United Selects Rodney Wallace in MLS Draft

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

ST. LOUIS, Jan. 15 -- Rodney Wallace's soccer career has taken him from Bullis School in Potomac to the University of Maryland, and after being chosen No. 6 overall in the MLS draft Thursday, he will continue it with D.C. United.

Wallace, 20, is a quick, left-side defender who decided to turn pro after spending two years in College Park and helping the Terrapins win the NCAA championship last month.

"From a young age, growing up in Maryland or Washington, you support the hometown team and it's exciting to be a part of it," said Wallace, the Post's 2006 All-Met Player of the Year who was born in Costa Rica, moved with his family to Rockville at age 9 and attended United games at RFK Stadium. "It's nice to be able to stay at home."

United officials said they were torn between Wallace or Indiana defender Kevin Alston, a Good Counsel High graduate who can play on either side but is projected as a right back. Having signed veteran right back Bryan Namoff to a new contract this week, United settled on Wallace, a player whom the club followed closely throughout his college career.

"Every game he was always at a very high level, and we think he's only going to get better," United General Manager Dave Kasper said. "How many attacking left backs do we have in this country? Not a lot."

Besides lacking in defensive depth, United was in desperate need of speed coming out of the back. From a deep position this past season, Wallace routinely raided the flank and joined the attack. Though some observers said they thought he would have benefited from another year in college, Wallace cited Maryland's "professional atmosphere" for preparing him for the pros.

Whether he is ready to start as a rookie is another matter. Marc Burch and Gonzalo Martínez shared the starting role last year, but while United has re-signed Burch, the high-priced Martínez seems unlikely to return after faltering the second half of last season.

With consecutive first-round picks, United followed the Wallace move by selecting UC Santa Barbara forward Chris Pontius, whose stock rose significantly at the scouting combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last weekend. D.C. considered Cal goalkeeper Stefan Frei, but decided to wait on a goalie until the second round, when it claimed Milos Kocic, a native of Serbia who starred for three years at Loyola (Md.).

"We thought [Kocic] was very close to Frei in ability, so to get him at No. 21 [overall] is a steal," Kasper said. Louis Crayton will return as the starting goalie, but if the 6-foot-4 Kocic signs with MLS instead of pursuing possible European opportunities, he would compete with veteran Zach Wells for the backup job.

With its other second-round pick, United chose Wake Forest defender Lyle Adams, who played left back for the Demon Deacons but could fill either flank in MLS. Its third-round pick was Saint Louis midfielder Brandon Barklage, a feisty flank player.

"We had our wish list," United Coach Tom Soehn said, "and we are happy the way it worked out."

Besides Wallace and Alston (chosen 10th by New England), three others with Washington connections were selected in the first round: Maryland defender Omar Gonzalez (No. 3 by Los Angeles), Wake Forest midfielder Michael Lahoud (W.T. Woodson High, at No. 9 by Chivas USA) and Maryland midfielder Jeremy Hall (11th by New York).

A.J. Delagarza, Gonzalez's partner in central defense at Maryland, also went to Los Angeles as the fourth pick in the second round. Another Terrapin, College Cup offensive MVP Graham Zusi, was claimed four slots later by Kansas City, and George Mason forward Kwame Adjeman-Pamboe (Eleanor Roosevelt High) went 28th overall to Colorado. University of Akron' s Steve Zakuani, the nation's leading scorer this past season, was taken No. 1 by Seattle.

United Note: Players will begin to gather in Washington this weekend for physicals and start preseason workouts next week. The club will move operations to Bradenton, Fla., soon thereafter.

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