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College players, in a year jumbled by the pandemic, prepare for the MLS draft amid uncertainty

Georgetown senior Derek Dodson, seen here in an 2018 NCAA tournament match against Michigan State, is expected to be picked in the three-round MLS draft Thursday. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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Derek Dodson is practicing with the Georgetown University soccer team for a rescheduled season while preparing for the resumption of senior coursework next week. He is also waiting to see how high he goes in the MLS draft Thursday.

Normally, the NCAA campaign ends in December and draftees report to MLS training camps almost immediately.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, however, the timetables do not align and players who haven’t signed a contract will have the option of completing their college careers before entering the pro ranks.

On Feb. 10, Dodson could be in uniform for the defending champion Hoyas in the proposed exhibition opener against Virginia Commonwealth. Or he could be launching his pro career.

“I am just sitting in a little pocket of uncertainty,” he said, sharing the sentiment of dozens of MLS hopefuls.

Though most drafted players could stay in school, MLS clubs will, for all intents and purposes, make that decision for them.

Dodson said he is prepared to report right away but added, “If it’s better for both parties to stay and play the college season, I am prepared to do that as well.”

The NCAA regular season will end April 17, and the College Cup will conclude May 17.

Further complicating matters is the uncertainty of when MLS will open camps and start the season. Health concerns and labor issues between the league and players’ union are holding up those decisions.

Georgetown defender Rio Hope-Gund, a likely first-round pick, is in the same situation as Dodson. Two other Hoyas are bound for the pros but won’t go through the draft.

Sophomore goalkeeper Tomas Romero, penalty-kick hero in the 2019 College Cup final against Virginia, is leaving the program. But because he came through an MLS academy, he is exempt from the draft. Romero is aligned with the Philadelphia Union, but the Union will trade his rights to Los Angeles FC, according to several people familiar with the situation.

LAFC has coveted him for some time and wants him in camp as soon as possible.

Hoyas senior forward Jacob Montes is from the Portland Timbers academy. It’s unclear whether the Timbers will offer a homegrown contract in the coming weeks or trade his rights, leaving both Montes and Georgetown in limbo.

“We’re trying to put together practice plans and what our team might be, and we’re still not sure,” Hoyas Coach Brian Wiese said. He was also waiting to see whether junior Giannis Nikopolidis, a Greek native who split goalkeeping duties with Romero in 2019, signs with a European club.

Four Maryland players, including twins Matt and Ben Di Rosa, are draft eligible but could end up playing for the Terrapins this spring. Matt DiRosa is projected to go high in the first round.

“I’ve told them if they get a guaranteed contract, I’m okay with them leaving,” Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I’ll support them.”

Virginia Tech junior midfielder Daniel Pereira and Virginia junior midfielder Bret Halsey signed with the league through the Generation Adidas program and aren’t eligible to play NCAA soccer this spring.

With the No. 4 overall pick, its highest in seven years, D.C. United could end up with a local player. United has roster needs on the back line and front line, but because the draft is not the primary vehicle for acquiring instant-impact players, the club could go in any direction.

General Manager Dave Kasper, technical director Stewart Mairs and assistant coach Chad Ashton are expected to oversee draft efforts. United did not hire a head coach, Hernán Losada, until this week, and without a U.S. soccer background, he does not have any NCAA insight.

Austin FC, an expansion club, will select first in the three-round draft, which will be conducted via conference call because of the pandemic. MLSsoccer.com will carry video coverage, starting at 2 p.m. ET.

Read more on soccer:

D.C. United’s Hernán Losada must learn a new league and a new city. He’s up for the challenge.

Mesut Özil playing for D.C. United seems unlikely. But it’s not impossible.

Trinity Rodman, daughter of Dennis Rodman, drafted by NWSL’s Washington Spirit

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