Austin Aztex Feature -- www.austinaztex.com
Friday, February 1, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Major League Soccer coaches and executives from around the United States and Canada are huddled at their tables, trying to play their cards right to land the players they covet. One-by-one, the top three players’ names are called to the podium and their names are projected onto a large wall with their respective college teams.
The 2013 MLS SuperDraft is underway. Almost immediately, there is a delay as the Vancouver Whitecaps decide to make a trade to move up six spots to grab the fourth pick. With the pick, a team name is projected on a large screen next to the player’s name on the fourth slot.
“Kekuta Manneh, Austin Aztex”
What happened over the next half hour is not quickly evident among those in the draft room. However, as Blake Smith was called at 8th and Dillon Powers was called at 11th in the SuperDraft, the Austin Aztex of the USL PDL have already delivered their message.
Three of the top 11 picks of the draft were members of the 2012 Austin Aztex squad.
“A primary purpose of the Aztex is to develop players for the next level,” said Aztex Director of Operations Ric Granryd. “To have three players drafted in the top 11, who have represented our club in our first year, is an extraordinary privilege.”
Manneh, the 18-year-old Lake Travis High School student, was chosen by the Vancouver Whitecaps with the fourth overall pick. Manneh stood out last year as a 17-year-old forward who scored 10 goals in the regular season before adding two more in the playoffs for the Aztex. Manneh was the youngest player in the draft pool and the first forward selected in the draft.
“Manneh is one of those players that has everything that you cannot teach,” Aztex Head Coach Paul Dalglish said. “He’s got unbelievable pace; he’s an incredible finisher; he has great touch; and he’s two-footed. I think Manneh has still got work to do on his movement. If he can continue to improve the way the Aztex saw him improve, I honestly believe he can be the best player to come out of the draft. I have never worked with anybody, since being in this country, that has the composure, pace, and finishing ability.”
Smith was chosen by the Montreal Impact with the eighth overall pick. Upon joining the Aztex, he immediately added an extra scoring threat to Dalglish’s attacking system. The dangerous forward scored in the top five of every skill test during the 2013 MLS Combine.
“I would think it would be very difficult to find a better pure winger than Blake,” Dalglish said. “The fact that he is left-footed is a massive bonus. He’s unbelievably quick, has great delivery from the wide area, and can finish. He can play as an orthodox winger on the left side, or he can play as an inverted winger on the right hand side.”
Smith said his time with the Aztex helped him gain a lot through building meaningful relationships with the other players and Dalglish. While he is excited to continue his career in Montreal, he acknowledged that it will be a huge adjustment and that he may need to brush up on his French.
“I am excited for the journey ahead and hope to earn myself a spot on the field,” Smith said. ”I am looking forward to it.”
Powers, a central midfielder, was chosen by the Colorado Rapids with the 11th overall pick. In two games for the Austin Aztex in 2012, Powers led a dominant midfield and helped the Aztex outscore their opponents 13 to 1.
“Listening to some of the knocks on Powers in the combine was he wasn’t that mobile,” Dalglish explained. “Maybe that is something he needs to work on, but he is much quicker than everyone else mentally. Sometimes you don’t have to be too quick, too mobile, if you can think faster than everyone else. He’s so strong. He knows how to control the game, always wants the ball, can switch the play, and he can play short passes. Powers is just a great midfielder that can help you build attacks from the back.”
“I think the direction we had under Paul [Dalglish] will be the biggest takeaway,” Powers said. “He runs the program very professionally, and I think I can take things away from that on and off the field."
Having Kekuta Manneh, Blake Smith, and Dillon Powers on MLS rosters is evidence that Head Coach Paul Dalglish and the rest of the staff are committed to attracting soccer talent that can develop and make names for themselves on the professional level. With the addition of Zach Garcia, who joined the San Antonio Scorpions toward the end of the 2012 season, the Aztex have a steadily growing number of players who have already graduated to the professional ranks.
The Aztex are committed to bringing high level soccer back to Austin while acting as a resource to the local soccer community. This became evident as the SuperDraft began to draw to a close. While many players that were chosen previously played in the PDL, only one PDL franchise was recognized on the large screen among the colleges from where the next level of MLS players originated: