PHILADELPHIA - It was about as perfect of a SuperDraft as it could’ve gone for FC Dallas in the opening two rounds on Friday.
Coming in with the No. 11 pick and three top-level targets in mind for the opening round, Dallas sent $200K of General Allocation Money to Montreal for their No. 4 overall spot, while keeping their original selection. Not only did they get their top man in Francis Atuahene at four, they stood pat at 11 and also scooped up Ema Twumasi - another member of their prized trio.
“I want to congratulate my coaching staff for such a great job they did,” head coach Oscar Pareja said of not only identifying Atuahene and Twumasi, but also feeling that the latter would still be available at No. 11 without needing to move up again. “The list they put together today of those names that we really wanted, we got two of them. This is great for the club.”
In a change of pace from years past - where just three of Dallas’ 23 picks since 2011 have been forwards - the club opened up 2018 taking forward duo in the span of 45 minutes. Pareja said it was simply a result of the talent, and also lack thereof, available this year.
“The draft lacked a little bit in defenders this year, in my opinion,” he said. “It was hard to choose a defender, which is opposite of what I saw in previous combines. In the past, I saw an overload of defenders with not a lot of quality up front or in the middle. This year, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that these guys were there.”
The Right to Dream
It was some 6,200 miles away from Dallas where paths crossed for the very first time for Atuahene and Twumasi, who were roommates in Philadelphia the night before the draft and could remain so for years to come.
Growing up 30 minutes away from each other in Accra, Ghana, the duo both came up through the Right to Dream Academy, which works to provide life-changing opportunities to kids of the West African nation. Through soccer, both made it to the United States and into the college ranks.
“Where I come from in Ghana, not everyone has the opportunity,” Atuahene said. “I know back in my village, there were kids that were even better than me that did not get this opportunity. For me, part of being a professional player, part of having an education is making a difference in other people’s lives. That is what I plan on doing. There is a lot talent in the world but people just don’t have the opportunity. I want to give opportunities to people.”
“A kid from Ghana, I came from nowhere. Right to Dream brought me in, made me feel at home and supported me throughout my journey (and) they’ve kept supporting me,” added Twumasi. “We’re from almost the same place in Ghana. We’re like 30 minutes away so I’ve always known Francis. It’s great, it’s really great to be on the same team.”
They’ll now look to follow in the same MLS steps of fellow-Right to Dreamers David Accam and Emmanuel Boateng among others. It is, though, just the beginning of the road for the Generation adidas signings.
“My game is a very, very fast-paced style. I make a lot of runs and get up and down the field. I am always cutting and trying to make moves in the final third. That is something FC Dallas fans are going to like,” Atuahene said. “I am honestly just honored to be part of the organization. I am ready to go in there, work hard and earn my spot on the team.”
“I’m just going there to compete for a spot right away…What I’ve done in college absolutely means nothing at this stage,” said Twumasi, who played alongside 2017 FCD SuperDraft pick Jacori Hayes and recent Homegrown signing Brandon Servania at Wake Forest. “I gotta go there and earn my jersey and that’s exactly what I’m willing to do.”
Double Up in Round Two
Aside from the excitement early in the day, FC Dallas still had a pair of picks in their pocket on a similar one-two punch with No. 29 and 34 overall. Again, FCD found some big-time talent still on the board.
At 29, Dallas went right to their backyard with SMU forward Marco Cichero, who at one point in 2017 had serious first-round potential before tearing his ACL in October. In just 15 games before the injury, he racked up nine goals and seven assists and finished with 22 goals and 17 assists in four seasons.
FCD is willing to wait to see what the Oklahoma-native has.
“We have had a lot of contact with SMU. It’s an organization that is tied to our heart,” Pareja said. “Mauro showed very well during the college season. Unfortunately he had this injury. For sure, I believe that it is not going to separate him from the game. [An ACL injury] is something that has happened to many players around the world that have founds ways to get back to being their best. We will wait for Mauro. There isn’t any rush for us to have him preforming.”
Minutes later, after three straight picks in the attack, the club went another longer-term approach by selecting midfielder Chris Lema, who started 63 games for Georgetown over four seasons. The Red Bulls Academy-product was not offered a Homegrown deal in New York this winter, but came on strong in the Combine last week to pique the interests of several other MLS clubs.
With five central midfielders already on the roster, it’s unlikely Lema will be immediate impact for Dallas this season, but one they’re looking to develop down the road.
“I saw a lot of composure on the ball and a player who is very smart to glue people together in the middle,” Pareja said of his last pick of the day. “We are overloading the middle, but we can find other programs where we can place these guys and let them mature…For me, to see a player that we believe can excel is more important than just bringing a guy to camp.”
Rounds 3 and 4 of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft will be held on Sunday, January 21 at 1 p.m. CT via conference call. FC Dallas opens the 2018 Preseason on Monday, January 22 at 4 p.m. at the Toyota Soccer Center.