Five players with local Southern California connections were selected in the first two rounds of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft on Friday, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Three players from UCLA were selected, including forward Abu Danladi at No. 1 overall to Minnesota United.
For Danladi, the selection was certainly a dream come true on more than one level. The Ghanaian moved to the United States at the age of 16 as part of the Right to Dream program, giving young men the opportunity to maximize their educational opportunities. Settling in Santa Barbara as a high schooler, immediately following his selection Danladi credited the others who joined him in the area and those who came before.
“There’s a lot of Ghanaians in Santa Barbara. We went through the Right to Dream program and they are big role models to me, they’ve been here before I did,” he told reporters at the draft. “I’m trying to follow in their footsteps and make sure I do the best I can.”
While Danladi’s injury-checkered history while at UCLA was thought to have lowered his prospects coming into the draft, Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath, known for his ability to nurture MLS strikers Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin in the past, was glowing in his assessment of Danladi, even going so far as to say he could be “the best young player in MLS.”
“I love a goal scorer,” Heath told reporters. “More importantly, he makes good runs…I’m excited, because he’s got that thing you can’t teach – electric pace, very sharp, makes good runs in behind defenders, which some people don’t want to do.”
Behind Danladi, college teammate Jackson Yueill was selected at No. 6 overall by the San Jose Earthquakes. Like Danladi, Yueill left UCLA early and signed a Generation adidas contract with MLS, one of a select handful to leave college early for the draft. At least one post-draft assessment considered Yueill the best midfielder in the draft, but also questioned if he would get a chance under Dominic Kinnear’s veteran-laden system in San Jose.
While Danladi and Yueill were the headliners on the day, three more players with local ties were drafted on the day. Irvine native and UC Santa Barbara product Nick DePuy was taken near the end of the first round, No. 19 overall, by the Montreal Impact. While the Impact are losing Didier Drogba this season, the Canadian club may be able to offer the striker a bit of playing time in 2017 if he impresses in preseason camp and day-to-day training.
Meanwhile, one SoCal local who went afield for college, Tulsa goalkeeper Jake McGuire, was selected at No. 30 by the Houston Dynamo. The Chino Hills native went through the Chivas USA academy before heading off to college (and before that program was dismantled), and was interestingly the second player on the day with former Chivas USA academy ties to get a shot in MLS, following defender Hugo Arellano signing a Homegrown contract with the LA Galaxy on Friday.
A third UCLA product, defender Michael Amick, was selected in the draft, at No. 32 overall by the Portland Timbers. Truth be told, the Timbers have traditionally been reluctant to play draft picks, but perhaps Amick will break the mold.
There will surely be more Southern California players drafted in the final two rounds of the 2017 SuperDraft, scheduled to take place on Tuesday via conference call. While players in the later rounds are less likely to make the MLS roster, a few make the grade, and for many who don’t, opportunities to enter professional soccer through the USL and NASL will still beckon.