By Neil Davidson
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Canadian Cyle Larin proved to be a home run for Orlando City in last year’s MLS SuperDraft, earning rookie of the year honours with a rookie-record 17 goals after going first overall.
Fellow Canuck Tesho Akindele, taken sixth overall the previous year by FC Dallas, won first-year honours in 2014.
On Thursday, the Canadian spotlight shines on midfielder Richie Laryea at the MLS SuperDraft. The five-foot-nine 151-pound sophomore from the University of Akron is expected to be a top-10 pick at the Baltimore Convention Centre.
“You can see his offensive abilities,” said Greg Anderson, vice-president of soccer operations for the Vancouver Whitecaps. “He’s so comfortable on the ball.
“We met with him (Monday). He’s an impressive kid.”
“A quality player,” echoed Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “He shows maturity on the ball, is clean on the ball.”
Laryea, who like Larin grew up playing club soccer in the Toronto area for Sigma FC, is coming off a breakthrough season that saw him score a team-high 11 goals and add seven assists.
Tied for fourth over 30 metres (3.99 seconds) at the MLS Combine, Laryea has the pace and vision to spot a teammate or get himself into a goal-scoring position. The 21-year-old has a nose for being in the right place at the right time.
“That’s one thing I learned at Sigma a lot,” said Laryea. “Position was everything there. Then I came over to Akron and (head coach) Jared Embick and the staff helped me perfect that.”
Thursday’s draft goes two rounds, with the Chicago Fire picking first followed by Colorado, Philadelphia, New York City FC and Real Salt Lake. Thanks to a trade with Houston, Philadelphia also picks sixth.
Toronto FC has the highest pick among Canadian teams at No. 9. Montreal goes 14th and Vancouver 16th.
Rounds 3 and 4 are set for Jan. 19 via conference call.
Other Canadians who could draw draft attention are Kentucky goalkeeper Callum Irving (Vancouver), Bowling Green midfielder Ryan James (Mississauga, Ont.) and Washington midfielder Josh Heard (Victoria).
Irving was one of four seniors to sign a contract with the league Wednesday.
Barring trades, the Impact will be active Thursday with three second-round picks in addition to their first-rounder. Vancouver has two second-rounders while Toronto has none.
Ghanaian-born Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro is viewed by many as the No. 1 pick although Chicago may not be his destination. Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez, who has acknowledged coming to terms with one European centre back and going after another, says he is open to trading the pick.
The GM, who has just 14 players signed, said he needed a starter or better for the top pick or some combination of assets that allowed him to get two players.
Anderson says the five-foot-11 Yaro is fast, athletic and strong on the field and mature and polished off it. “He’s got all the tools it looks like to be a very good player.”
With MLS clubs using homegrown contracts to lock up local talent, the MLS draft can be a crapshoot. But it is a pipeline to cheap talent that is needed with most clubs also needing to fill out USL teams or senior rosters facing salary cap restraints.
And it can pay off nicely. Vancouver scored in 2015 when it picked St. John’s centre back Tim Parker 13th overall. He went on to make 14 regular-season starts and is currently in camp with the U.S. national team.
San Jose and Chicago also chose wisely with midfielders Fatai Alashe (27 starts) and Matt Polster (27 starts), respectively.
Princeton forward Cameron Porter, taken in the third round (45th overall) by Montreal last year, scored the dramatic goal that sent the Impact to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal before ripping up his knee.
This year’s draft crop is heavy at the top end with defenders, along with a good array of midfielders.
Among those expected to go high are Stanford left back Brandon Vincent (also at the U.S. camp), Georgetown right back Keegan Rosenberry, North Carolina centre back Jonathan Campbell, Wake Forest midfielder Jack Harrison, and North Carolina midfielder Omar Holness.
Laryea, Yaro, Harrison, Holness, goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, midfielders Julian Buescher (Syracuse) and forward Fabian Herbers (Creighton) are underclassmen who make up the 2016 Generation Adidas class. Their contracts do not count against the salary cap.
Vincent, meanwhile, signed a contract with the league ahead of the draft. He was joined Wednesday by Irving, Campbell, Clemson defender Kyle Fisher and Virginia midfielder Todd Wharton.
University of Maryland midfielder Tsubasa Endoh was named MVP at this week’s Combine.
While the Combine has its drawbacks _ players are not at peak fitness and are thrown into makeshift teams _ Impact technical director Adam Braz says it can tell a tale.
“In the end for these young players it is a high-pressure situation because you have all these teams watching and all of these agents and all of these eyes on them, more so than they probably have had in their young careers,” he said.
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