Hackenberg (No. 22), Andrew Pannenberg (No. 49)
It was a particularly busy day for Orlando City SC, who picked three players in the first round and added one more in the second.
They chose a pair of Georgetown University products in forward Derek Dodson and Rio Hope-Gund, who helped the Hoyas with the 2019 NCAA Division I national title. The Lions then quickly scooped up Penn State defender Brandon Hackenberg and Wake Forest goalkeeper Andrew Pannenberg.
Everything seemed to fall into place for Orlando, according to EVP of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi. They even traded up for Dodson, sending $100,000 in General Allocation Money to the Portland Timbers for the No. 8 spot.
"A great forward, a guy that we’ve been following for a while," Muzzi said of Dodson. "And with the pair of center backs, we have a need for the position, we need depth. We lost Kamal [Miller]. With Hackenberg we’ve got another guy that can play the position. Hope-Gund is a guy we rated high and we thought there was a chance he was going to be there at 19 but we thought it was a small chance. So when we saw that he was available we really had to with that. It’s a need that we tried to fill, and we’re happy with those two picks."
Matt Di Rosa (No. 25), Nathaniel Crofts (No. 45), Paul Rothrock (No. 64), Jon-Talen Maples (No. 72)
Toronto FC made four selections in the SuperDraft, as highlighted by University of Maryland left back Matt Di Rosa in the first round. They then pulled from some of college soccer's higher-profile programs when getting Virginia forward Nathaniel Crofts in the second round, plus midfielders Paul Rothrock (Georgetown) and Jon-Talen Maples (Southern Methodist) in the third round.
The quartet left TFC general manager Ali Curtis feeling that they added possible contributors who could compete for first-team opportunities. The Reds, now led by head coach Chris Armas, nearly won the 2020 Supporters' Shield.
“Matt Di Rosa is a left back who was an important player on an NCAA championship team at Maryland," Curtis said. "Nathaniel Crofts Jr. is a versatile attacking player who was a four-year starter on a very good team at Virginia. Paul Rothrock is another versatile player who won a national championship at Georgetown and Talen Maples is a strong defender who was a leader of his team at Southern Methodist University. We are looking forward to getting these players integrated into our club to see how they can compete at the professional level.”