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Toronto FC kick start MLS SuperDraft with 'high character guys'

Toronto FC emerged from the opening rounds of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft on Thursday pleased with the four players added to the group that will open preseason next weekend.

With two picks late in the first round, TFC selected defender Nyal Higgins from Syracuse University (19th overall) and midfielder Ifunanyachi Achara from Georgetown University (25th overall).

In round two they chose defender Malick Mbaye from Clemson University (33rd overall) and defender Simon Waever from Indiana University (51st overall).

Toronto will make two further picks on Monday in the later two rounds: 77th and 103rd overall.

“All of the players we drafted, whether in the first or second round, we’re excited,” said TFC General Manager Ali Curtis post-draft via conference call. “All four are high character guys that can compete and really add a lot to our group, a very seasoned, veteran roster.”

Higgins, 21, is a local guy, born and raised in Ajax, Ontario and has played for both the provincial and national programs.

“We’ve been watching him for some time,” explained Curtis. “He played in Oakland for a few years, then at Syracuse. We know that university very well because of Alex [Bono].”

“We also were able to have him come into our environment,” he continued. “He’s been here over the last three, four days training in our combine. We did some testing, met with him, had a number of different conversations, so we felt really good that he’s a player that can not only play right centre-back, but left as well; adds a lot of competitive attitude to our back-line.”

In speaking of Achara, a 22-year-old Nigerian, Curtis referenced a recent performance at the 2019 NCAA College Cup where his Hoyas won the final on penalty kicks following a 3-3 draw with the University of Virginia.

“He’s a guy that came in and completely changed the game,” noted Curtis. “Captain of their team, really good guy, good character. We’re excited to bring him into our environment. He’s had a few injuries, a few knocks here and there, but had he not, we believe he would have been a Generation Adidas player and a top five pick.”

For 23-year-old Mbaye, a native of Senegal, Curtis pointed to a video feature from Clemson University.

“It’s incredible insight into the type of human being, the type of person that he is,” said Curtis. “He came across to us, in interviews and research, as a really good person, a really good human being. It’s very important the type of character we bring in.”

“And in terms of the playing ability, he’s strong, athletic, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, probably the top conference in the United States – a lot of pros from that conference do well. We’ve very excited for him to come and compete at the position; we’re looking forward to him coming to camp.”

For a second straight year, TFC looked to Denmark for a defender with Waever joining Patrick Bunk-Andersen, who was selected in 2019 and was a stalwart on the back-line for TFC II last season.

“A lot of times [European] players come in with experience, stability,” highlighted Curtis. “He’s got good vision. We’re looking to see if can not only play right-back, but one or two other positions, so he’s very versatile. The type of player and personality that can do a couple of different things. We’re going to test him and challenge him in preseason to see what he can do.”

Moments before the draft began, the Philadelphia Union opted out of the first round again, trading their only pick to D.C. United having sent all five picks last season to FC Cincinnati. Their Sporting Director, Ernst Tanner, explained that the club is focusing on their own development pathway rather than the draft.

TFC, equally invested in developing their own talent, see it differently, however.

“The quality has changed, but there is still a lot of value,” maintained Curtis. “It’s team specific. Depends on the makeup of your team, not only from a financial, but from an experience perspective: do you need athleticism versus talent? Every year is different.”

“We try to take advantage of every mechanism,” he continued. “Last year not only did we draft players, but we signed a TAM player, a designated player, got a few players from the allocation list, selected a player off of waivers. We’re the type of club that is trying to take advantage of every mechanism available to improve the team. We still see a lot of value in the draft. To get that, you have to work hard and our scouting department works hard year round to find the right players that can fit and improve our team.”

For the four players selected on Thursday, draft day is just the beginning of a new adventure.

“Like all young players it’s not easy being a young person in a professional environment,” stressed Curtis. “This will be the first time that they have to conduct themselves as pros, have to compete, earn and win a spot.”

And they will not be the only youngsters new to camp.

“We’ll be adding some exciting homegrown players to the supplementary roster,” hinted Curtis. “It will be good to have these guys come in and compete.”