More than 1,700 players have been drafted into Major League Soccer since the first college draft in 1996 and while their professional journeys have taken many paths, one thing they all have in common is that draft day was the milestone that marked the start of their pro soccer careers.
Fans of the global game often scoff at the concept of the event common in other U.S. sports leagues and while its impact on the top flight has waned in recent years, the MLS SuperDraft is still a great excuse to bring team officials, fans, players and media together under spotlights.
On Friday, the event - the first two rounds at least - will be held in Philadelphia for the fifth time at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The third and fourth rounds will be held via conference call on Sunday.
Join us for a Philly-focused trip down memory lane, starting with Wilmington, Delaware native Cesidio Colasante.
Colasante was part of the draft in its third year as a senior at La Salle University, in what can only be viewed now as the more or less pre-Internet era of the league.
“There wasn’t much fanfare and a big production at the time for the draft,” Colasante recalled. “I was in Fort Lauderdale in my hotel room with a teammate of mine as we just finished playing in an All-Star weekend when a prospective agent rang the room and told me I was drafted in the third round by the MetroStars.”
Colasante, the 28th overall pick that year, didn’t end up making the team but went on to play professionally with the Philadelphia Kixx and the Hershey Wildcats in the old A-League.
Today, the Salesianum School grad is the owner and executive director of Soccer Shots of Southeast PA.
“Soccer has made a huge impact on my life, obviously that is why I am still involved today,” he said. “My father was an Italian immigrant who first introduced me to soccer, so I am truly grateful for the impact he made on me. The life-long friendships and connections I have made are tremendously valuable.”
Aston, Pa. native Jon Conway also remembers being in a hotel room in Fort Lauderdale awaiting word of whether he would be drafted in 2000.
“All of the players were staying in the hotel and only a select number of players went to the draft,” he recalled in an interview last fall. “The rest of us, we were literally huddled around a computer in the lobby getting updates and I remember sitting there and a guy in the room with me was like Jon Conway? Who is that?
A goalkeeper coach for Toronto FC, Conway was drafted 28th overall by the San Jose Earthquakes out of Rutgers University in that year’s draft. The Sun Valley grad and Lower Merion SC alum ended up playing in MLS through 2011 with the Earthquakes, Red Bulls, Chivas USA, Toronto FC and Chicago Fire before joining the Toronto FC organization, first as an academy coach.
As a player drafted late in the supplemental rounds when there were far fewer teams and several more rounds, South Jersey native Jeff Moore barely has any recollection at all of the day he was picked.
“Somebody might have told me I was drafted, I don’t remember honestly,” said Moore, who was drafted by the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in the sixth round in 2002 when there were only 10 teams in the league. “It was something I never thought about ever growing up. I wasn’t thinking about it when I was in high school, it wasn’t something I was thinking of in college. It wasn’t a goal of mine. I just played and put everything I had into whatever team I was on.”
Moore, who graduated from Triton Regional High School, won a Division III national championship with Stockton in 2002 and was first noticed by the MetroStars in an open tryout among a sea of some 60 players. He ended up working his way into the lineup as a rookie when Marcello Balboa went down with an injury and made 18 league appearances and two in the U.S. Open Cup.
“I would have never thought I’d start 17, 18 games coming out of Stockton,” Moore said. “It’s something I can always think back on in a good way.”
His MLS career would prove to be short-lived under new coach Bob Bradley and he was released 10 games into the season but went on to play for the Virginia Beach Mariners and the Philadelphia Kixx for a season before hanging up his boots.
Today, Moore teaches middle school science close to where he grew up in Gloucester Township and coaches the girls soccer team.
Some other past draft picks with ties to the region are listed below. Note: this is not an exhaustive list and doesn’t include any current professionals.
-Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin, an Oreland, Pa. native, was taken 29th overall in the 2001 draft out of Villanova by the Chicago Fire. He played eight seasons in Chicago and finished his career with Chivas USA in 2009.
-Medford, N.J. native Stephen King was drafted 40th overall by the Chicago Fire in 2008 and went on to five seasons in MLS with Chicago, Seattle Sounders FC and D.C. United. The Maryland grad now works for a software company in California.
-Elkins Park, Pa. native Jeremiah White was drafted 23rd overall by the New England Revolution out of Wake Forest but opted to go to Europe, where he played for six teams before ending his career with New England in 2012. He coaches youth soccer, runs a business and was recently named technical director of NPSL expansion club Atlantic City FC.
-Josh Gros, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., was drafted 34th overall by D.C. United in 2004 and made 110 appearances for the team through 2007. He’s currently the team coordinator for the Philadelphia Union.
-Philadelphia native Bobby Convey was drafted as a teenager by D.C. United in 2000 out of William Penn Charter School and went on to play for FC Reading in England and in MLS through 2014.
-Mechanicsburg, Pa. native Bobby Warshaw was drafted 17th overall by FC Dallas in 2011 out of Stanford and went on to play for FC Dallas and in Europe before ending his career in 2016 with the Harrisburg City Islanders. His recollections about the draft are written in great detail in his excellent and highly recommended book When the Dream Became Reality. He’s also not hard to find these days as part of the MLS media team that’s been covering the combine.
-Wilmington, Del. native Rob Smith was drafted 20th overall by the Columbus Crew in 1996 out of the University of South Carolina. He spent five seasons with the Crew and was a member of the U.S. Soccer team at the 1996 Summer Olympics. He is the player development director at Worthington United 94 in Ohio.
-Will Kohler, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa. native was selected 15th overall in the 1997 draft by the MetroStars. The Harvard grad is a partner at venture capital firm Lightning, where his company bio calls his short-lived MLS career - he was released in preseason - “a fun fact his children still don’t believe.”
-Fellow Harvard grad and Harleysville, Pa. native Tom McLaughlin was drafted 36th overall in 1998 by the New England Revolution.
-Downingtown, Pa. native Jeff Parke was drafted 60th overall in 2004 by the MetroStars out of Drexel University and went on to play 11 seasons in MLS, playing 31 games during his one season with the Union in 2013. He is listed in his LinkedIn profile as a director of operations at The RC Group.
-Pittsgrove, N.J. native Kevin Jackson was drafted 68th overall by the Chicago Fire in 2000 out of Lehigh University. He played for the Hershey Wildcats and Charleston Battery and is today is the owner of Jackson Soccer Development and Elite Futsal Charletson in South Carolina.
-Middletown, Del. native Bryheem Hancock was drafted 22nd overall in 2002 out of UConn by the LA Galaxy. He spent one season in MLS with the Galaxy and played for the Atlanta Silverbacks and Toronto Lynx before going into coaching. He took over as the head coach at Radford University in 2017.
-Medford, N.J. native Jamie Franks was drafted 49th overall by Chivas USA in 2009 and played a couple seasons with Wilmington Hammerheads and Rochester Rhinos before getting into coaching. He’s currently the head coach of the University of Denver men’s soccer team and led the Pioneers to the program’s first ever College Cup in 2016.
-Lumberton, N.J. native Ryan Finley was taken ninth overall by the Columbus Crew in 2013 out of Notre Dame. He’s out of soccer now, but his family owned the horse that won the 2017 Kentucky Derby.