When Nick DeLeon had a brief chat with D.C. United coach Ben Olsen earlier this week at the MLS combine, the former Louisville midfielder didn’t get much of a feeling he would end up in the nation’s capital.
But seeing as Olsen and the D.C. brass selected him with the seventh pick Thursday at the SuperDraft in Kansas City, Mo., it’s safe to say United’s interest in the college standout was more than DeLeon realized.
“I met up with him and had maybe a five-minute [conversation] with him,” DeLeon said. “He expressed a little interest in me, but I honestly had no idea I was going to end up here. But I’m excited that I did.”
The Phoenix native, whose father, LeRoy, played for the Washington Diplomats of the North American Soccer League, played two years at UNLV before transferring to Louisville for his junior campaign. This past fall, DeLeon started 22 games during his senior season, notching six goals and six assists to help the Cardinals advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
“Physically, he has all the tools,” Olsen said. “I think this kid is going to be a gamer, and I know he’s excited to join the guys and get moving.”
Added United assistant coach Chad Ashton: “We had seen him a lot over the past couple years, and we’d spoken to his coaches. We feel like he’s a guy who is a very attacking player who is very polished on the offensive side of the ball, who can score goals himself, who can set goals up.”
A left-sided midfielder, DeLeon figures to provide much-needed depth on the flank for a D.C. team that decided not to re-sign reserve wingers Santino Quaranta and Austin da Luz.
Chris Pontius, United’s first choice on the left, is coming off a broken leg suffered in September. And Branko Boskovic, another option at the position, tore his anterior cruciate ligament in April.
While both veterans are expected to be healthy for United’s March 10 opener, DeLeon’s presence does give Olsen the option of shifting Pontius to striker, where he excelled in limited action last season. And DeLeon, who said he “can bring a lot of flair up top,” is comfortable playing forward as well.
Although DeLeon was regarded as a top prospect coming out of college, he suffered a quad strain at the combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that limited his opportunities to impress league scouts.
“I wasn’t really afraid it was going to hurt my draft stock,” DeLeon said. “I had a pretty good feeling I would still get drafted. I don’t care if I get drafted top 10, first round or second round - I’m just excited to get drafted.”
Thursday’s festivities kicked off with a slight surprise, as the expansion Montreal Impact took defender-midfielder Andrew Wenger out of Duke with the top choice. Akron forward Darren Mattocks, the widely projected No. 1 selection, went to the Vancouver Whitecaps with the second pick.
United didn’t have the choice of drafting Maryland striker Casey Townsend. Chivas USA plucked the Michigan native with the fifth selection after he enjoyed a stellar showing at the combine. (Another local product taken was Virginia left back Hunter Jumper, who went in the second round, 28th overall to the Chicago Fire.)