Toronto FC picks up top defender at MLS draft

Toronto FC used the first of its two first-round picks at Major League Soccer's SuperDraft Friday to select Julius James, considered the top defensive prospect available.

Major League Soccer's SuperDraft threw up plenty of surprises on Friday in Baltimore.

Virginia Tech forward Patrick Nyarko, the player that most soccer experts predicted would go No. 1, wasn't selected until No. 7, and Julius James, considered the top defensive prospect in the draft, was still available at No. 9 when Toronto FC picked him up.

Toronto FC used its other first-round pick, the No. 10 selection, on Wake Forest midfielder Pat Phelan.

"We are delighted to have two players of the quality of Julius and Pat," said Toronto coach Mo Johnston. "Both had superb senior years and we think they are capable of battling for a place in our first eleven. From what we have seen and heard they have all the attributes to be solid professionals."

The surprises actually started earlier in the week, when the expansion San Jose Earthquakes, who originally owned the top pick in the draft, traded it to the Kansas City Wizards for veteran defender Nick Garcia.

Myers makes big leap

With Garcia gone, the Wizards used the No. 1 pick on defender Chance Myers from UCLA. It was a bit of a surprise move as Nyarko was touted as the top prospect in this draft, and most pundits thought Myers would not go in the top 5.

FC Dallas selected midfielder Brek Shea, a member of the U.S. under-17 team, at No. 2. In another surprise move, Real Salt Lake used the No. 3 pick to take Anthony Beltran, a midfielder with UCLA.

Sean Franklin, a defender at California State Northridge, was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Franklin was followed by two University of California at Santa Barbara players — midfielder Ciaran O'Brien (selected by the Colorado Rapids) and defender Andy Iro (picked by the Columbus Crew).

Fire pick prolific Nyarko

Nyarko finally heard his name called when the Chicago Fire used the No. 7 pick to select the third-year collegiate player.

Nyarko was one of the best strikers in the NCAA this past season, and was a first-team all-American in 2007 and a finalist for the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy, the soccer equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy. A native of Ghana, the six-foot, 165-pound forward combines speed and power, scoring touch and playmaking ability — he scored 31 goals and added 24 assists in 48 starts during three seasons at Virginia Tech.

FC Dallas used the No. 8 selection on Josh Lambo, a goalkeeper with the U.S. under-17 team.

After Toronto's two picks, Kansas City drafted Ohio State midfielder Roger Espinosa (No. 11), Chicago selected Tulsa goalkeeper Dominic Cervi (No. 12), the New England Revolution took University of San Francisco defender Rob Valentino, and Real Salt Lake closed out the first round by picking Old Dominion defender David Horst (No. 14).

James dubbed MLS ready

James was named the Big East defender of the year the past three seasons at Connecticut, and was named a first team all-American in 2006 and 2007.

The native of Trinidad and Tobago has a combination of speed, skill, strength and talent and most MLS coaches believe he is ready to step in and be a starter in his rookie season.

"It's going to take some time for me to step in," said James. "I had no idea Toronto was interested in me, but my mind is really open. I expect a real steep learning curve and I hope the technical staff and the guys over there can just help me out.

"I know they have the best fans, and I’m really excited to step on the field and play for them."

Phelan was a first-team all-American this past season, and earned all-ACC first team honours.

Toronto's third pick (28th overall) came in the second round after a trade with Los Angeles in exchange for allocation money. With the pick, Toronto selected goalkeeper Brian Edwards from Wake Forest.

"I'm just really excited to play in that environment in Toronto," said Edwards. "I know they sell out all their games, and you could hear them here over the course of the draft giving some of the other fans a little bit of stick. As for me, I know it’s going to be a notch up being at the pro level when things really start to count and I’m just looking forward to it."

Toronto's other draft picks included UCLA defender Mike Zaher (third round, 30th overall) and forward Joseph Lapira of Notre Dame (third round, 35th overall).

Johnston has a solid track record of success at the MLS draft.

He took midfielder Maurice Edu with the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft, and the University of Maryland product went on to win the MLS rookie of the year award.

When Johnston was coach of New York two year ago, he selected standout defender Marvell Wynn (who now plays in Toronto) with the first overall pick, and young forward Jozy Altidore — one of the league's top young stars — in the second round.

Toronto would have had the second overall pick on Friday, but Johnson traded it to FC Dallas last spring for Richard Mulrooney. The midfielder was later dealt to the Houston Dynamo for defender Kevin Goldthwaite and a first-round pick.

Johnston ended up trading Goldthwaite to New York two months later for defender Todd Dunivant.