SPORTS

Toronto FC loads up on defence, adds a few surprises at MLS SuperDraft draft

01/15/2015 07:32 EST | Updated 03/17/2015 05:59 EDT
PHILADELPHIA - Toronto FC loaded up on defenders and added talent in goal while springing a few surprises on a busy day at the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday.

GM Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Greg Vanney had plenty of options with the sixth, ninth and 11th overall picks, as well as two selections in the second round.

They spent the sixth pick on Syracuse's Alex Bono, the first goalie taken, before plucking French centre back Clement Simonin (North Carolina State) out of their hat. Toronto took Syracuse defender Skylar Thomas, a native of Pickering, Ont., with the 11th pick.

Toronto selected South Florida centre back/fullback Wesley Charpie and Cal State Northridge midfielder/forward Edwin Rivas in the second round.

Bono and Thomas anchored a stingy Orangemen defence that finished third in the NCAA last season with a goals-against average of 0.55. Syracuse registered 12 shutouts en route to 16-4-1 record.

The six-foot-three Syracuse goalie, a finalist for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy as NCAA men's player of the year, is currently in camp with the U.S. senior team.

"We thought he was the best and most well-rounded goalkeeper in the draft," said Vanney.

An underclassman, the 20-year-old Bono is a Generation Adidas player, meaning his contract will not count against Toronto's salary cap.

Toronto has a more than capable starter in Joe Bendik. But club officials thought more competition was needed in goal. Backup Chris Konopka has played two league games in five seasons split among four teams. At 20, Quillan Roberts is seen as a future talent.

Toronto will look to give its young goalies playing time in its new USL Pro team while keeping them ready in case Bendik needs a break.

With only captain Steven Caldwell and sophomore Nick Hagglund as true centre backs on its roster, Toronto needs help at the heart of its defence.

The six-foot-one, 179-pound Simonin caught most by surprise, with Conor Donovan the North Carolina State defender expected to go first.

The 23-year-old French player transferred to NC State from Lander University for his final two seasons. But his senior year was cut sort by hernia surgery after just three games.

"So nobody saw him over the course of his senior year," said Vanney.

Toronto had seen him and rated him highly, enough to make him the second defender taken in the draft with Seattle, which had Simonin play on its under-23 team, angling to get him.

Toronto considered trading down but thought they might lose him,

"He's a left-footed left centre-back who is outstanding on the ball. He's a fabulous soccer player, he makes very good decisions and reads the game very well. He's a very well-rounded centre-back."

Vanney liked what he saw of the six-foot-four, 205-pound Thomas at Syracuse and two combines, praising him for his athleticism, maturity and leadership.

Growing up, Thomas supported Toronto FC and is no stranger to seeing games at BMO Field.

For those wondering, the 21-year-old Thomas says everyone in his family has a name starting with S.

"They wanted to name me Tyler and Kyle and the same time so they named me Skylar," he explained.

The 22-year-old Charpie, a six-foot-one 173-pounder who had five goals and 21 assists in 81 games for the South Florida Bulls, is seen as an athletic, young option to cover for Mark Bloom at right back.

Like Simonin, Toronto rated Rivas highly and thought the 23-year-old would not be known to many playing at Cal State Northridge, although scouts were drawn to the school to see forward Sagi Lev-Avi who was taken two spots above Rivas by Columbus.

And like Thomas, the five-foot-11, 170-pound Rivas impressed at a workout in Nevada ahead of the MLS Combine in Florida.

"He's a left-footed forward/winger who can either beat you with power and pace down the line or he can come inside and get to goal," Vanney said. "He provides us some more ideas, options on the flanks."

Rivas, who had 17 goals and 10 assists in 78 games for the Matadors, can play on both sides and up front although Toronto envisions him playing on the wing.

With the signing of Michigan State midfielder Jay Chapman as a homegrown player, Toronto saw it as a good day.

"We are ecstatic about the young depth that we have on our team and we know they're all hungry to compete for minutes on this roster," Vanney said.

The third and fourth rounds of the MLS draft go Jan. 20 by telephone.

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