Looking to bolster a thin roster bereft of attacking talent, the Vancouver Whitecaps selected forward Omar Salgado with the No. 1 pick in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore.
The selection of Salgado, a 17-year-old member of the U.S. Under-20 team, came as a bit of a surprise, as many pundits believed the Whitecaps would pick either defender Perry Kitchen or forward Darlington Nagbe, both of the University of Akron.
Both players were key figures for Akron, as the Zips won last year's NCAA title, and Nagbe was awarded the Hermann Trophy as the top men's player in U.S. collegiate soccer for 2010.
Salgado potentially adds more offensive depth to the Whitecaps, who currently have 11 players under contract, and just one forward: Atiba Harris.
"What we saw in Omar was an upside. I don't think we've seen anything yet to what his potential is," Lenarduzzi told reporters during a conference call.
"Nagbe would have been a great pick for us as well. Nagbe, however, is more of a withdrawn striker. Omar is more of an out and out striker. We have players that can play a similar role to the one that Nagbe plays."
Salgado admitted he wasn't expecting Vancouver to take him first overall.
"I was really amazed. I wasn't expecting it at all," he said. "I knew Vancouver had interest in me. I never thought they would take me with the first pick."
Under FIFA rules, players under the age of 18 are not allowed to transfer from one country to another. But Lenarduzzi said the Whitecaps are willing to wait for Salgado to turn 18 before he can make his Whitecaps debut.
With the eighth overall pick, Vancouver took Akron midfielder-winger Michael Nanchoff. The Whitecaps acquired a second first-round selection last November in a trade with Toronto FC in exchange for defensive midfielder Nathan Sturgis.
Vancouver opened the second round by selecting midfielder Jeb Brovsky, and with the first pick of the third round it chose defender Bilal Duckett, both of Notre Dame.
The Whitecaps opted to take the first overall pick in Thursday's U.S. college player draft, instead of the top selection in the expansion draft, when it won a coin toss with the Portland Timbers at the MLS all-star game last summer. Both the Whitecaps and Timbers debut in Major League Soccer this year.
Vancouver opens play in its inaugural MLS season on March 19 when it hosts Toronto FC.
Portland selected Nagbe with the No. 2 pick in Thursday's draft, while D.C. United picked Kitchen third overall.
The younger brother of England star Wayne Rooney was taken by the New York Red Bulls in the second round. Midfielder John Rooney went 25th overall, one pick ahead of Toronto FC's first pick in the draft.
Toronto then took University of California defender Demitrius Omphroy.
"I want quality defenders and that's why I took him," said TFC coach and Technical Director Aron Winter. "He is one of the players that I saw at the MLS Combine and he was on my ranking list so I am happy to get him."
TFC originally had a pair of third-round picks, but acquired a third in a trade with the Chicago Fire for backup goalkeeper Jon Conway.
The Reds used their third-round selections on defender Matt Gold (Ohio State), and midfielder Junior Burgos (Cal-Poly, San Luis Obispo) and Joao Plata (LDU Quito of Ecuador).
"We are very pleased with what we got today," said Toronto FC Director of Player Development Paul Mariner. "We’ve done background checks on the character of the players and we’re hopeful they will respond very well."
2011 MLS SuperDraft — First Round
- Vancouver Whitecaps — Omar Salgado (forward, U.S. U-20 team)
- Portland Timbers — Darlington Nagbe (forward, University of Akron)
- D.C. United — Perry Kitchen (defender, University of Akron)
- Chivas USA — Zarek Valentin (defender, University of Akron)
- Philadelphia Union — Zack MacMath (goalkeeper, University of Maryland)
- New England Revolution — AJ Soares (defender, University of California)
- Houston Dynamo — Kofi Sarkodie (defender, University of Akron)
- Vancouver Whitecaps — Michael Nanchoff (midfielder, University of Akron)
- Chicago Fire — Jalil Anibaba (defender, University of North Carolina)
- Sporting Kansas City — CJ Sapong (forward, James Madison University)
- Houston Dynamo — Will Bruin (forward, Indiana University)
- Columbus Crew — Rich Balchan (defender, Indiana University)
- New York Red Bulls — Corey Hertzog (forward, Penn State University)
- Chivas USA — Victor Estupinan (forward, LDU Quito of Ecuador)
- Columbus Crew — Justin Meram (forward, University of Michigan)
- Los Angeles Galaxy — Paolo Cardozo (midfielder, Quilmes of Argentina)
- FC Dallas — Bobby Warshaw (defender, Stanford University)
- Colorado Rapids — Eddie Ababio (defender, University of North Carolina)