Toronto FC draft Canadian midfielder Kyle Bekker
Oakville, Ont. native played at Boston College
Toronto FC continued its remake at the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, making a slew of moves to take Canadians Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman while loading up on allocation money to help pad its salary cap.
The draft in Indianapolis had a distinctive Canadian flavour with five Canucks going in the first 28 picks.
It was an eventful and profitable day for Toronto FC, which is rebuilding under new president and GM Kevin Payne after a dismal 5-21-8 season.
Payne said Toronto got the two players it wanted and set the stage for acquiring more talent by stockpiling allocation money.
"It really means that our salary cap is now just that much bigger than it would have been otherwise," Payne said.
"However we use it, it's going to allow us to make our team better," he added.
And he welcomed the chance to add local talent to the roster.
"They know our club, they care about our club," he said. "They care about our community. So we don't have to teach them those things. There'll be no dislocation for them no transition. They can just hit the ground running on the weekend [when camp opens]."
Vancouver also left happy, adding speed up front in the form of Gambian starlet Kekuta Manneh and Santa Clara's Erik Hurtado with the fourth and fifth picks.
"We wanted to add pace and excitement in the final third of the field and we feel with these two players we've definitely managed to do that," said Vancouver coach Martin Rennie.
The Montreal Impact, who also liked Bekker, tried to move up the board. Unable to make it happen, they filled a need with the eighth pick in the form of New Mexico's Blake Smith, a speedy left-sided player touted as the best winger in the draft.
His school-record 13 assists last year ranked second in the NCAA.
"We're extremely happy with the pick," said Impact sporting director Nick DeSantis.
The Impact then surprised some by choosing UCLA attacking midfielder Fernando Monge with the 18th pick.
Michigan defender Kofi Opare, a native of Niagara Falls, Ont. went in the second round — 24th overall — to the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
Regina's Drew Beckie, a defender from the University of Denver, was chosen four picks later by the Columbus Crew.
TFC sends No. 1 pick to New England
After trading picks with Toronto on Wednesday, the New England Revolution opened the draft by calling Louisville defender Andrew Farrell's name.
Farrell was as close to a consensus No. 1 pick as there was in the draft but Toronto was looking elsewhere.
As previously announced, Chivas USA used the second pick to take Connecticut midfielder Carlos Alvarez — adding a player with a Mexican-American heritage.
Farrell was one of only two defenders taken in a top 10 that saw five forwards and three midfielders selected.
In exchange for the first overall pick, Toronto got the fourth selection and allocation money from New England. While Payne didn't ask the Revs who they were going to pick first, he did quiz them on what position they were after.
"Because if they had said central midfield, then we wouldn't have done the deal," he said.
"When we were still at [picks] three and four, we felt like we were still in kind of control of the draft," Payne said.
Toronto used the third pick on Bekker, an intelligent playmaker from Boston College who has been invited to camp with the Canadian national team next week.
"Our priority was Kyle. In fact if we had had to use the [first] pick, we would have used it on Kyle," said Payne.
"We went into the draft thinking that he was the best footballer on the list," Payne added of the 22-year-old, who was named MVP at the MLS Combine.
"Clearly the most sophisticated player tactically, he looked the most professional on the field," Payne said.
Toronto then sent its fourth pick to Vancouver for the 10th pick and more allocation money.
Payne thought he still had a "pretty good shot" at getting Welshman with the 10th selection. Then Seattle made a pitch for the pick.
The Sounders were offering the 16th selection and more allocation money. That got Payne's attention with his eye on signing some players outside the league.
Toronto was interested in four players led by Welshman and, given the teams picking before them, Payne still thought Toronto had a shot at the Oregon State forward — although he was worried about San Jose.
The Earthquakes, coached by Canadian Frank Yallop, picked 15th. But San Jose opted for Georgetown defender Tommy Muller and Payne was able to get his man.
"We decided to take a chance and it worked out for us," said Payne. "We got a little bit lucky."
Toronto likes Welshman's speed, strength and determination.
"We think that he's going to get significantly better in a pro environment," Payne said. "When he gets a chance to spend more time around better players and with better coaching to improve his finishing, we think he can be a dangerous player in the league."
Changes in attack
Welshman, who also calls Oakville home and was a clubmate of Bekker's at Sigma FC in Mississauga, was selected to the All-Pac-12 first team with 10 goals and four assists in 2012.
He will help a Toronto forward line somewhat in turmoil. Lead striker Danny Koevermans will miss the start of the season as he recovers from knee surgery while French forward Eric Hassli reportedly wants out.
Payne said Hassli, who made US$790,000 last year as a designated player, remains under contract.
"If Eric doesn't want to be in Toronto, we're happy to try to accommodate him," Payne said. "But at the end of the day, Eric either has to fulfil the terms of his contract or his contract will not be in force.
"I'm a little disappointed that he or his representatives have chosen to discuss this in the media. I'm not sure of the point of that. We've been pretty respectful to him behind the scenes. But he doesn't get to decide what he does on this unless he wants to completely walk away from his contract."
Bekker and Welshman join a TFC squad that already includes homebrews Terry Dunfield, Doneil Henry, Ashton Morgan, Quillan Roberts and Matt Stinson.
Bekker made his debut at the age of 15 with the Canadian national youth program and won four caps with the under-23 squad last year.
The five-foot-10 165-pounder earned an invitation to train with the famed Ajax youth academy in 2008 and recently had a trial with England's Crystal Palace.
"I'm excited, that's for sure," said Bekker, who had 17 goals and 22 assists in 80 games for Boston College. "It's been a crazy last few days but to be able to play for my home town is going to be something special I think."
Welshman, 21, was also delighted to be coming home.
"This is an honour, it's a privilege, it's a dream come true," he said.
"I'm very optimistic," he said of TFC. "I can't wait help to right the ship and I can't wait to get to work. I can't wait to help give back to the city I love so much."
Impact strikes with speed
Montreal added speed in Smith, who turned 22 on Thursday. He ranked third over 30 metres at the combine in 4.11 seconds and scored well in other agility drills.
The Impact took Louisville defensive midfielder Paolo DelPiccolo (27th overall) and Cleveland State goalkeeper Brad Stuver (32nd) in the second round. Stuver as the first 'keeper taken in the draft.
DelPiccolo, 21, is currently on trial with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany.
Monge, Montreal's other first-round pick, was a member of the U.S. beach soccer national team in 2011. The 22-year-old, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last year, had five goals and one assist for the Bruins, tied for third in goals and fourth in points.
Vancouver got younger and faster with its first-round picks.
The 22-year-old Hurtado was the second-fastest player at the combine, timed at 4.09 seconds over 30 metres. He was the 2012 West Coast Conference Player of the Year with 15 goals and seven assists as a senior.
Rennie said Hurtado, who had 33 goals and 20 assists in 77 appearances for Santa Clara, will probably line up on the right wing.
Manneh, a five-foot-nine 160-pounder who turned 18 on Dec. 30, worked out for Vancouver prior to the draft. He also trained with the Colorado Rapids, Los Angeles Galaxy and Portland Timbers, as well as clubs in Germany and England.
Manneh is a Generation Adidas player, meaning his contract will not count against Vancouver's salary cap. He played for Paul Dalglish, son of former Scotland international Kenny Dalglish and a friend of Rennie's, with the PDL's Austin Aztex in Texas.
He needed just 29 minutes to opened his scoring account for the Aztex and showed off his skills in training camp when he reportedly juggled the ball 257 times with his right foot in a minute.
The Gambian under-20 international, who had 12 goals and added nine assists in 13 appearances for the Aztex, was fourth in combine testing over 30 metres at 4.17 seconds.
"We feel he has unlimited potential," said Vancouver president Bob Lenarduzzi.
Newly appointed TFC manager Ryan Nelsen, still working out his contract status with Queens Park Rangers, was not at the draft. Assistant coach Fran O'Leary took Toronto's place in a photo op for the league managers.
Not concerned about defence
Toronto had the worst defence in the league last season but chose more attacking options in the draft.
The additions of veterans Danny Califf and Julio Cesar will stiffen the backline but Payne also pointed to young defensive talent in 21-year-old Gale Agbossoumonde and 19-year-old Henry.
"Had they been in the draft, we think they would have been considered the top centre backs in the draft. We think we've got good young depth in the back already. They're going to be learning their trade from the smartest centre back in the EPL [in Nelsen] so we feel pretty good about that."
Toronto is looking for depth at fullback and some other options in attack.
"But we've got our eye on a few guys already and we're scouting them feverishly so we'll be bringing in more faces here as the weeks go by," said Payne.
Toronto is expected to announce after the draft that former Canadian international goalkeeper Pat Onstad has joined the club's front office. Onstad was an assistant coach with D.C. United, Payne's former club.
The University of Louisville and Georgetown University had three players taken in the two-round draft. Boston College, Notre Dame and the University of Maryland each had two players selected in the first round.