Few college soccer games are televised, so aside from attending tournaments and combines and hunting down video, Major League Soccer coaches do not have many opportunities to evaluate top prospects.
Except, of course, if an NCAA program that has stocked the pro ranks for 15 years is in your back yard.
D.C. United’s familiarity with the University of Maryland was instrumental in the team’s selection of Terrapins defender Taylor Kemp with the 17th overall draft pick in the MLS draft Thursday in Indianapolis.
United Coach Ben Olsen, General Manager Dave Kasper and other members of the technical staff are regular visitors to Ludwig Field, a 10-mile drive from RFK Stadium. “And it’s usually more than one of us,” Kasper, a Maryland graduate, said with a laugh.
This winter, United was in the market for a left back. Kemp was regarded as the top one in the draft pool. And although it had to wait until deep in the first round, the club was hopeful he would be available.
“It’s a need positionally,” Olsen said. “He comes from a great program and we’re very well versed in what’s going on at Maryland.”
United has such a good relationship with the Maryland program, Terrapins Coach Sasho Cirovski sought medical advice from Kasper when Kemp required hernia surgery last fall. Kasper recommended a specialist in Germany, and Kemp was back on the field within a few weeks.
Last summer, Kemp trained informally with United.
“I secretly hoped D.C. would take me,” Kemp said from his home in Colorado. “They didn’t interview me at the combine [last week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.], so I was curious. It’s a good fit and the transition couldn’t be easier.”
Kemp was well known among MLS scouts since his freshman season but remained at Maryland for four years. He considered turning pro a year ago, but Maryland’s early exit from the ACC and NCAA tournaments had hurt his stock.
Kemp’s injury sidelined him for 12 of 24 matches this past fall. Maryland advanced to the College Cup semifinals before losing to Georgetown on penalty kicks.
“We have a huge advantage with college scouting because of ACC and Big East games being close by,” Olsen said. Ten of the 19 first-round picks were from those conferences. “We don’t have to go far.”
Had Kemp been selected earlier, United might have opted for Georgetown’s Jimmy Nealis, a left back whom the Houston Dynamo claimed late in the second round.
Kemp provides depth at a position that Daniel Woolard manned admirably last season before suffering a concussion. Woolard is healthy again, but Olsen said he would like to use him in the middle on occasion as cover for Dejan Jakovic or Brandon McDonald.
Chris Korb started in Woolard’s absence and would become the top option on the right side — his natural place — if Andy Najar were sold to Belgian club Anderlecht. Najar is on loan this month.
Olsen cautioned that, although Kemp “passes well out of the back, he is going to need to get better defensively and bring a little more edge to his game.”
Maryland midfielder John Stertzer was chosen No. 12 overall by Real Salt Lake. The two-time first-team All-Met from Flint Hill had 21 goals and 11 assists over the past two seasons and was a third-team all-American in 2012. Maryland’s other senior, defender London Woodberry, signed with FC Dallas before the draft. (Dallas owned his rights because he had played in its youth academy.)
Three Georgetown seniors were selected: defender Tommy Muller at No. 15 by the San Jose Earthquakes, midfielder Ian Christianson early in the second round by the New York Red Bulls and Nealis by Houston with the next-to-last pick in the two-round event.
The first three choices were Louisville defender Andrew Farrell (New England), Connecticut midfielder Carlos Alvarez (Chivas USA) and Boston College midfielder Kyle Bekker (Toronto).
Virginia Commonwealth forward Jason Johnson was Houston’s first-round pick, 13th overall.
United will hold indoor workouts Friday at George Mason University and open training camp Monday in Bradenton, Fla.