Charlotte FC selected Maryland midfielder Benjamin Bender with the first pick of Tuesday's MLS SuperDraft as the expansion club prepares for its debut season.
Bender will head to Charlotte after playing two seasons at Maryland, having earned honors as a first team All-American and unanimous Big Ten Midfielder of the Year selection after scoring seven goals and providing five assists in 18 games.
Charlotte's pick was followed up by four more Generation Adidas selections, with those players not counting against teams' salary budgets while they retain GA status.
Looking forward to having Ben play for us in the QC! 👑 pic.twitter.com/mX1Ye1Hoif— Charlotte FC (@CharlotteFC) January 11, 2022
After Charlotte chose Bender, FC Cincinnati selected goalkeeper Roman Celentano from Indiana with FC Dallas adding St. Louis forward Isaiah Parker.
Houston Dynamo selected Thorleifur Ulfarsson, an Icelandic forward out of Duke, with St. Louis defender Kipp Keller rounding out the top five.
San Jose Earthquakes perhaps got the steal of the draft, with forward Ousseni Bouda falling to them at 8.
Seen as one of this class' most talented players, Bouda, who comes from Burkina Faso, starred for Stanford last season, leading them in goals and assists.
Bender's big day
Selected first overall, Bender will now head to a Charlotte FC team very much still under construction.
The squad is still very much being built out, with the club yet to sign a Designated Player, although there are some familiar faces in former Leicester star Christian Fuchs and MLS veterans Harrison Afful, Chrsitian Makoun and Antone Walkes.
"Every time there's a new team that enters the league I think that the whole city is just super excited and ready to go," Bender said.
"I know the fans of Charlotte are going to be itching to see the team win and win right away and I think that coming into an expansion club is a good scenario for me. I think I have the ability to make an impact, so I'm just really excited to hit the ground running."
First round in full
2. FC Cincinnati
3. FC Dallas
4. Houston Dynamo
5. Austin FC
6. FC Dallas
7. New York Red Bulls
8. San Jose Earthquakes
9. Inter Miami
10. Nashville SC
11. Chicago Fire
12. Columbus Crew
13. San Jose Earthquakes
14. FC Cincinnati
15. San Jose Earthqyakes
16. Vancouver Whitecaps
17. Minnesota United
18. Orlando City
19. Atlanta United
20. New York Red Bulls
Florida Gulf Coast
21. LA Galaxy
22. Sporting KC
23. Colorado Rapids
24. Chicago Fire
25. Columbus Crew
26. Colorado Rapids
27. Portland Timbers
28. FC Dallas
The big picture
The MLS Draft has taken on less importance over the years for a variety of reasons.
The rise of MLS academies has seen most of the top American and Canadian players signed up at an earlier age, foregoing the college process altogether or signing with clubs after previously featuring for them at the youth level.
Additionally, the league has signed a significant amount of young foreign players in recent years, with several South American stars opting to continue their careers in MLS.
However, several MLS Draft picks have gone on to star in the league and beyond in recent years, including Leeds' Jack Harrison, Club Brugge's Tajon Buchanan and West Brom's Daryl Dike, all of whom came through the draft process.
U.S. men's national team stars Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman have also broken out after being selected in the MLS Draft.