FC Cincy selects top-rated forward in draft

FC Cincinnati had a chance to address their needs on offense with the top-rated forward in the MLS Super Draft.

Even after the consensus No. 1 overall pick fell, FCC didn’t stray off course. The Orange and Blue selected Wake Forest sophomore forward Calvin Harris, and projected top pick Philip Mayaka, a midfielder out of Clemson, went third overall to Colorado. Austin FC made midfielder Daniel Pereira the No. 1 pick.

Harris said in a Zoom conference with media Thursday he knew FCC could be an option. He was watching the draft in the Wake Forest locker room with teammate Andrew Pannenberg and the Demon Deacons coaching staff. Pannenberg, a goalkeeper, was selected by Orlando City in the second round.

“We were going through the numbers and when it came to Cincinnati, I knew that we had good conversations beforehand and to hear them say my name, it was just a lot of joy and excitement,” Harris said.

General manager Gerard Nijkamp was not available Thursday but is expected to speak with media next week to discuss the draft and other roster-related topics.

FCC Director of Scouting and Player Recruitment Hunter Freeman, who announced the pick on the MLSSoccer.com livestream show, had indicated in an interview Wednesday that the forward spot was one of the only positions really lacking depth in this class. Mock drafts all projected Mayaka wouldn’t be available for FCC at No. 2, but the club already has a similar player in Frankie Amaya, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2019.

The Orange and Blue also had depth needs on the back line but this class was particularly loaded with similar quality defenders and they addressed that in the second round by taking University of South Florida left back Avionne Flanagan. FCC also selected University of Dayton midfielder Jonas Fjeldberg with the final pick of the second round (54th overall, acquired in a trade with Columbus last August) and Hofstra forward Matthew Vowinkel at No. 56 to conclude its draft.

After scoring just 12 goals in 2020, FCC appropriately focused on the attack first with the best player available for those needs. Harris, a Generation adidas signee who will occupy an international spot on the roster, was considered by many to be the player in the draft pool with the most upside.

The Middlesbrough, England, native scored four goals and dished out two assists for Wake Forest while appearing in all nine games this fall. Over his two seasons with the Demon Deacons, he made 32 total appearances, including 25 starts, scoring 10 goals and adding five assists and earned an ACC All-Freshman Team honor.

“I like to take players on,” he said, describing his style. “I like to also create chances in and around the box, and I like to play off my teammates. And, you know, with the research I’ve done so far with Cincinnati and Jaap (Stam), and the way he wants to play, it’s very much Dutch football and wanting to play with the ball on the ground and play possession, so it seemed like a good fit for me.”

Harris said he has learned from watching players like Thierry Henry, Kylian Mbappé and Mason Greenwood over the years, and he tried to pick up bits and pieces of their game to add to his own “quite unique” style. He hopes to carve out a role for himself with FCC, but coming into the team, he just wants “to learn and improve and confidence will come with that.”

Stam is a “massive reason” why he thinks Cincinnati will be a good place for him. Harris’ father, Terry Harris, played for Sheffield United  in the English Premier League, and Harris has seen his share of different coaching styles while spending much of his youth in Hong Kong and New Zealand.

“I know that I’m going to learn a lot, and that I’m going to be able to develop as well,” Harris said. “And that’s just something I’m really looking forward to doing.”

Harris hadn’t yet spoken with Stam as of his Zoom conference at 3 p.m. Thursday, but he did a pre-draft interview with Freeman and other staff members, and Freeman also called him after making the pick.

Shortly after getting off the phone, Harris did a FaceTime call with his parents, who were “bouncing around the living room” at their home in Hong Kong, and a flow of messages came through from friends and family there and in New Zealand.

“Right now, it’s just a real big feeling of excitement,” said Harris, who spent the fall of 2018 playing with the Wellington Phoenix Reserves in the New Zealand Premiership, scoring two goals in six appearances. “And really, I’m just grateful for the opportunity that Cincinnati has given me, the conversations that I’ve had with Hunter and the staff there have been really good and positive. I’ve enjoyed various conversations and now I’m just excited about it and looking forward to the future and looking forward to working hard.”

As for FC Cincinnati’s other picks, the club seemed to get good value at No. 29 with the Flanagan selection. The 5-foot-11 defender was No. 19 on SBISoccer.com’s “Big Board” and was one of the “best natural left backs in the pool,” according to that site.

Flanagan, a native of Baltimore, Md., played 48 games over three seasons with USF and tallied four goals with seven assists.

“Flanagan has all the quality scouts are looking for at the position, and he is also American,” SBISoccer’s Ives Galarcep wrote. “Flanagan has trained with multiple MLS teams before, including Sporting Kansas City and Atlanta United.”

Fjeldberg, a 22-year-old from Norway, made the Atlantic 10’s All-Rookie Team as a freshman in 2017 and led the Flyers in scoring with 11 goals as a junior when he was the A-10 Offensive Player of the Year. He posted 17 goals and 17 assists in three seasons.

Three picks later, FCC finished the draft with Vowinkel, a 6-foot-1 forward originally from New Hyde Park, N.Y. He was a First-Team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection in 2019 after leading Hofstra with 13 goals and two assists in 18 starts. He finished his three-year career with 23 goals in 57 games with 42 starts.

Now that the draft is concluded, FCC still needs to sign its selected players but there is much uncertainty on when the players would actually be joining the club. MLS teams still don’t have a season start date or a reporting date for training camp, and because COVID-19 delayed the completion of the college season until spring, the league is allowing two off-roster spots to allow some players to finish their college season.

Harris said he didn’t know what the plan was yet, but he looks forward to getting started whenever that time comes.

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