Four Canadians went in the top 20 of Thursday's MLS SuperDraft with the Vancouver Whitecaps taking Hamilton's Ryan Raposo fourth overall from Syracuse to kick things off.
Wake Forest midfielder/fullback Alistair Johnston (Aurora, Ont.) was chosen 11th by expansion Nashville SC, Syracuse defender Nyal Higgins (Ajax, Ont.) went 19th to Toronto FC and Connecticut forward Dayonn Harris (Milton, Ont.) was selected 20th by Real Salt Lake.
All four first-rounders played club soccer at Vaughan SC in the Toronto area. Raposo, Johnston and Harris also played for Vaughan Azzurri against the CPL's HFX Wanderers FC in last year's Canadian Championship.
"It's a massive accomplishment for the (Vaughan) club," said Raposo, an attacking midfielder who can play on either flank or slot in as a No. 10. "I'm super-happy for all of them."
Five Canadians went in the first two rounds of last year's draft — with three in the top 10 and four in the top 27. And forward Cyle Larin, now playing Belgium, made Canadian history by going first overall to Orlando in 2015. But four first-rounders was a Canadian record for a league that has grown from 10 teams in 1996 to 26 in 2020.
Expansion Inter Miami CF took Clemson forward Robbie Robinson first overall Thursday, looking to add some punch up front with the winner of the 2019 MAC Hermann Trophy as top male collegiate player. Robinson tied for top NCAA goal-scorer last year with 18 goals and nine assists in 19 games.
He was rewarded by a Skype call from co-owner David Beckham. "Welcome to Miami," the former England captain said with a smile.
Nashville then took Indiana defender Jack Maher, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Miami used the third pick, obtained in a prior trade with FC Cincinnati, to select Georgetown defender Dylan Nealis. A finalist for the Hermann Trophy and NCAA champion, he is the younger brother of New York Red Bulls defender Sean Nealis.
Rounds 3 and 4 go Monday via conference call.
Four Canadians were chosen in the top 27 picks last year with three in the first nine. Defender Callum Montgomery went fourth overall to FC Dallas, followed by goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair (seventh, Minnesota), midfielder Tajon Buchanan (ninth, New England) and defender Kamal Miller (27th, Orlando).
St. Clair and Miller also have Vaughan club ties.
The 20-year-old Raposo is a skilful winger who played No. 10 last season with Syracuse, where he set school records for most points (37) and goals (15) by a sophomore. Syracuse coach Ian McIntyre calls him a dynamic, exciting attacker who can torment defenders.
The five-foot-seven 145-pound Raposo admits to playing with a chip on his shoulder, saying growing up he was told he was too small and too slow. He was released by Toronto FC's academy less than two years after joining at age 11, something that still rankles years later.
Raposo has also spent time in Germany with Hoffenheim, Mainz and Sandhausen.
A veteran of four Canadian youth camps, he captained Ontario to gold at the 2017 Canada Games where he was named tournament MVP.
The Montreal Impact, in its first draft with coach Thierry Henry at the helm, took North Carolina defender Jeremy Kelly ninth overall after an announced trade with Minnesota United fell through.
Montreal promptly traded Kelly to Colorado for US$75,000 in general allocation money. Without a second-round pick, the Impact were done for the day.
Nashville traded with Colorado to take Johnston with the 11th pick. The 21-year-old was converted to a right back last season at Wake Forest after playing in central midfield.
Johnston transferred to Wake Forest after two seasons at St. John's.
"He's a guy that any coach would love to have in the locker room in terms of what he brings to your team in personality, work rate, professionalism, ambition," said Wake Forest coach Bobby Muuss.
Toronto used the 19th pick, obtained in an earlier trade with the Los Angeles Galaxy, to take Higgins. The 21-year-old had a goal and an assist in 19 games at Syracuse in 2019 after spending three seasons at Oakland University.
RSL then picked Harris, a pacey 22-year-old who transferred to UConn after two seasons at Penn State. Hampered by injuries early at UConn, he bounced back with seven goals and 16 assists in 27 starts for the Huskies over the last two seasons.
Toronto FC used the 25th pick on Nigerian forward Ifunanyachi Achara from Georgetown. Achara, a co-captain, came off the bench in the 70th minute last month to help the Hoyas defeat Virginia in the College Cup final.
TFC took a pair of defenders in the second round — Senegal's Malick Mbaye (Clemson, 33rd overall) and Denmark's Simon Waever (Indiana, 51st overall).
Vancouver picked up Florida International goalkeeper Daniel Gagliardi in the second round (32nd overall).
Virginia forward Daryl Dike, the younger brother of former Toronto FC striker Bright Dike, went fifth overall to Orlando. Virginia defender Henry Kessler went sixth to the New England Revolution.
The first six picks had all signed contracts with the league prior to the draft with all but Kessler, a senior, members of the Generation Adidas class. That program features talented underclassmen, all the more attractive to teams because their initial contracts do not count against the salary cap.
Unlike previous years, the draft was not hosted by a city. The first two rounds were shown digitally on an ESPN-produced show that darted around the league.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press