There was much debate over who would be selected first in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft on Thursday — Darren Mattocks or Andrew Wenger — but the Montreal Impact were clear on who they wanted.
The Impact selected Wenger, the versatile Duke fullback, ahead of all others as the first draft pick in franchise history in Kansas City.
"It was a surprise. Going No. 1 was quite an honour," said Wenger, who will also be wearing his school's familiar white and blue colours with the Impact.
"It was more important for me to be picked into a fantastic organization that would help me grow as a player and give me all the opportunities and resources necessary to succeed, and I think Montreal will do a fantastic job."
Wenger captured the Hermann Trophy as the top player in NCAA soccer in 2011 and can play as a centre back, defensive midfielder or striker. After playing two seasons as a defender with the Blue Devils, the 21-year-old suited up as a forward in his third season, scoring 17 goals and adding eight assists.
'Best player available'
Impact head coach Jesse Marsch, who played 14 seasons in MLS, said he doesn't know where Wenger will fit on the field just yet, but knows Montreal has a can’t-miss prospect in the mix.
"I think he was the best soccer player available," Marsch said. "We followed him very closely, and we just felt he had the best future, short term and long term, in the draft."
Wenger is a Generation adidas player, which means his salary does not count against the team's cap. He's currently training with the U.S. under-23 national team.
The native of Lititz, Pa., said he’s looking forward to his new club and his new home.
"It's going to be awesome," he said. "I've never lived in a big city. I've been watching a lot of the Travel Channel lately, so at least I know of some nice places to eat."
Marquette senior Calum Mallace was the Impact's second-round draft pick at No. 20 overall. The six-foot-two, defensive-minded midfielder brings a physical presence to his game and is considered by many pundits to be MLS ready.
The Impact, Major League Soccer’s 19th team, kicks off its inaugural campaign March 10 in Vancouver against the Whitecaps, who took Mattocks with the second pick.
Make splash in inaugural season
Montreal will try and avoid the first season fate of the two previous Canadian MLS expansion teams. Both Toronto and Vancouver finished in the league's basement in their inaugural seasons.
The Impact front office has made a few splashes in the off-season, starting with the expansion draft in November where they selected veteran Houston Dynamo striker Brian Ching.
Ching’s future with Montreal is up in the air. He said he wishes to finish off his career with the Dynamo rather than play with the Impact.
In late November, the club made trades to acquire Los Angeles Galaxy all-star goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Davy Arnaud.
Arnaud, 31, has played 10 seasons in the league, captaining KC the past two seasons. He also speaks French, thanks to spending his early years in France, and told MLSsoccer.com that he hopes to improve on those language skills.
Arnaud lived in France briefly when he was growing up, and has continued to spend time there as his mother, stepfather and younger brother and sister still live there.
“I can get by, and I’m going to try to do that as much as I can because that’s obviously a big part of their culture,” said Arnaud, whose mother, stepfather and siblings still live in France. “I want to be able to do it. I want my wife to be able to do it and my kids, too.”
Canadian content under contract
In December, the Impact added some homegrown flavour with the signing of Canadian international Patrice Bernier and goalkeeper Greg Sutton.
Bernier, a 32-year-old defensive midfielder who grew up in Brossard, Que., left the Danish Superliga side Lyngby Boldklub to sign with the Impact, who he played with from 2000-02. Sutton, who lives in Laval, Que., played for Montreal from 2001 to 2006 and also played with Toronto FC.
Bernier and Arnaud are early candidates for team captain.
The Impact begin their season on the road before returning home for their opener March 17 against the Chicago Fire at Olympic Stadium. The newly-renovated Saputo Stadium will be ready in June.