The 2023 MLS SuperDraft will be known as the one where clubs did not want their pick.
Of the 29 picks in the first round, 16 were chosen by clubs that received their pick order by virtue of trade. The Vancouver Whitecaps, who chose twice in the first round, benefitted from this as well as both of their picks were acquired through trade.
The Whitecaps originally had the 13th overall pick but chose to acquire the 5th overall pick in a trade with Houston Dynamo. They also gave $125K in 2023 GAM and $100K in 2024 GAM along with their pick exchange. They had previously acquired the 29th overall pick from LAFC as part of the trade that sent Maxime Crépeau to California.
With those two picks, the Whitecaps also had the 13th pick in the second round (42nd overall) and the 13th pick in the third round (71st overall).
Let’s take a look at where those picks went.
Round 1, 5th pick: J.C. Ngando, midfielder
J.C. Ngando, a Generation adidas player, was one of the oldest in this year’s SuperDraft. However, this should be viewed as a benefit. This 23-year-old midfielder already has experience from his home country of France, playing with the developmental sides of Amiens SC and Paris FC.
Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said the decision to move up in the SuperDraft was made because they felt it was likely he would be picked before their 13th pick came around.
“J.C. was one of the players that the consensus was unanimous,” Sartini said. “We saw [him] in two ways: like a player who can grow up and be a player that can develop. But at the same time, a player that can help even immediately.”
With the University of North Carolina Greensboro, he had two seasons. In 2021, he played 15 matches, tallying 5 goals and 8 assists.
He was named the SoCon Freshman of the Year and was placed on the United Soccer Coaches All-Region Third Team and the College Soccer News All-Freshman Second Team for the season. His eight assists were also the most for his team.
But it was his most recent season in 2022 where his quality has shown through. In 23 matches, Ngando recorded 4 goals and 14 assists, his goal involvement accounting for almost 40 per cent of his entire team’s offensive production.
His 14 assists ranked him 13th nationally in assists per game with 0.53.
It was this ability to move the ball progressively that attracted the Whitecaps to Ngando, either through his dribbling or passing.
“The main quality that he has in my opinion are two: he able to get out of pressure…and he’s also very good at moving the ball forward either with the dribbling or with a pass forward. So, that’s for sure two qualities that we saw in him and we want to keep developing,” Sartini said.
Sartini said Ngando has the ability to play either as a no. 8 or a no. 10.
“I think he has quality to play in both of these positions. That’s another thing we like about him in the sense that in he can fit three, four positions on the field. And it’s very important for a young player.”
Round 1, 29th pick: Levonte Johnson, forward
Levonte Johnson was the first of two Canadians chosen by the Vancouver Whitecaps in this year’s SuperDraft. Sartini said that Johnson has the right characteristics and is the type of striker he enjoys.
“He’s very vertical. He presses very well. He attacks the space. He can be, I think he has all the ingredients to become an MLS player.”
Johnson sent 2021 with Seattle University. In 22 games, he led his team with 9 goals and 8 assists. In 2022, he switched to Syracuse University. He posted 11 goals and 6 assists in 25 matches, earning himself All-Far West Region honours.
Round 2, 42nd pick: Daniel Nimick, centre-back
A 6-foot-2 centre-back, Daniel Nimick was born in England and came through the Leeds United Academy before joining his hometown club, Harrogate FC, where he captained their U19 team.
In the United States, he joined Western Michigan University in 2019. In four seasons and 65 matches, Nimick has recorded 12 goals and 7 assists.
Round 3, 71st pick: Buster Sjöberg, centre-back
Buster Sjöberg is a 6-foot-5 tall centre-back. He began his college soccer with Wofford College, playing 26 matches between 2019 and 2020.
For 2021, he switched to Syracuse, playing 36 matches over two seasons. In 2022, he helped his team to a 0.58 GA record.
“Sjöberg is a player that we saw and we liked him a lot. A centre-back. He’s injured at the moment. So, he’s kind of a project,” Sartini said. “He also has the possibility to stay another year in college and keep playing there. But it was important for us to secure his rights because we’ve seen very good quality for a centre-back.”
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