Canadian Malcolm Johnston watched his older brother Alistair Johnston make the move from the U.S. college ranks to the pros. Now it’s his turn.
The 21-year-old midfielder from the University of Maryland will get a better sense of what lies ahead at Wednesday’s MLS SuperDraft.
“The MLS draft is like any draft — it’s pretty unpredictable. It will be a very exciting, anxious time [Wednesday],” he said.
Afrifa, Bombito and Johnston were invited to the 44-player College Showcase earlier this month in North Carolina. While Johnston’s second trip to the MLS Combine was cut short by a sprained ankle in his first training session, he did get to talk to a handful of MLS teams.
Malcolm watched Alistair go through the draft in 2020 when he was taken 11th overall by Nashville SC.
“It was an unbelievable moment that I’ll never forget,” he recalled. “I’m just thankful that now my time has come and hopefully [Wednesday] my name is called and I’m able to follow in his footsteps. If I’m able to accomplish half as much as he did in his first few years, then I know I’ll have a very successful and long career in the game of soccer.”
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Montreal gave up $1 million US in general allocation money in December 2021 to acquire Alistair from Nashville. The older Johnston made the move to Scotland’s Glasgow Celtic after impressing with Canada at the recent World Cup.
Expansion St. Louis FC has the first overall pick Wednesday with D.C. United going second.
Toronto FC traded away its third-overall pick in July to Colorado to get Canadian international midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye. Vancouver has two first-round selections — the 13th overall pick and the 29th, obtained from Los Angeles FC in an October 2020 trade.
The San Jose Earthquakes pick fourth, followed by the Houston Dynamo.
The draft has its merits
Montreal picks 25th in the first round. It also has a second-round pick (54th overall) and two in the third round (75th via a January trade with Orlando and 83rd).
Toronto (32nd and 61st overall) and Vancouver (42nd and 71st) both have picks in the second and third round.
There are 364 players eligible for selection in the draft, which in recent years has lost some of its lustre as teams stock up on young talent via their academies.
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Still, the draft has its merits. MLS notes that 11 members of the U.S. and Canadian teams at the World Cup in Qatar were SuperDraft picks including Canadians Cyle Larin (No. 1, 2015), Richie Laryea (No. 7, 2016), Dayne St. Clair (No. 7, 2019), Tajon Buchanan (No. 9, 2019 SuperDraft), Alistair Johnston (No. 11, 2020) and Kamal Miller (No. 27, 2019).
Malcolm Johnston is a central midfielder who has also played as a winger and No. 10.
A four-year starter, Johnston was a two-time team captain. He also took penalties in 2022, when he was named to the All Big Ten first team and Big Ten all tournament team.
Johnston started 58 of 61 matches he played in, logging 4,798 minutes. He had 14 career goals and 13 assists.
Bombito, a junior from Montreal, is a member of this year’s Generation Adidas class, a group of eight select underclassmen who are eligible for the draft after signing contracts with the league. Generation Adidas players are attractive because their initial pay doesn’t count against a team’s salary cap. As a result, they usually go high in the draft.
Bombito was named 2022 America East Defender of the Year and a second-team all-American selection, after helping lead a defence that ranked third in the NCAA with a 0.5 goals against average. He started his collegiate career at Iowa Western Community College where he won the NJCAA National Championship in 2021.
He was a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, seen as the top individual honour in NCAA Division I soccer.
Past Canadian Generation Adidas players include Larin, Buchanan, Laryea and St. Clair.
Johnson, a senior forward from Brampton, Ont., who is one of three finalists for the MAC Hermann Trophy, will also likely be in demand Wednesday after helping Syracuse to the NCAA title.
Johnson earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team honours in scoring 11 goals for Syracuse this season, eight of which were game-winners to lead the NCAA. He also contributed six assists, finishing second in the ACC in points and goals.
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His 86th-minute goal gave Syracuse a 3-2 win over Creighton and sent the Orange to the NCAA final. He was also on target in the championship game in Cary, N.C., converting his spot kick as Syracuse defeated Indiana 7-6 in a penalty shootout after the match finished knotted at 2-2.
Johnson, who also garnered all-ACC first-team and All-South Region first-team honours, is well-travelled.
As a freshman, he helped Eastern Florida State College reach the first National Junior College Athletic Association championship game. Following the cancellation of the 2020 season due to COVID, Johnson transferred to Salt Lake Community College and led the Bruins to their first NJCAA title. He then helped Seattle University to the Western Athletic Conference, title prior to joining Syracuse
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Other Canadians available in Wednesday’s draft include Liberty University defender Brayden Borutskie (Bradford, Ont.), Villanova defender Josh Belluz (Toronto), Wisconsin defender Matt Chandler (Toronto), UBC defender Logan Chung (Port Coquitlam, B.C.), Pennsylvania goalkeeper Nick Christoffersen (Toronto), Syracuse defender Christian Curti (Brampton, Ont.), UBC midfielder Thomas Gardner (North Vancouver), California Baptist University goalkeeper Evan Ince (North Vancouver), Loyola University Maryland midfielder Albert Kang (Vancouver), South Florida defender Salvatore Mazzaferro (Toronto), Portland midfielder/forward Gurman Sangha (Vancouver); goalkeeper Justyn Sandhu (Richmond, B.C.), University of San Francisco defender Nathan Simeon (Montreal) and Penn State defender Jalen Watson (Toronto).
Chung is the younger brother of Toronto FC defender Kadin Chung. Gardner, meanwhile, has been taken three times in the CPL-U Sports draft, twice by Pacific FC and once by FC Edmonton.
Canadians Tani Oluwaseyi, O’Vonte Mullings and Mo Omar went in the first round of the 2022 SuperDraft.
Oluwaseyi, a forward from St. John’s University, was taken 17th overall by Minnesota United while Mullings, a forward from Florida Gulf Coast University, went 20th to the New York Red Bulls and Omar, a defensive midfielder from Notre Dame, was selected 23rd by the Colorado Rapids.